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 Children  Russia Project #11238

Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children

by St Gregory's Foundation
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children
Before
Before

It's -6 degrees C (21 degrees Farenheit) in St Petersburg and our summer camps seem a long way off.  To be honest, we don't have a great deal to tell you yet about our plans.  Only that we know that we will have plenty of families who will need our support and who will be able to benefit from the camp.

So in the meantime, I want to tell you a story about a mother and daughter who come to our weekly group sessions that happen through the year.  

Unusually, the mother didn't grow up in an orphanage, but her daughter's father did.  Our group was recommended to her because she was worried about her daughter, Vasilisa.  "Vasilisa is very obedient, never smiles, does everything herself, and never cries" and she is eighteen months old.  This worried her mama, but her papa is pround of how "even-tempered" his daughter is.  He came to our sessions just once to check that his daughter "wasn't learning anything bad" with us.  

Vasilisa's mother told us how one day she found her husband teaching their daughter how to be strong, never to cry and never to be afraid.  She was jumping from the highest point in the flat onto the floor and her papa didn't allow her to cry or complain about the pain.  Her mama froze.  She felt that there was something wrong, but she couldn't work out what was going on.  

During our play sessions the little girl didn't smile and didn't look at her mama.  After a while mama got depressed seeing the contrast with the other children that were actively playing with their parents.  She was upset, cried and was very quiet.  She found it difficult to take part in games with her daughter.  After a few individual counselling sessions, it became easier for her and she became more emotionally stable when she was with her child.

The sessions helped mama and daughter to make contact with each other and to establish basic rules.  

Mama said, "It is a joy to see that your child is happy, which means they are healthy.  Now I understand that earlier I wasn't able to help my daughter or to protect her, because I was sure that a parent couldn't do anything bad to their child.  Now I understand what it means for us that my husband was brought up in a children's home." 

Even for someone married to an someone who grew up in an orphanage it can be difficult to imagine just how deeply their traumatic childhood has affected them.  Only when we begin to understand this can we offer the right kind of help and prevent the trauma being passed on to the next generation.  The summer camps are an opportunity for us to continue the work we do week by week in a more intensive way.  The two photos of Vasilisa with her mother, before and after coming to our sessions show the kind of transformation we are offering to families.  With your help we can make more children smile.

Before we go we'd like to tell you that we are now on Twitter.  If you want to here more about this and other projects helping vulnerable families and children in Russia do follow us @SaintGregsFound.

After - what a difference!
After - what a difference!
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Our family support group for orphanage-leavers
Our family support group for orphanage-leavers

The greatest gifts are free.  What a cliche - but it's true.  Whole lives can be blighted by a lack of love in the early years.  This is why we give parents who grew up in Russian orphanages the gift of a summer camp place for them and their children, so that they will find it easier to give their child the gift of their love and attention.

Loving your child may not cost money, but it can be demanding in other ways.  We are reminded of this as our families get back to life in the city after the summer's activities.  Over the last few months some of them have been struggling to keep up the new style of parenting they discovered and to develop their achievements.  

For the children it is as if they got to know their parents afresh on camp and saw their best side: their mom became responsive to their requests, attentive to their interests, they could play with their mom for long periods, make things together and go splashing in puddles.  The children expect all this and more to continue with their parents when they return to the city from summer camp.  However, all the bustle of the city with work, house-work, the demands of the kindergarten leaders and the parents’ own difficulties in coping make them more stressed and they become less responsive to their children and gradually become harsher towards them.  The children’s wishes get put on the back burner, they can’t compete with the everyday reality that the grown-ups are plunged into. 

Fortunately, we hold weekly family support meetings, where the parents can see how the opportunity to be with their children, and to keep the happy memories of the time they spent together at camp will help them develop their parent-child relationship.  This is what the parents themselves said:

Anya – Summer camp made a deep impression on me.  It’s as if my child grew up and started to understand me.  I had never seen him so contented and active.  I had thought that he was still really small.

Tonya – Before I used to behave like I was my daughters’ friend, I entertained them and felt hurt if they were in a bad mood.  Now I understand that that’s nothing to do with parenting.  I’m learning to be a parent, to be clear, consistent, and accessible, and I see how my children are becoming easier.  I must continue doing this with them and still have lots to learn.  Only now do I understand how difficult it is for those of us who grew up in children’s homes to become parents ourselves, and that we need help.

Even in the depths of winter we are still looking forward to next summer.  Will you help us so we can offer a summer camp to our families so that our orphanage-leavers can become the parents they want to be?

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Mother and daughter on summer camp
Mother and daughter on summer camp

Summer already seems a long time ago, but the seven families that took part in our summer camp remember it clearly, and that's thanks to you.  By giving them the chance to take part in our summer camp, you have given them an opportunity to change and improve their family life.

This year our theme on camp was "the nest".  Our parents lost their family and their home when they were taken to live in a children's home.  It's not surprising that they find it difficult to create a warm, loving home for their children.  Growing up in an institution they didn't have a place of safety physically or emotionally, so this is what we wanted to help them create for themselves and their family as adults.

The theme ran through our activities over six day as we explored non-aggressive ways of communicating with each other, what we need to feel secure and loved, and each family's own story. 

One activity was a particular hit with all the families.  We asked the parents to choose a place outside where they could make a nest for their little chick.  The parents took the activity very seriously, they carefully chose their spot and the materials they would use to build the next.  They took great care over the construction and decorated it with things their children like. 

At bed-time, the parents told their children all about how they had built them a nest and wanted to show it to them.  The children were very interested and the parents started to worry that they wouldn't like their nests.  The next day each parent met their child at their next and told them how they build their next, how they waited for their little chick, what they did so they would particularly like it and then they fed their child "worms" (forest berries).

The children were absolutely transfixed and watched their parents in delight.  The parents were so touched by their children's attention that they cried and hugged their children.  This was such an important moment for the children - their parents were accessible, attentive and affectionate.  When the children ran away to play with their friends the parents worried that "they don't like being with me."  We took this as the theme for our discussion the next day, but at the time we suggested they visit each others' nests and tell each other their stories.  The children were also excitedly telling each other about their nests and often looked over to their mamas.

So if at the beginning the parents were always arguing with our leaders, saying that surely we were giving too much attention to the children, when they saw the difference in their children they understood why it was worth finding a new way of relating to them.

We know that it's not easy for our parents to change and to learn something which they never had in childhood.  So when we see the effort they make and the resulting difference in them and their children, it motivates us to look all the harder for the best way of teaching them these skills and habits.   

So thank you once again for giving all our families a summer to remember and something to look forward to through the dark days of winter.  We're already starting to think about next summer's camp!

Making a nest and feeding her "chick"
Making a nest and feeding her "chick"
Mama negotiates with Nikita
Mama negotiates with Nikita
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Preparing firewood
Preparing firewood

You might find this rather odd, but today we're going to tell you about some of the families we didn't take with us on summer camp.  Don't worry, we will report back fully on how the summer camps have gone at the end of the summer, when we're back from our log cabin.  In the meantime, I think this story will show you something of how seriously we prepare our families for the intense experience of the camp, and just how seriously they take it all.

As we prepared for our summer camps we discussed our plans with the parents in our group.  We have a number of new families with teenage children.  Parenting teenage children can be challenging at the best of times, but it can be particularly difficult for parents who grew up in orphanages.  A number of them said that we shouldn't take their children anywhere because they don't know how to behave and could disgrace us all.  Other parents who had been part of our group for longer voiced opionions which we, as professionals, found surprising.  

 "I know I could persuade these parents to trust us and risk coming on camp, but I would feel that I had to be responsible and control their children, so that nothing really did happen to them, and so the parents weren't disappointed.  But I don't take part in this programme so that other parents can keep hold of their illusions about their relationship with their children without being prepared to find out more about their children and to change themselves.  So, I could agree to going on a smaller trip, so that the parents can get to trust their relationship with their child without my help."

 "I realise that you have to go on summer camp as a family "ready for battle".  I mean you have to understand why you are there and what you want to change about your relationship with your child.  I started with short trips and I remember how difficult it was for me.  So let's start at the beginning again.  I'm ready to help the new families."

With this feedback, we decided to plan a day out not far from the city.  Not all our families were so ready to adapt to the needs and capabilities of the new families, and some refused to come.  In the end four families came with their eight teenage children.

The established families helped the new ones to borrow the necessary rucksacks etc from friends of theirs.  The families did a lot of the planning themselves, worked out a menu and went shopping for supplies.  When it came to the outing, some of the teenagers had been away with us before and they showed the new teenagers how to look for wood for the campfire etc.  The parents watched their children, some in amazement, others with delight.  And so, the fact that the children could be responsible became obvious to their parents.  They spontaneously went up and hugged their children, and praised them for being so hands-on and so helpful.  In our programme we call this teaching through experience.

During the outing we led a discussion imagining life in 35 years time.  Both parents and children found it hard to imagine themselves so far in the future, but the parents began to advise their children, emotionally warning them not to make the same stupid mistakes as them, telling them what was important in life and what wasn't.

It seemed like this was the first time their children had received this kind of advice from their parents and such warm attention to their future and it wore everyone out physically and emotionally.  We had to add in some relaxation time.  The children and their parents lay on the grass, and talked about what pictures the clouds made.  This was also a first time experience for our families.

The new families thanked the other families for their support and for showing them that it was possible to have a positive relationsip with their children.

This leads us on to next year.  Of course we want to be able to run our summer camps again, so that these new families can come and develop their relationships over a longer period of time if they are willing and able to.  If you'd like to help us with this aim, you might like to know that, to mark International Youth Day, GlobalGiving are doubling all new recurring donations starting this week until 11.59pm (EDT) on Saturday August 12th. Regular donations are a fantastic way to help non-profit organisations like ours.  They give us the confidence to plan our activities, knowing that we will be able to continue supporting our families.  If you already give in this way, then we want to thank you! If you haven't thought about it before, then this is the week to start.  Even a small regular donation can make a big difference.

Parent child bonding
Parent child bonding
Taking time out to relax together
Taking time out to relax together
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A volunteer working with his children
A volunteer working with his children

We're getting ready for our two summer camps for parents who grew up in Russian orphanages and their children.  The first one for families with children aged 10+ will happen later this month, the second camp for families with pre-school children is planned for August. 

Before the camps start is always a busy time.  We have to prepare the families for this very intense time when they will be asked to work with us to learn new ways of being a family.  We also have to get our summer camp base ready after lying empty for much of the year.  

In the beginning of May we went out with a group of volunteers to start work, despite the fact that there was still snow on the ground. This is the best time for cutting back the trees and bushes before the disease-spreading ticks become a problem.  IIt's a big job to prepare the fire-wood we need for our stove that supplies hotwater and heating.  We have also fitted new doors to our log cabin.

Our families are looking forward to the summer camps.  This year we'll have two new families with us.  We are very grateful to you for giving them this opportunity to transform their parenting skills.  Please do keep up your support.  We are hoping that next year we will be able to bring members of one of our new groups of orphanage-leavers on summer camp.  We didn't think they were quite ready this year, but we hope that in a year's time they will have gelled as a group and become receptive to this kind of intensive support.  And of course we hope that we will have the funds to help them.

Whatever you are doing this summer, we wish you well and we will let you know how we get on with our families at the log cabin.

Cutting down overgrown trees for firewood.
Cutting down overgrown trees for firewood.
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Organization Information

St Gregory's Foundation

Location: Hampton Wick, Surrey - United Kingdom
Website:
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Project Leader:
Julia Ashmore
Hampton Wick, Surrey United Kingdom

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