Ludmilla's story shows so clearly how little the support we're giving young people in orphanages has in common with the attitude of the regular staff in those institutions. Ludmilla should be proud of herself, and so should you. She might not have found her job without your support, so thank you!
Usually in the summer holidays all the orphanage residents are sent to summer camps. This year several members of our support group, all of them over eighteen, decided that they would like to get a job during the holidays. They turned to us for help. They had a real difficulty in negotiating with the administration and care staff, who were determined not to take any risks and to take them to the summer camp with the rest. They also would have to find somewhere to live because the "children's home" would be closed through the summer.
To begin with five people wanted to work, but three of them were persuaded to give up on their plans. The other two were quite firm in their intentions. One of these was Ludmilla.
Of course, these first steps towards independence on their part needed support. Ludmilla decided not to talk to the administration about her plans, but to be as independent as possible. She regularly updated us on her progress and this is what happened.
Ludmilla and her friend found work as auxiliaries in the surgical department of a local hospital where they had both undergone treatment. Ludmilla describes how she found the job:
"I find it very interesting there, it's all familiar to me. Children stay there when they are having an operation. I can see how upset the parents get, how they cry and don't know how to help their children. At night I can spend time with the patients and look after them after their operation. The doctors like me and the patients' families thank me. I feel that I am needed and that there's something I can actually do."
Ludmilla solved her accommodation problem very simply. She and her friend rented a room from a friend. This was a huge step towards independence. Ludmilla phones us to tell to us what is going on at work and we give her support and encouragement.
We are delighted that Ludmilla has exceeded the low expectations of orphanage staff, many of whom see independence as just too big a risk and unwittingly reinforce a dependency culture, which leaves many orphanage leavers incapable of working.
"I thought that such miracles could only happen in church, when you stand for a long time looking at an icon - suddenly from somewhere the answer to your question comes to you. That is what happened to me in this group. I come here with a question, I talk and talk, and then, as if from nowhere, I feel that I have been given what I need." Ksenia aged 19.
A few months ago Ksenia was like all the other teenagers in our support group. She was scared and distrustful and would only come to sessions when there was safety in numbers. It's not surprising. Teenagers in the system can be sent to psychiatric clinics when staff find they can't cope with their behaviour.
Now that trust has been built up, the group can't get enough attention. Our colleagues have split them into small groups of three so that they get more individual attention, while still learning to relate better to their peers. Altogether 28 young people have regularly been attending our sessions, and 13 of them have come for individual counselling sessions.
We have noticed that our young people have developed better self-control through this process and are much better at communicating with us and each other. Equally, our work with their teachers has helped them to resolve conflicts better, to listen more, and to understand better the needs and concerns of the young people in their care.
This progress is thanks to your generous support. It takes patience and time to make a breakthrough with deeply troubled young people. We are rewarded by knowing that Ksenia and her friends will benefit from this experience for the rest of their lives.
"I talk to you and I feel that I exist, that I'm alive. Before, I had to get beaten up to feel anything."
Our orphanage-leavers are making progress at the deepest, most painful level as Dima's comment makes so clear. Dima is just 17. We are so grateful to you for making it possible to provide them with the counselling they need to do so. Can you imagine what kind of a life Dima would lead if no-one cared enough to help him deal with this trauma?
We have been working hard with our group of orphans in the first year of technical college. Having been abandoned by their parents, these young people have learnt not to trust adults. After testing the boundaries, they realise now that our colleagues are genuinely interested in them, and that they aren't going anywhere. Now the group are happy to talk more openly about their experiences. Now that everyone has grown to trust each other, we take them on outings to art workshops run by friends of ours. It's a very important way of introducing the group to new people, new experiences, and to travelling independently on public transport.
With the older group, who will leave the orphanage at the end of the year, we are talking a great deal about their new homes, how they will look after their home, and what they will do there. Strange thought it might seem, despite the difficulties of orphanage life, most of the residents are terrified of leaving. Knowing nothing else, they think only of ways of prolonging their studies so they can stay on, or how they can live and work with their friends from the orphanage and try to recreate the atmosphere. It is difficult for them to confront these feelings, so we hold an art workshop with them regularly to help them express and deal with their negative emotions.
We have also been making progress with the staff at the orphanage, who have been attending seminars. They take an interest in our work and several times have asked us to help them resolve conflicts with the young people.
We must help this valuable progress continue, so that our young people are able to face life after the orphanage with confidence. If you'd like to make an ongoing commitment to our orphanage-leavers, the wonderful people at Global Giving give you the possibility of setting up a regular donation through their site. If you set up a monthly donation via globalgiving.org you may even have your donation matched. Regular giving is really fantastic, because it means we can promise our young people that we will continue to be there for them while they need us.
The new school year has brought 40 new teenagers to the orphanage, where our charity works, and they urgently need our help. We work in the "children's home" department of a technical college, where young people aged 16 to 23 study and live. So we have a vital window of opportunity to work with them and prepare them for independent life.
For the new arrivals, independent life seems a long way off. Their main anxiety is adapting to their new home. The young people all come from different children's home, and for many of them from small towns, this is their first time in a big city. Some are so afraid of getting lost that they never leave the children's home where they live and study.
Natasha, aged 16 said, "Everything's strange here. I would have been better off staying in my children's home. I know everyone there, I can help the younger ones and stay and work there. I just don't want to go anywhere. If I have a child, I will go back to live in the children's home."
Those who wish to meet each week with our support group. There we give them the confidence to make friends and venture out into the city.
We have not forgotten the young people we were helping last year. There is a second group for young people in the final year. Most of them have a job lined up for when they will leave, but many still have problems with their housing. It looks likely that some will have to go back to live with relatives who either abandoned them, or where judged unfit to look after them as children. We offer group sessions where the practical questions are worked through, but also individual sessions, where they can untangle their complicated and painful emotions towards their families and hopefully reach some resolution.
We leave you with the words of one of our young people:
"The lads often don't understand why they should talk to a psychologist and ask me, what do you do there in the in the consultations. I explain that if you have an unbearable toothache, then you know that you can go to the dentist. See, I know there is also a psychologist, and I go there when I feel unbearable pain inside."
With your help this Christmas, we can make sure that all our young people continue to get the help they need.
P.S. We don't have any pictures for you because we must protect the privacy of our sessions.
We are busy preparing for September and the start of the college year in Russia. Thanks to the generosity of our Global Giving supporters, we can continue to prepare several groups of orphanage leavers both practically and emotionally for independent life.
This year we aim to attract new students to take part in the club called "Your Tomorrow", but we won't be forgetting the young people we have worked with this year. We will continue to offer support for young people who have been with us for just a year so that they can continue to make progress. We will also be identifying some long-standing group members who would like to mentor younger orphanage-leavers, and we'll be giving them some training for their new role.
Excitingly, we have also found the funds to start a mentoring programme for staff working in institutions for orphanage-leavers. Working with deprived teenagers can be immensely satisfying or hugely frustrating. We hope that by supporting the staff we can help them avoid burn-out, build stronger relationships with the young people in their care, and find more fulfilment in their work. If this works, the young people passing through their institutions will benefit hugely, both while they are in their care and in their adult lives to come.
Thank you all for your support. We look forward to telling you how our young people get on through the year to come.
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