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.
We watched the film The Chorus with our young people who spent their childhoods in Russian orphanages. If you don't know the film, it is set in a French home for "difficult" children in the 1940s. The sadistic head master presides over a grim institution, but the children's lives change when a new teacher arrives and sets up a choir. You would think it was clear who was the hero and who was the villain, but our young people admired the head teacher because "he stuck to his decisions", " he knew how to put his feelings to one side and didn't feel compassion" and because "you know where you stand with him". The film started a whole discussion about which role models we should follow. This is so important because already we see our young people beginning to immitate some of the harsher teachers and supervisors who have looked after them. It might seem strange, but the older ones are already beginning to treat the younger residents at their hostel in ways which not so long ago they found so hurtful themselves. With our weekly discussions we try to help our young people rebalance their topsy-turvy view of relationships.
The group sessions we hold for orphanage-graduates already living independently show us the value of our years of patient work. Having been involved with our project for some time, they really appreciate our support and are motivated to improve their own lives. Serafim said recently, "Coming here is so important to me that I run here as if I was coming to see my family". Recently we went on an outing together to the IKEA showroom so that they could get some ideas on how to arrange their home so that it is comfortable, practical and reflects their personality, rather than imitating the institutions of their childhood.
Lastly, we have been discussing gratitude. We don't want our young people to take your support for granted. We'd love to put together a Christmas card from as many of our supporters as possible, so that they realise that there are real people round the world who care for them, and that the meetings they value so much don't happen by magic. Please do give us your messages to pass on this Christmas. Perhaps you'd like to say a little about why you support this project, or about who you are. Feel free to send us your photo. We'll pass it all on. You can add your comments or photos to our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SaintGregs) or send it to me at email@example.com. Thank you!
Confused and angry is how many of our young people feel. Over the summer and in September, many of the young people who used to come to our support group have left the institution where they live, either to move to another one or to start their independent life. While they lived in the institution the staff strictly controlled their every action. Now that they have left, these people who yesterday were part of their life don't want anything to do with them. For them it feels like yet another abandonment.
Fortunately, thanks to you, we can continue to be there for these young people as they go through this difficult and risky period. The authorities won't allow them to continue coming to our support groups within the orphanage, but we are finding other ways of reaching out to them. Over the summer we have invited them to join in with our activities for older orphanage-leavers who have children. Some of our parents on our programme have grown close to members of our younger group and could become mentors to them. We are planning to give them training to help them become successful mentors. Our social worker will also be making regular visits to our young people now living independently who have asked for support.
Meanwhile, we are setting up a new group in the institution for 10 young people who the authorities tell us are particularly troubled. At this stage we are still getting to know each other and building up their trust. With your help we look forward to supporting them through the coming years.
P.S. Our young people don't always like having their photo taken so I'm afraid we don't have any new pictures to show you.
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