Lena with her friends on a hike we organised
For us individual and group support complement each other perfectly. Many of our young orphanage-leavers first have individual support and then join the group when they feel confident enough. Alternatively, they might join the group and then ask for individual counselling when they start to realise how deeply their childhood trauma has affected them.
Lena joined us two years ago after she split up with her boyfriend. She had realised that she was getting tetchy and tearful and was going out drinking more often. At around this time, Lena lost two fingers in an industrial accident. Her then boyfriend didn't visit her in hospital, and this was when she decided to end their strained relationship. Not knowing how to live alone, she said, "I didn't just lose myself, but my home too. I would do nothing but work, even putting in extra shifts just to avoid having to think about anything."
She talked about her mother, who was deprived of her parental rights because of alcoholism. As a child she went to live with her aunt for a time because her mother wasn't even feeding her. Her aunt also wasn't able to look after her and she ended up back with her mother without even a bed to sleep in. She doesn't remember being taken to the orphanage aged 12. As she says, her memories of that time are "all jumbled." Now she has begun to forgive her and they now see each other frequently.
Her injury was also a difficult subject. Through a year of counselling, Lena continued to bandage her hand and to feel self-conscious about it. Gradually, through individual counselling, Lena began to believe in herself. She also started coming to group sessions and eventually took off her bandages so that her hand could be seen. She is now a valued member of the group, a friendly, attentive and supportive friend.
She has realised that her previous employer was exploiting her and has found a new job as a cook at a fast food restaurant. "It's much safer there and I can chat to customers. They see my hand, but they don't ask about it, and they don't laugh or stare."
And, she is in a new, warm relationship and is waiting for her boyfriend to come back from military service.
After a series of abandonments, as first her mother, her aunt, the orphanage staff and then her ex-boyfriend were unable to show the love she needed, Lena now has a new start. She is rebuilding her life on firmer foundations. She says, "I almost don't notice but I look different now. My appearance itself has changed. Before I didn't understand myself. I didn't even feel capable of being happy".
Earlier this year we told you about Tomash, who felt suicidal when he moved into his own small flat. We were able to support him individually, but it also helped him greatly to hear from the group that his peers had felt the same as him, and perhaps still did. Now Tomash is successfully attending college and has taken part in a show about the experience of leaving an orphanage with his amateur dramatics group. He invited all his friends from our support group to the final performance. He said, "I wish everyone who had travelled this path could see the show because it's not always easy to tell your story."
As we look towards the new year, we wish all those who have left orphanages, or will do soon the very best. We are reaching a significant proportion of those leaving in our city, and we train staff in other organisations too. We would wish that every orphan could find the support they need to recognise their strengths and form satisfying friendships and relationships.
Tomash, centre stage and smiling