St Gregory's Foundation

St Gregory's Foundation works in Russia and the former Soviet Union to tackle the social problems facing children, teenagers, parents and carers. Our projects address the root causes of disadvantage by putting families before institutions, strengthening a sense of responsibility in young and old alike and providing opportunities for vulnerable people to fulfill their potential. Our work makes our beneficiaries active participants in improving their own lives and encourages a more charitable society.
Dec 11, 2014

The best gift for an orphan - a chance to succeed

Success looks different for different people.  For Seraphim, it was a job in the warehouse for a big fashion store in St Petersburg.

Recently we’ve been doing a lot of work with our orphanage-leavers on finding and keeping a job, which is a particularly difficult subject for young people who have been institutionalised.  

Seraphim is 23.  In May he’s enrolled on yet another training course, which would ensure that his living costs were covered.  All through September he thought that May would come round quickly so he didn’t really need to worry.  Then at the end of the month in our discussions he realised that he didn’t have enough to live on.  His welfare payments don’t cover his expenses and his friends are more likely to ask for help than to offer it.  What’s more, he knew he wanted to change his mobile phone, get online, go out with his friends and eat something other than buckwheat porridge. 

So he decided that May was too long to wait for more money.  At first he agreed with his girlfriend that they would help each other.  He would let her live in his flat and she would buy all the food and cook for him.  But soon Seraphim got fed up because he  “began to feel like he was back in the children’s home.  She tells me what to do and checks up on me all the time”.

It was only at this point that he started getting interested in finding a job.  He came to our group sessions and had three individual consultations to work out what he's capable of and what positive character traits he has.   We’ve realised that one of the major problems is that all our young people are terrified of meeting new people.  When they present themselves, the first thing they say is “I grew up in a children’s home”.   They find it very difficult to identify their positive traits or skills, let alone tell others about them. 

After this preparation, Seraphim got an interview and got the job in the warehouse for a fashion store.  Straight away he was given a uniform, a name badge and a pack of official documents.  All of this made him realise he could change his life around.  He is very happy in his work, has met lots of new young people and has found out more about how they live.  Seraphim still comes to our group sessions after work and shares his experiences.

“I went on my break, but I got distracted and was late back.  When I got back, they fired me.  I was so scared that I persuaded them to let me wash the windows as a punishment as long as I could keep my job.  I really value the job and am scared of losing it.  I carry a notebook with me so that I can write down all my tasks, because I find it difficult to remember them.  There’s so much to learn.”

Growing up in an institution, children and teenagers are never allowed to take any responsibility for themselves, even in small things.  So, we do a lot of work to teach them that their actions have consequences and to motivate them to take control of their lives.  It isn’t an easy learning curve, but it’s fantastic to see what a difference getting a job can make.  It’s not just about finances, but about making new friends and taking pride in achieving something that used to be unthinkable.  Above all, our young people stop being victims of circumstances and start being able to shape their lives.

Children in orphanages are showered with gifts from well-meaning donors at this time of year, but you are giving a gift which will last a whole life.  You are teaching them how to flourish as adults.  Thank you!

Dec 9, 2014

How you helped Camilla learn to talk

Camilla
Camilla

Camilla and her mama are members of our Club for toddlers with impaired hearing that you have generously helped to sponsor.   Some time ago she had a cochlear implant fitted and has just come back to the club.  A cochlear implant can help replace the sensation of hearing for some deaf people.  As soon as she came back we could see that Camilla had changed a lot!  She has begun to make a lot of sounds and syllables.  She can hear herself and the other children and adults.  When she's playing with the other children she is always "saying" something.  Her mama says that at home too Camilla is always trying to talk.  She shows she can hear by cupping her hand to her ear and saying "hear!".

Camilla's mama is so happy to see her success! Her papa is also very hapy, although for a long time he didn't want Camilla to have the implant.  Now he watches Camilla's progress with interest and enjoys chatting to her.

Before deciding about the implant, Camilla's mama spent a long time talking to the other parents at our Club, watching the other children with implants learning to talk.  She talked to the other children, read up on the subject and talked to our experts.  She discussed all this with her husband, and they decided to go ahead.  It's very important that this was totally their decision rather than the professionals'.  We see all our parents as partners who know their children best of all.  The parents find this very refreshing and when they trust us the results are even better.  Now we're all celebrating Camilla's progress and thank you for helping her reach this point.  

We want to help more families like Camilla and her parents and we hate having to turn families away.  So, in January, we are starting another group on Wednesday afternoons.  To make this possible, parents will make a small contribution of just 200 Roubles (the equivalent of $3.70 of £2.30).  This means that your donations this December will help double the number of children and we will be very grateful for any help you can offer.

Oct 31, 2014

Thank you for helping Seraphim become independent.

Seraphim videos his new appartment
Seraphim videos his new appartment

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.

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