In September, our group of orphanage-leavers started meeting again. For the first time, some of our members brought friends along, which was great. Their friends were mainly aged 20-23, the age when state care ends, and young people realise they have to solve their problems completely alone.
Don't get me wrong, the system is generous. They house them in institutions until they are out of their teens. They even give them a room or a studio flat when they leave. The trouble is they don't give them any of the adult skills they need to survive alone, so at 23 many of the young people might as well be ten years younger.
I'd like to tell you about Seraphim, who is one of seven of our young people who has just taken the big step to move into their own appartment. To start with he thought that he would have to fit a steel door and bars on the windows, he wouldn't be able to tell friends where he was living, so that no-one could rip him off, steal from him, or take his appartment from him. This is how our young people see the world because in the children's home or at college they tell them what has happened to their peers. Poor Serpahim didn't have a clue how to cope on his own, but he had been taught how to be terrified.
Fortunately, last season we did a lot of work on how to set up home and start to live independently. We visited interior design exhibitions, and Seraphim began to imagine what his appartment could be like. We introduced our group to designers and artists, and meeting such friendly, interesting people made him want to get to get to know his neighbours in his new home. In practical sessions, he learnt how to order furniture, how to buy DIY material and how to pay the bills. All of this gave him confidence that he would be able to cope with problems.
This season, Seraphim brought along a video he had made of his appartment. He proudly explained how he had solved a few problems that had cropped up along the way. Mostly he had had to deal with his friends, who had tried to scare him. They told him he shouldn't get any furniture, because the shop would rip him off. He'd pay and then they wouldn't deliver. Or the delivery man would know where he lived and come back and rob him. Seraphim stood firm, and now he is trying to encourage the rest of the group to take the step towards independent adult life.
Good parents gradually give their children more responsibility and show them how to handle it. All too often, Russian children homes totally institutionalise their residents, giving them no choices and no responsibility, until they have to leave and face life alone. Thanks to you, we are able to be there for at least some of the young people who will leave St Petersburg's orphanages this year. We don't solve young people's problems for them. We give them the skills and the confidence they need to solve them. Then we enjoy seeing the pride they feel in becoming truly grown up. Thank you for helping Seraphim and the rest of our group.
Natalia is one of three volunteers that helps us support young people as they age out of the orphanage system in St Petersburg. They all grew up in orphanages themselves and a few years ago they would have struggled to look after themselves. Now they are desperate to make life easier for the younger ones.
Natalia and the other volunteers tell us how important it is for them to take part in this project, how the worry before every session, how they like to discuss with us how the group is progressing. They understand what our young people are going through, because they've been there themselves. They have taken the initiative in inviting members of the group round and introducing them to their family. It is very important for them to prevent our young people from feeling lonely, to introduce them to life beyond the children's home and to help them get on with people. Natalia's was a particular help to one of our group-members who was feeling unmotivated. She encouraged her to keep attending and keep learning.
Natalia and her friends get a huge amount out of volunteering themselves. All through their childhood they were told they were useless, and here they are helping other people in a way that only they can. They give friendship and a depth of understanding that we, the experts, can never give.
We want to celebrate our fabulous volunteers and thank you for giving them a chance to be heros. Your donations have allowed us to train our volunteers and to give them ongoing support through the year.
Before we go, we have a special message for our UK-based supporters. Between 1st and 8th September GlobalGiving UK are adding 50% to donations. This is a great time to make your donation go further. If you can't make a donation now, we'd be really grateful if you could share this report. If you'd like a reminder when the bonus week starts, please contact Sarah Gale (email@example.com). Thank you!
As we break for the summer we're looking back on an eventful year and want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to help so many young people as they make the transition from state care to independent life.
Over the last year we've held 86 group sessions for 18 young people, 55 individual counselling sessions for 15 young people and have supported 11 young people with home visits from a social worker.
Our greatest achievement this year is that our group is really motivated to change their lives rather than waiting for someone to come and do it for them. This means that we don't depend on staff from their hostel to bring them to meetings any more because they come independently. The group is also growing organically as our young people bring their friends along.
The group has really gelled and the young people support each other as well as talking their problems through with us. We have three volunteers who also grew up in orphanages but are a little older and have children. They tell us how important the meetings are for them and how much they want to help the younger ones not to feel alone in the world. They have invited group members to their homes and welcomed them into their families in a wonderful way.
Our young people used to be reluctant to come and talk to us individually. They didn't want the group to think they were weak. Now, they are keen to talk. As some of them have started living independently new problems have cropped up that they want to discuss. They need advice on relationships with neighbours, relatives, and sometimes their parents (they are social orphans in that their parents abandoned them or they were taken into care). When they leave the orphanage system our young people sometimes want to make contact with their parents but they also feel very understandable anger. Without help it is very difficult for them to deal with these conflicting emotions.
Marina tells us about her difficulties:
"I suspect that my mum and brother want to take my flat off me. They are always inviting me round and asking me about my life. They explain that we are a family, but I don't understand what that means, a family. I don't feel anything towards them and I don't know what a family is. That woman, my mum, is crying all the time, but I don't believe a word she says. I'm sure they want to take their flat. I've decided not to see them any more."
After a lot of discussion with us, Marina is beginning to build up a relationship with her family. She has given her mum a mobile phone and they often talk. She has even started to care a little about them and wants to help her mother, who is disabled.
Another important development is that, thanks to the Global Giving community, we have been able to employ a social worker, who visits young people at home. This has helped us bring new people into the group who were too nervous at first to join in. They find it much easier to take the first step on familiar territory. The social worker has also encouraged several of our young people to take the big step of moving into their own flat. They help them plan how they will pay their bills and in the group we've been tackling the big fear of living alone after a life-time lived in dormitories. Our young people worked out that they could ask a friend to come and live with them.
When we start working with young people who grew up in orphanages they usually either say that everything is fine, or that their lives are terrible although usually neither is true. We need time to get to know them so that we can show them their own strengths and help them start to solve their own problems. We are very grateful to you all for giving us that time. We look forward to next year, to meeting more young people needing help, and to supporting this year's group further along their journey.
Many people who grew up in orphanages feel that much of the world outside is alien to them. They have grown up living and going to school in one institution with very little contact with people and places beyond its walls.
This is why we were so delighted when two Marriott hotels in our city invited us for masterclasses in serving at table, cooking and career's advice. For our first visit we took both the group of young orphanage-leavers that you have been supporting and members of our group for older orphanage-leavers with children. As you can see in our picture, even the children came with us.
Whether or not any members of our groups decides to work in the hospitality industry, everyone learnt a great deal from the day. Everyone knows how they can lay a really special table for celebrations (this might sound minor but after the dreariness of orphanage life it can give a huge lift). Everyone has had a glimpse into a different world, has learnt some of the etiquette of that world and how to get on with staff who could one day be their employers.
We are very grateful to the Courtyard Marriott Vasilievsky for giving us this wonderful experience, to our groups for working hard on the day, and to you for all your support.
What is the recipe for an independent life? Recently we discussed this question with members of our support group for young people who are either about to leave the orphanage system or have just done so and guests from an orphanage in a small settlement in the Archangel province. We were also joined by members of another group we run for families, parents who left the system around ten years ago.
These are the ingredients one group came up with:
1. Respect for yourself and for others
2. Being able to value yourself
3. Being able to win trust
6. Being able to work
8. Freedom and
9. Being able to be yourself
This isn't a bad recipe for us all. The trouble is that although everyone agreed that family, friends and a job are vital, they have only the vaguest idea of how they will find these things. We talked about how important it is to plan the first steps into independence and also where they can go to find support. We also talked about the fear that all of them feel when they think about taking responsibility for themselves. This is perhaps the biggest barrier to a successful independent life, and we must continue to support our young people so that they can find the courage they need inside themselves.
Thank you to all our Global Giving donors for helping us give this vital support. If you donate through globalgiving.co.uk you might like to know that for a week from 12.01am on 3rd March Global Giving UK will be adding 50% to donations until funds run out. If you would like to make a donation, this would be a great time to do so. Want a reminder? Just drop us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or like our Facebook page and we'll remind you when bonus week starts. Anything you can give us hugely appreciated.
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