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

Whether you get on with them or not, knowing who your family is helps you know who you are.  Like most people who grew up in Russian orphanages, the parents we support usually have a family although they might have lost touch completely.  At our last summer camp one of our themes was our family tree, we talked about how our parents feel about their parents and wider family and about how they can get in touch and mend relationships.  We are pleased to say that when we got back to St Petersburg, several members of our group were able to start renewing links with their birth families.

Six months before the summer camp, Elena found her birth mother.  They talked on the phone and Elena told her mother all she knows about her life since she went to live in a children's home at birth.  She asked if they could meet so she could "see if there was a likeness", but her mother was scared and refused to meet.  Elena was very angry and didn't want to talk to her any more.  In our sessions at the summer camp she was able to work through her feelings, and by the end, she said she understood why her mother might have refused and was ready to wait until her mother could talk to her.  Three months after the summer camp was over, Elena's mother called her and asked to meet her and Elena's son, her grandson.

Valeria was in a children's home from the age of five when her parents died. She was the youngest daughter in the family and her relatives decided to put her in the home.  They took her at weekends, but her brother and sister and the rest of the family teased her because she was an "orphan".  As she grew up Valeria started to refuse to go to her family at weekends and lost touch with them.  She felt very angry towards them.  After our session at the summer camp, she tracked down her middle sister and got back in touch.  Now they often spend the weekends together and her sister comes round to play with Valeria's daughter.  Valeria is very happy that she took the initiatie to renew the relationship and says that she and her sister are very close.  

Finding out where they come from and making peace with the family that abandoned them helps our group find peace within themselves.  It also helps them to think more positively about the whole idea of family and about themselves.  All this makes it easier to bring up the next generation understanding their past and secure in the knowledge that it won't be repeated. We want to thank you for setting the ball rolling by contributing to our summer camps and giving us space to work through these big issues.

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Summer seems like a long time ago, but we are still feeling the benefits from the summer camp that you helped to fund with your kind donation.

Back in St Petersburg, our families are regularly supported in their parenting in our group for parents who grew up in orpahanges and their children.  Within the group, it is very obvious to us which families have taken part in a summer camp: they are the most open and warm.  The families recognise this too.  We asked one mama what she got out of it and she said, "I found the most important thing for us: warmth and peace in my soul".

The other difference we notice after the summer camp is that parents take more responsibility for and are more responsive to their children.  One of the themes of the summer camp was uncovering our children's talents and helping them develop to their full potential.  We are really delighted that Veronika's parents have picked this up and run with it.  Veronika is now enrolled in a ballet class and performed in public for the first time on Mothers' Day, which is celebrated in Russia at the end of November.

Veronika and her parents have not had an easy path.  We first met them when Veronika was two months old.  Her father came to us with his baby in his arms.  His wife had left Veronika at the doctor's surgery because she was scared that she wouldn't be able to be a "proper" mother to her.  She was taken into care and the authorities wanted to take away her parents' rights altogether.  Fortunately, her dad was able to defend his daughter and she returned to the family.  Her mama was admitted to hospital and treated for post-natal depression.  Fortunately, now those difficulties are in the past.  Veronika is six and her parents love their children very much and think they are the most precious thing in life.

Veronika's dad works, but her mama is preparing to go back to work as soon as her second child is in kindergarten.  We helped them find a place for Veronika in a ballet class.  Fortunately, a generous sponsor paid for the classes for two months until her mama goes back to work.  This meant that Veronika could start her class at the same time as all the other children, which was important for her.  Her parents are so proud of her that they make it a priority now to find the money to pay for her class.

It is so important that all our parents learn how to recognise their children's talents and to encourage them as they grow up.  It is an important step away from reproducing their own orphanage upbringing and helping their children to flourish.  We are already beginning to prepare for our summer camp next year and hope that it will have the same transformative effect on another group of parents.  You have already helped us raise over $400 towards the costs of the camp.  Can you help us raise $800 more by the summer to pay for food and craft materials?  If we can raise more we will also be able to make repairs to our Russian banya, or traditional sauna, the only washing facilities we have during the camps.

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This year we were very lucky to be able to afford a climbing frame with swings and a slide for the garden around the log cabin we use for our summer camps.  The families taking part in the camp this year all had young children.  For us as professionals, the playground gave us the chance to discover some serious problems the parents have in limiting their children’s physical activity. 

For example, the parents with children aged 2-3 suggested that their children watch what the older children playing on the climbing frame and their children were pretty indifferent to what they saw.  The parents resisted all attempts by the leaders to encourage them to let their children play on at least part of the playground.  This raised questions about how the parents spend time with their children outdoors when they are at home in the city.  The parents think their children are too small to use a playground, and even in the sandpit they are worried that they will take other children’s toys or hit a child and that that will create conflict with other parents.  So they keep their children in their pushchairs and simply push them around the streets.  The children all look physically weak for their age with poor coordination and little interest in their surroundings. 

During the summer camps, we have some separate sessions for parents and children.  While the parents were in their group, the leaders suggested that the children play on the playground.  To begin with the children approached the playground nervously, but with physical support and emotional encouragement from the leaders they fairly quickly mastered the slide, the climbing wall and the stairs.  The parents reacted incredulously when we told them about this and when the children visited the playground with their parents they behaved helplessly, falling and crying all the time.

Kostya, for example, who is two and a half, had gone down the slide and landed on his feet in the children’s group.  In front of his mother, who was constantly calling out “careful!” to him, he went down the slide, fell on his face in the grass, cried and refused to play anymore.

Miroslava, who is two, started to cry when her mum tried to put her on the swing, although she had used it quite happily with the leaders and protested when it was time to stop. 

We realised that our task was to change the parents’ attitude so that they could support and encourage their children to play.  To do this we had to first of all convince them that their children have a natural need to play outdoors.  We videoed our children’s session showing the children at first being supported by the leaders, then independently getting the hang of the simplest games, then getting caught up in it and taking the initiative to try and master new games.  The parents were amazed.

Thank you very much for your part in making our summer camp happen this year.  It was a real gift to the parents to see their children playing actively and independently on a playground and taking pleasure in it.  The parents started to play with their children and said that they were ready to exchange their very passive pastimes for more active play at home.  Through play the parents became more capable at helping their children cope with difficult situations without resorting to hitting each other or getting upset.  The children have already begun to improve their social skills, to get fitter and to become more confident.

Now that summer is over we continue supporting these families back in St Petersburg and look forward to next year's camp.  Thanks to you, we already have a little fund for next year, although there is still some way to go to meet all the costs.

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Olga has three children, two girls and a boy.  She grew up in a children's home and so did her mother.  This is why she found it difficult to bond with her children.  With her two boys she says, “I was on auto-pilot.  I didn’t feel anything towards them.”  Bonding with her third child was easier, and now she has a much closer relationship with them.  She is still working hard to improve her family life.

Olga recently agreed to have her story published in a booklet we wrote to help social workers and psychologists understand the outlook of parents who grew up in orphanages.  She really hopes that this will help them help other people in her situation.  We hope her story will also give you an idea of how our summer camps, which you have contributed so generously towards, help our families make long-term changes in their lives.  Olga and her children also comes to our family support centre through the year.  She describes the long journey she's taken to get to the point where she can ask for help and realise she isn't alone.

"After I left the orphanage I went to study so that I wouldn't fall in with a bad crowd.  I got my certificate and then I started another course because I didn't have anywhere else to go.  I wasn't given a room straight away.  When I got my room I already had my son.  But what to do with him? Thank you to the neighbour who told me I should wash him.  Every time there was a problem I called an ambulance.  I felt abandoned and then I had another son.  My husband drank and worked and I was left alone with the children.  I didn't find out straight away when I was pregnant the third time, but I was very glad when I found out it would be a girl.

I often wanted someone from the centre to come and ask me how they could help me.  I had so much pain stored up inside and I wanted to tell someone about it.  The first time I went on the summer camp it was really difficult.  I wanted to run away and hide, but I had to solve my own problems.  I wanted to open up, but instead I got frustrated and behaved badly.  I couldn't openly ask for help.  The second time was easier and I noticed more about how I was behaving.  One day, my daughter was being naughty at lunch.  She wouldn't eat and nothing I did was right.  So, I took her and left and we both went hungry.  I expected one of the specialists to come after me, but nobody did.  My daughter didn't understand what was happening and didn't say sorry and I didn't know what to do.  At home I would have simply ignored her or shouted at her, but here you couldn't do that.  I dreamt about this day.  It really bothered me, but I didn't want to admit that I really needed help, that I didn't know what to do.  I've got three children, but I never learnt how to ask for help.  Instead, I run away and clam up and expect someone to come after me and offer to help.  It took me three years taking part in the programme to realise that I need help and that I can ask for it openly.

I've learnt such a lot from the programme.  I've learnt how to behave with my daughter, how to deal with her when she's being naughty, how to respond when she asks for something, how to look her in the eye when I talk to her, and how to play with her.  I've missed out on so much with my sons.  I should have started when they were younger because it's much more difficult to start now. I really love watching my daughter laughing and enjoying what we have between us.

We have so much pain inside that we can’t deal with it alone, nothing’s like we think it is.  We’re grown up but we need someone to listen to us and free us from what we’ve lived through.  We also have to learn to ask for help, but I still find that very difficult.”  

This year's summer camp starts soon.  Look out for our report in about a month's time when we'll tell you how our families have got on.  If you are UK-based, you might like to know that between 1st and 8th September GlobalGiving UK are adding 50% to donations.  If you'd like to be reminded nearer the time, please e-mail Sarah Gale ( or "like" our Facebook page.

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Summer is on its way and we are actively preparing for the summer camp we'll be leading, with your help, for parents who grew up in orphanages and their young children.  

Although the camp itself won't take place until August, we have already selected the families, who we think will benefit the most from taking part.  It is important that all the families are motivated and willing to work hard to improve their relationships.  We can give them opportunities and support, but only they can change how they relate to their children.

Last year, thanks to a generous donation, we were able to rebuild the traditional stove in our log cabin.  This has freed up space for an extra bunk bed so we can now accommodate 25 people.  This year ten families will take part, plus of course the leaders and volunteers. 

Between now and the camp itself we will meet each family twice to help them prepare.  The first time is a group meeting to tell everyone what they need to bring with them and what their responsibilities are during the camp.  We use a tried and tested structure to the camp that encourages the parents to take responsibility for their own children and helps everyone get on together as a group.  It's very helpful if everyone understands this before they arrive.  The second meeting is on an individual basis.  We discuss with each family what they are hoping to gain from the summer camp and what support they will need.

Meanwhile, the log cabin is being prepared for the summer camp.  The thaw has only just arrived in the Valdai hills (it is just 48 degrees F/9 degrees C at the moment), so we have put the heating on to dry out the building before our families arrive.

Thank you again for donating and helping make our summer camp possible.  Look out for our next report when we'll tell you how our families got on during the camp.

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St Gregory's Foundation

Location: Harrow, Middlesex - United Kingdom
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Twitter: @SaintGregsFound
Project Leader:
Julia Ashmore
Hampton Wick , Surrey United Kingdom
$17,847 raised of $20,750 goal
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