Summer is on it's way, and the Sunflower Centre is preparing for its summer camp for parents who grew up in Russian orphanages and their children. We are all waiting on tenterhooks to see whether the Centre will be awarded a grant by the local authorities to fund the bulk of the cost of the camp, as well as their programme of home visits to families in particular need.
We are confident enough to start making preparations for the camp. First of all this means selecting the families who will take part. Our families are drawn from two groups. There are new families, who are visited at home by our specialists and have serious difficulties in their family relationships. The other group are the old hands, families who have been coming to the parenting club for some time and are more confident in their parenting. Like all parents, they still have much to learn, but they will also be able support the specialists in helping the new families. To take part in the camp families from both groups have to be absolutely committed to improving their relationship with their children. Each family is interviewed and together they work out what they would like to learn during the camp.
Meanwhile, practical preparations are also taken place. The cottage where the camp takes place has a traditional Russian stove, which has been condemned. Fortunately, a donor's generosity is allowing us to rebuild the stove and make it safe so that hot water will be available this summer.
The Sunflower Centre supports families in St Petersburg right through the year. They have recently taken part in a public exhibition with a ballet theme. A doctor has also volunteered to advise the parents on looking after their children's health. If you are interested to know more about this ongoing work, you can find out more in our newsletter.
Volunteers play an important part in our summer camps for parents who grew up in orphanages. With their children the can act as role models, but they also learn a lot through the process. Natalia, one of our volunteers has written about her impressions:
"I think it was particularly useful that during the summer camp the parents could put the skills learnt in intensive activities quickly into practice with the “real time” correction of the group and the specialists. Being separated from everyday life and the bustle of the city made it possible for the parents to concentrate and work effectively on the tasks they were set.
For me it was a revelation to see how the particularities of children’s behaviour (both “bad” and “good”) are in fact a reflection of the state of their parents, and that the improvement in the parents’ state is reflected in their children and also to see how the parents’ lack of sensitivity to their own needs and emotions stops them from being sensitive to their child’s needs. Several situations that I observed brought me to the conclusion that orphanage leavers don’t perceive the often harsh way they relate to their children as being severe, but as being the norm. I can understand that it is the result of their traumatic childhood experiences. At the camp, I saw how the parents copied the behaviour of the specialists towards the children with their own children. The parents are capable of seeing other models of behaviour and realising that what they consider to be childish naughtiness can in fact be the natural expression of the child’s needs.
If during the first days of the programme I felt that the scale of the problems was so big that it would be impossible to move beyond stalemate, by the end of the camp, I had seen the children's behaviour begin to change, and the parents began to express varied feelings and emotions rather than the usual defensive mask. I could see that this type of work was effective, despite being time-limited."
We look forward to this summer where new members of the support group will be able to feel the benefit of a camp at this simple log cabin. We are very grateful to an organisation called The Besom for donating £2,000 to install a new stove. In traditional Russian style, this is used not only for heating, but also for hot water so it is absolutely essential. The old stove was condemned, so it is fantastic that with this donation we have been able to save the future of these summer camps.
Natasha and Nadia both grew up in orphanages and they both took part in our summer camp in 2011. In this video they explain how important the summer camp was to them and their children.
Apart from the summer camp, Natasha has been coming to the parenting support group for three years. She has a little girl aged 9 and a 4-year-old boy. At first she didn't realise she had a problem with parenting, but with the gentle correction of the psychologists running the group she could see that she could be too harsh. Over these three years, Natasha has gained hugely in confidence. She has been able to meet the changing challenges of parenting growing children, and gets great pleasure out of being with her children.
Nadia has only just got involved with the support group, but she really enjoyed her first summer camp. She has enjoyed a huge number of new experiences with her little boy, and has had a chance to learn from the other parents.
We are already thinking about next year and need your help so we can offer this life-changing experience to more families.
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