We were lucky enough this year to win two grants, which allowed us to run two summer camps for parents who grew up in Russian orphanages and their children. The first camp was for families who have already been taking part in our family support group for some time. The second was for new families who we have been visiting at home, and who have not yet joined the support group. All in all 24 families took part. Your donations were vital. Your generosity allowed us to provide all the food for the second group of families, which encouraged them to take part. You also helped bought all the supplies so we could rewire our wooden cottage and make it safe for our families. Thank you!
Our first group of parents all understand what we are trying to do at camp and see it is a really important opportunity to improve their relationship with their children. They are willing to help with the organisation, indeed, one of our dads, a qualified electrician, volunteered to do the rewiring, so we only had to pay for supplies.
With this group of families our main theme of the camp was avoiding violence of all kinds, emotional and verbal as well as physical. Violence doesn't horrify the parents. They have experienced violence of all kinds, and yet barely recognise it. They think it is normal for them and their children to be badly treated. They find it particularly difficult to recognise emotional violence, and think that in not meeting their children's needs they are helping them to become more independent.
The parents were delighted to find that when they changed their approach, their children's behaviour changed very quickly. "When my children used to cry and demand that I did this or that, I tried to talk to them using this new approach. I am still amazed - they started to talk to me too, and not just to shout at me. We managed to agree and for the rest of the day they would cuddle up to me and be very affectionate."
We also did a lot of work on maintaining a good routine of feeding the children and putting them to bed. Again, the parents were amazed at how quickly their children's behaviour improved. Quite apart from this, we all had a lot of fun! One of the highlights was when the parents all did impressions of the leaders.
The second group of parents needed much more support at quite a basic level. They are very lacking in confidence and anxious. One mother was still refusing to feed her 14 month-old solids because she was so worried she would choke. Another, with a toddler, thought her child would be too frightened to play with anyone else. Most of all the parents simply didn't know how to make their children smile. When we asked them how they made their child smile, the only thing they could think of was to tickle them. During our camp, they saw their children relax and take an interest in their new experiences. We got the mothers to perform a puppet theatre and took photos of the children's delight. They cried when we showed them the pictures of their children grinning happily. All the parents in the group now want to take part in our family support group that meets through the year. This means that we can follow up on these hopeful beginnings and make sure smiling becomes a regular part of their family life.
Thank you so much for making this possible. It might seem unbelievable to you that our parents need help with such absolute basics, but we can never underestimate the damage caused by their orphanage upbringing. What you can be sure of is their commitment to do better, and their ability to transform their relationship with their children.