We were lucky enough this year to win two grants, which allowed us to run two summer camps for parents who grew up in Russian orphanages and their children. The first camp was for families who have already been taking part in our family support group for some time. The second was for new families who we have been visiting at home, and who have not yet joined the support group. All in all 24 families took part. Your donations were vital. Your generosity allowed us to provide all the food for the second group of families, which encouraged them to take part. You also helped bought all the supplies so we could rewire our wooden cottage and make it safe for our families. Thank you!
Our first group of parents all understand what we are trying to do at camp and see it is a really important opportunity to improve their relationship with their children. They are willing to help with the organisation, indeed, one of our dads, a qualified electrician, volunteered to do the rewiring, so we only had to pay for supplies.
With this group of families our main theme of the camp was avoiding violence of all kinds, emotional and verbal as well as physical. Violence doesn't horrify the parents. They have experienced violence of all kinds, and yet barely recognise it. They think it is normal for them and their children to be badly treated. They find it particularly difficult to recognise emotional violence, and think that in not meeting their children's needs they are helping them to become more independent.
The parents were delighted to find that when they changed their approach, their children's behaviour changed very quickly. "When my children used to cry and demand that I did this or that, I tried to talk to them using this new approach. I am still amazed - they started to talk to me too, and not just to shout at me. We managed to agree and for the rest of the day they would cuddle up to me and be very affectionate."
We also did a lot of work on maintaining a good routine of feeding the children and putting them to bed. Again, the parents were amazed at how quickly their children's behaviour improved. Quite apart from this, we all had a lot of fun! One of the highlights was when the parents all did impressions of the leaders.
The second group of parents needed much more support at quite a basic level. They are very lacking in confidence and anxious. One mother was still refusing to feed her 14 month-old solids because she was so worried she would choke. Another, with a toddler, thought her child would be too frightened to play with anyone else. Most of all the parents simply didn't know how to make their children smile. When we asked them how they made their child smile, the only thing they could think of was to tickle them. During our camp, they saw their children relax and take an interest in their new experiences. We got the mothers to perform a puppet theatre and took photos of the children's delight. They cried when we showed them the pictures of their children grinning happily. All the parents in the group now want to take part in our family support group that meets through the year. This means that we can follow up on these hopeful beginnings and make sure smiling becomes a regular part of their family life.
Thank you so much for making this possible. It might seem unbelievable to you that our parents need help with such absolute basics, but we can never underestimate the damage caused by their orphanage upbringing. What you can be sure of is their commitment to do better, and their ability to transform their relationship with their children.
All the parents waiting to go on summer camp grew up in orphanages. This year we will lead two summer camps. One for families who are members of our support group that meets regularly. The other for new families who have greater problems and who we help through home visits. The camps will be a highlight for them and their children, and a valuable way of strengthening their family.
A great deal of work is going on to get our camp facilites ready to welcome our families. Rubbish is being cleared, the garden tidied, the new stove is being completed, the electrics fixed and other small jobs. Since we have a lot of work to do in St Petersburg, we appealed to our families for help. Several families offered at once and themselves sorted out who could be there when to keep an eye on the workmen and volunteers.At the moment two families are staying on site. Both of them have been on the summer camps three times, so they understand what the rules are for staying there and how we set things up. They were surprised when they arrived and saw the log cabin, which hasn't been lived in since last summer, all packed up and totally unready for the summer. However, they quickly established the routines we keep to at summer camp, sharing out the chores, cleaning up every day, sticking to a routine, feeding the children, and, most important, making sure the children are supervised at all times.
They have been looking after all the work that's going on. They are regularly in touch over the phone to report back and ask advice. Not long ago they told us that their husbands were happy to join the volunteers doing building work through July.
In this way we gradually include our families in the organisational work, allowing them to take on more responsibility. We are very proud about how they have risen to the challenge.
We have good news! In our last report we said we were waiting to hear whether we would receive a grant from the St Petersburg local authorities for our summer camp for parents who grew up in orphanages and their children. Well we did. The grant will cover the salaries of the leaders who work so hard to make the camps a success. Now we have just a month to find the remaining $2,000 to cover the food, transport, art and craft materials etc that are just as essential. We are very grateful that you have already been so generous. Can you spare us a moment now to forward this e-mail to friends or post about the project on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you so much!
Summer is on it's way, and the Sunflower Centre is preparing for its summer camp for parents who grew up in Russian orphanages and their children. We are all waiting on tenterhooks to see whether the Centre will be awarded a grant by the local authorities to fund the bulk of the cost of the camp, as well as their programme of home visits to families in particular need.
We are confident enough to start making preparations for the camp. First of all this means selecting the families who will take part. Our families are drawn from two groups. There are new families, who are visited at home by our specialists and have serious difficulties in their family relationships. The other group are the old hands, families who have been coming to the parenting club for some time and are more confident in their parenting. Like all parents, they still have much to learn, but they will also be able support the specialists in helping the new families. To take part in the camp families from both groups have to be absolutely committed to improving their relationship with their children. Each family is interviewed and together they work out what they would like to learn during the camp.
Meanwhile, practical preparations are also taken place. The cottage where the camp takes place has a traditional Russian stove, which has been condemned. Fortunately, a donor's generosity is allowing us to rebuild the stove and make it safe so that hot water will be available this summer.
The Sunflower Centre supports families in St Petersburg right through the year. They have recently taken part in a public exhibition with a ballet theme. A doctor has also volunteered to advise the parents on looking after their children's health. If you are interested to know more about this ongoing work, you can find out more in our newsletter.
Volunteers play an important part in our summer camps for parents who grew up in orphanages. With their children the can act as role models, but they also learn a lot through the process. Natalia, one of our volunteers has written about her impressions:
"I think it was particularly useful that during the summer camp the parents could put the skills learnt in intensive activities quickly into practice with the “real time” correction of the group and the specialists. Being separated from everyday life and the bustle of the city made it possible for the parents to concentrate and work effectively on the tasks they were set.
For me it was a revelation to see how the particularities of children’s behaviour (both “bad” and “good”) are in fact a reflection of the state of their parents, and that the improvement in the parents’ state is reflected in their children and also to see how the parents’ lack of sensitivity to their own needs and emotions stops them from being sensitive to their child’s needs. Several situations that I observed brought me to the conclusion that orphanage leavers don’t perceive the often harsh way they relate to their children as being severe, but as being the norm. I can understand that it is the result of their traumatic childhood experiences. At the camp, I saw how the parents copied the behaviour of the specialists towards the children with their own children. The parents are capable of seeing othermodels of behaviour and realising that what they consider to be childish naughtiness can in fact be the natural expression of the child’s needs.
If during the first days of the programme I felt that the scale of the problems was so big that it would be impossible to move beyond stalemate, by the end of the camp, I had seen the children's behaviour begin to change, and the parents began to express varied feelings and emotions rather than the usual defensive mask. I could see that this type of work was effective, despite being time-limited."
We look forward to this summer where new members of the support group will be able to feel the benefit of a camp at this simple log cabin. We are very grateful to an organisation called The Besom for donating £2,000 to install a new stove. In traditional Russian style, this is used not only for heating, but also for hot water so it is absolutely essential. The old stove was condemned, so it is fantastic that with this donation we have been able to save the future of these summer camps.
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