Nov 24, 2020

New chapters for our work with disabled youth

Talking films
Talking films

We've all had to try new things this year and the theme is continuing.  In Moscow we are making a project we started at the beginning of the pandemic permanent.  We started online counselling for parents with children with special needs because the quarantine was such an acute crisis.  We knew we had to provide urgent support.  The project was so successful, reaching some of "our" families, but also helping parents living far from Moscow, who would find it very difficult to access help even in normal times.  We are delighted to have found funding so that we can continue this service.  Caring for children with complex needs brings great joys and huge challenges.  It is exhausting and can be incredibly lonely.  We are glad that we will be able to continue supporting some of the many, many parents who feel near breaking point.  Their children can only benefit from their parents regaining some balance and hope in their lives.

In St Petersburg we have a change of venue for our work.  We had been using a special school as our base.  The school has been growing and no longer has space for us, so we have had to move.  We are still in the awkward transition phase and have some work to do to feel completely at home.  We were able to bring our own equipment with us, but we still have to set up our kitchen and seminar rooms now we can no longer share kit with the school.  The stuff we need to buy ranges from a simple kettle for around $35 to a water purifier for $377 (the tap water in St Petersburg is not safe to drink).  Once we are fully equipped, we will be ready for the end of pandemic restriction.  We'll be able to offer our usual warm welcome to families, to continue teaching life skills in our kitchen, and to pass on our skills through our seminars.  Any help you can offer is gratefully received.  We are just a week away from Giving Tuesday.  On that day the wonderful people at GlobalGiving will be adding a bonus to every donation.  If you'd like to help us, make a note, donate on 1st December and see your donation go further. 

Lastly, we've been talking films with our young people.  Who likes what kind of films? What have they seen at the cinema?  Who do they like to go to the cinema with? What snacks do they eat when they are there? As we talk, we select pictures to make our chat possible.  Then we can print off a sheet of pictures and symbols, which means that our young people can talk with their friends and families on the topic too.  In the face of all these changes, our regular work continues.  Giving our children and young people the tools they need to communicate, socialise and become as independent as possible.

Thanks everyone, and stay safe.

Oct 31, 2020

Our families loved the summer camp you funded

In our last report, we told you how our families with older children got on on summer camp.  Today it's the turn of the families with young children.  Thanks to your generous donations, we were able to host five families, including nine children.  Numbers were down on last year to keep within the pandemic regulations, so we chose families who were highly motivated to strengthen their relationships.

The spring and early summer were so difficult for our families, and we saw this very clearly in the first few days of our camp.  Some of the families had found it very stressful to be thrown together without a break during the quarantine.  Others had been separated during the quarantine, with the children staying with their father or grandparents.  And they had all been separated from each other, from their friends.  In the first few days, the children found it difficult to settle to our activities and games.  They needed to reestablish their friendships, and spent most of their time playing chase, or a game which involved all piling on top of each other.  We also found that all of our families had lost fitness through the weeks when they weren't allowed to go out.  We had to adjust and shorten our usual walks.  All the same, the children took great pleasure in getting out into the forest, collecting berries and splashing in puddles.

Recovering from the stresses and strains of the pandemic restrictions was our first goal.  After that, we helped parents balance the needs of their two children.  We helped them reassure their children, so that they could take turns playing with their parent, confident while they waited that they would get a turn soon.  The children all learned to allow their sibling more attention without becoming disruptive, and to enjoy the attention when it was their turn to play.

We also organised some listening exercises to encourage good communication.  The parents were asked to find out what made their children happy and then to report back to the group.  This simple task made the parents very anxious because they weren't used to having such conversations with their children.  However, for most of the families, including Natasha and Nikita, it was a real breakthrough moment.

"To begin with I was shaking I was so scared.  Nikita was busy drawing and didn't want to talk to me.  But I did what we had been shown, and gradually he started to answer my questions.  Then he began to tell a story about how we ran through puddles together.  He was laughing the whole time he told the story.  I was in shock that it was so simple to talk to him, and that all I needed to do was listen.  He just talked and I only listened.  I don't think I have ever seen his eyes like that - they were so big and bright.  I really want to hold onto that moment."

We are very grateful to everyone who helped fund this summers camps.  They were more valued and valuable than every before.  Although we were only able to take a few families with us this year, we know that they will work on what they have learned when they get home, and they will share it with their friends.  Our most committed families often become mentors to new families joining the project.  They are absolutely invaluable in guiding and encouraging their peers.  The camp you supported is the most solid step towards this level of commitment.  Thank you!  

Natasha and Nikita
Natasha and Nikita
Oct 13, 2020

Thank you for our first fantastic summer camp

Campfire on benches built by our young people
Campfire on benches built by our young people

This year's summer camp was always going to be different.  After the isolation of the quarantine, everyone needed to be together, to be able to share experiences and support each other.  But right until the last moment we couldn't be sure that the camp would go ahead at all.  As it turned out, we were allowed to hold it, albeit with reduced numbers.  Sadly, those numbers were reduced further when a few of our young people were not allowed to take time off work.

Tatiana was dissapointed her friends coulnd't join her, and we are proud of her for going on her own. 

"I planned to come on camp with my friends, and I only just heard that at the last minute their bosses wouldn't let them take time off.  It's really annoying, but of course they couldn't do anything, especially at the moment when you can lose your job any time.  But all the same, I decided to come without them, and I don't regret it at all."

For Kostya, changes to the train timetables also made the lead-up to the camp stressful.  Thanks to his training, he dealt with his anxieties in a very practical way and made it to camp in one piece.

"I've been on camp before, but this time it was difficult to get ready because the train was very early and I was worried that I wouldn't get to the station on time.  I did a practice run to the station in advance to check how much time I needed, so I wouldn't be late, taking into account that I would have a heavy rucksack and wouldn't be able to walk so fast when I was changing metro trains.  I was so nervous that I decided to have a friend from the group to stay the night before. In the end we didn't sleep all night, we were so worried we would miss the alarm.  But we were the first to the station in the morning."

As is traditional, we started off by getting the site ready not just for our camp, but for the little ones who would be coming for camp after us.  With help from the staff, the teenagers made low benches to go round the campfire, cleaned up the play equipment and the cabin itself.  Everyone always gets a lot of satisfaction from imagining how happy the children will be when the arrive.

In our group sessions, we concentrated a great deal on developing self-reflection, on recognising our strengths and the resources we have available to us to solve our problems.

Dima explained how he felt camp helped him:

"It's very important for me to come here.  I feel light and calm here.  I feel that just here I can free myself of my past worries, which weigh heavily on me.  Before I lived in a children's home, and there I knew very little about the life I live now.  The people teaching me were busy with their own lives.  They didn't notice me, but here I am noticed.  And I have started to live life myself.  Thanks to our meetings in St Petersburg and here, I can see how much I have to learn and I am learning.  Here I can see how parents interact with their children, and it's a lesson for my future.  Sooner or later, I will need to be responsible and become a father.  At some point I realised that I am alone and I need to become independent or I'm lost.  And here they teach me that.  Yes, it's difficult.  It's difficult to recognise that you don't have family backup.  But I am learning to come to terms with the situation and to grow up.   It's as if I'm learning to pull up the weeds that are strongly holding me back in my old habits and ways of thinking.  At the training I had a real breakthrough.  Now I have to work to put it into practice in my life."  

Because of the pandemic, our families and young people face a great many extra challenges.  Challenges of isolation and practical and financial challenges.  Thanks to the summer camp, this group have made great progress towards becoming truly independent and resilient.  We are very grateful to you for helping make it possible.  In our next report, we will let you know how the families with younger children got on.  Watch this space!

Ira cleaning the wendy house for the children
Ira cleaning the wendy house for the children
Dima with friends
Dima with friends
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