Children
 Russia
Project #11238

Summer camp for orphanage-leavers with children

by St Gregory's Foundation
Vetted
Maxim and his Mum
Maxim and his Mum

Thanks to you, Sunflower was able to run two camps.  One for families with children aged over eight, and a second for families with pre-school children.  Both were held at Sunflower's log cabin deep in the beautiful Russian countryside.  This year, they had proper washing and laundry facilities after SGF helped them to renovate their banya (or traditional Russian sauna).

We don't have space to tell you all the wonderful changes that our families experienced in these short breaks, so we'll concentrate on two stories that give you an idea of how vital these camps are.

Lena, Sunflower's director describes one stand out session with the older children and their parents.

"We asked our group to choose a fairy story in which there was a problem between children and their parents.  They chose the story of Buratino, which is a loosely based on the Pinocchio story.  Through role play, our families resolved Buratino and Papa Karlo's main problem, that Buratino was naughty and he and his father didn't understand each other.  

While they were playing the roles the genuine worries of our parents and their children came to the surface.  One boy, who was playing Buratino, said, "I don't do what Papa Karlo says, because I don't feel that he loves me."  For his parents this revelation came like a bolt out of the blue.  The conversation turned to all the proofs that Papa Karlo loves Buratino, "but what about the books he bought you, the clothes that he spent his last Rouble on!"  The parents were genuinely troubled and offended and called Buratino's behaviour ungrateful.  The story reflected the reality of our families' lives.  The parents who grew up in orphanages show their love through material things.  When they were little sponsors would give them little presents and they were grateful for even these small tokens of care and attention.  Sadly, they find it difficult to show their emotions, which is what their children are looking for.  

When we opened out the discussion to the group who had been watching the role-play, the ten-year old son of one of the volunteers said to Buratino, "When you ask Papa Karlo for love, you have to take a risk and open your heart up too love, otherwise you will always stay wooden".  After he had said that Papa Karlo turned to Buratino and asked "What can I do for you?".  Buratino answered, "Take my hand and look me in the eye."

Andrei, who was playing Papa Karlo, said, "This role play of Papa Karlo really made me think for several days.  Our whole family has been shaken up by it as if we made everything new.  Now my heart doesn't seem to fit in my chest, it's so overflowing with feelings for my children and my wife." "

The next story can be told best in pictures.  They show the progress that Maxim and his mother made during our play therapy sessions.  At first Maxim can't look at his mum while she plays simple games with him.  What a transformation you'll see as the six sessions progress!

These training sessions are fun, but also an opportunity for intensive work on family relationships.  They give our families a chance to heal rifts caused by the parents' traumatic upbringing. Thank you for being with us this year - our families wish you a warm and happy Christmas and New Year!

Please consider making a donation during this Christmas Campaign which ends 31st December - Global Giving UK is matching donations by 50%, up to £600 until funds last. This campaign offers £20 000 and  £4500 in prizes and bonuses -  this is a great chance to raise more free funds for our camps next year. Thank you!

Natalia and her son
Natalia and her son

In our last report we told you how your donations helped families with older children grow closer on summer camp.  Now it's the turn of the pre-schoolers and their parents, most of whom grew up in orphanages (just a couple of the dads grew up in families, but one of those comes from a family with serious problems).

Eight families took part in our second summer camp.  For three of them it was the first time and they found it a great support to have the other more experienced parents there with them.  At first everything is strange on summer camp.  For a start, we live in dormitaries in a log cabin with outdoor toilets and a traditional sauna instead of a bathroom.  At 7km from the nearest small town, we are surrounded by clean air and beautiful woods and lakes.  For the new children, this was the first time they had been so close to nature, and once everyone had got used to it, it helped us all relax.

Over seven days we fitted in some really intensive sessions for our families, which allowed them to see positive changes in their relationships very quickly.  We worked particularly on making meal times less stressful for everyone, helping the parents and children play together, and lessening the children's anxiety.  The changes can be seen really clearly in some of our pictures.

Having grown up in an orphanage, it's very difficult for our parents to recognise what their children are capable of and to give them enough space to learn new skills.  They tend to either think that they should be able to do everything themselves, or to baby them too much and not let them become more independent.  Meal times can bring these problems to the fore and were a stressful time for parents and children alike.  We would lay the food out buffet style.  Sometimes, the parents would sit their children down, go off to get the food, and get chatting to someone on the way.  By the time they got back, their child would be hungry and frustrated, would have thrown their plate and cup on the floor and be refusing to eat.  The mother would get cross, assuming that their child didn't like the food and take them off for their nap without lunch.  Alternatively, they might hover over their child with a spoon trying to force them to eat - again with the same results.

So we introduced a few simple rules: parents must fetch food before getting their child settled at the table and they must sit down next to their child and eat with them.  Very quickly the atmosphere calmed down allowing meals to become fun times.  For some of our families this was the first time they had sat down together to eat.

Just as much of a transformation came about in our play sessions.  We focussed on really simple things like eye-contact when the parents were playing with our children.  For some of the parents this was particularly difficult.  Julia had been encouraged to leave her baby in a children's home for six months by the very orphanage staff that brought her up.  They needed help to rebuild their relationship.  Julia said, 

"I couldn't look my child in the eye after I gave him up to the children's home.  After the camp, after everything that has happened, I am hopeful that he has forgiven me.  When he came back from the home, I couldn't bear it if he cried.  I would go into another room and cry myself.  Here they helped me to cope with his feelings and to comfort him.  Now I see how he looks at me and how I can make him happy."

Now that we're all back in St Petersburg, we'll continue to support our families through our weekly family days.  We are also already beginning to plan for next year's summer camps!  They play such an important part in our families lives that we don't want to leave them to chance.  If you'd like to contribute so that we can help more families next year, 21st September is an excellent day to make a donation.  Global Giving will be adding 30% to online donations while matching funds last.  If you'd like to take part we recommend you get online as soon after midday (EDT) as possible to have the best chance of having a bonus added to your donation.  (UK donors - please note that this offer is not available through globalgiving.co.uk, only through the US site.  There will be more UK bonus days later in the year, so look out for more details here or on our Facebook page).

Maxim couldn
Maxim couldn't look at his mom while they played
By the end, Maxim was playing happily with his mom
By the end, Maxim was playing happily with his mom

Links:

"Papa Karlo" and "Buratino"
"Papa Karlo" and "Buratino"

This year our first summer camp has been for parents who grew up in orphanages and who have older children - aged from 8 to 15 years old.  Five families, including one volunteer family, spent four days with us at our cabin in the countryside.  These families first came to us six or seven years ago, when they were having trouble with their young children.  We supported them successfully through that stage, but then a couple of years ago, they came back to us saying "They're growing and we don't know what to do with them.  If we treat them like we were treated in the orphanage then they'll get in trouble with the police for sure.  They are very defiant, just like we were at their age."  The camp was short but intense, and our families came away with their relationships improved at a deep level.  We will continue to help them through the year.

Two things stand out from our four days.  The first was that the children and teenagers really took to helping us set up for the later summer camps for the families with younger children.  This was the first time we had asked them to help in this way, and they were fantastic.  They helped mow the grass, set up the camp fire area, cleared rubbish and cut back overgrown trees and bushes, put sand in the sand-pit and prepared firewood for the stove.  Everyone in the group understood how important this was, because they had benefitted from the work of volunteers when they were little.  We all noticed, including the parents, how much pride the teenagers took in their work.  And however much they wanted to play on the swings, they restrained themselves because "the little ones would be upset if anything got broken."

The other activity that really stood out was when we asked our group to choose a fairy story in which there was a problem between children and their parents.  They chose the story of Buratino, which is a loosely based on the Pinocchio story.  Through role play, our families resolved Buratino and Papa Karlo's main problem, that Buratino was naughty and he and his father didn't understand each other.  

While they were playing the roles the genuine worries of our parents and their children came to the surface.  One boy, who was playing Buratino, said, "I don't do what Papa Karlo says, because I don't feel that he loves me."  For his parents this revelation came like a bolt out of the blue.  The conversation turned to all the proofs that Papa Karlo loves Buratino, "but what about the books he bought you, the clothes that he spent his last Rouble on!"  The parents were genuinely troubled and offended and called Buratino's behaviour ungrateful.  The story reflected the reality of our families' lives.  The parents who grew up in orphanages show their love through material things.  When they were little sponsors would give them little presents and they were grateful for even these small tokens of care and attention.  Sadly, they find it difficult to show their emotions, which is what their children are looking for.  

When we opened out the discussion to the group who had been watching the role-play, the ten-year old son of one of the volunteers said to Buratino, "When you ask Papa Karlo for love, you have to take a risk and open your heart up too love, otherwise you will always stay wooden".  After he had said that Papa Karlo turned to Buratino and asked "What can I do for you?".  Buratino answered, "Take my hand and look me in the eye."

Andrei, who was playing Papa Karlo, is married to Vlad's (Buratino's) mother and has adopted him and his sister.  This was the third time they had come to our camp.  He said, "I knew what to expect from the camp, but this time I was so tired when I got here, so weighed down with issues at work, that I was just hoping to be able to sit at the edge and not be bothered about my feelings.  But this role play of Papa Karlo really made me think for several days.  Our whole family has been shaken up by it as if we made everything new.  Now my heart doesn't seem to fit in my chest, it's so overflowing with feelings for my children and my wife." 

The children and teenagers are beginning to understand their parents' stories, to sympathise, and to understand why they find showing their emotions so difficult.  One of our mothers burst into tears as she admitted that she finds it difficult to touch her children and that she is scared that she will never overcome this.  It was such an open admission, and straight away her son Maxim hugged her and started crying with her.

For families wanting to change, our volunteer family were a great example.  As one of our parents said, "We can see how they manage to be gentle with their children, even when they are older and don't always agree with their parents.  No-one ever taught us how to do this, and we find it very difficult".

We will help all our families build on what they have learnt on summer camp, so that their relationships can continue to grow closer and stronger.  For our children and teenagers, this can only help them feel more settled at home, at school and with their friends too.  We are very grateful to you for allowing us to help them at this critical time in their lives.  Soon we'll be able to share news of our summer camp for children with younger children, which you've also made possible.  Thank you!

Links:

new sink for our bath-house
new sink for our bath-house

The summer camp season is almost here and we have been busy preparing for our families who will join us for a life-changing stay.  We don't have an internet connection at our base deep in the Russian countryside so this will be our last report until we come back from our adventures.  We can't wait to tell you about how we get on, and about all the new things our parents and children will have learnt.

In our last report we told you all about how our volunteers had struggled through the March snow to deliver new doors and windows to our banya, or Russian bath-house.  Since then we have made great progress towards having decent washing facilities, and at some point, access to a washing maching (very useful when we have so many toddlers and young children with us).  The photos may not look like it, but there isn't a huge amount of work left to do,

All the plumbing is in place, the sinks and showers are fitted.  We've thoroughly insulated the building, fitted the heating system and have even started on the decorating.

Renovating the banya will make a huge difference to us, since the old one was in a dangerous state of disrepair, and we are very grateful to all our donors who have helped make it possible.  For those of you who have never experienced a Russian banya, it is a steam room in this case accompanied by showers.  After a banya you feel wonderfully relaxed and invigorated, as well as cleaner than you have ever felt in your life.  Wonderful as it is, this traditional form of bath-house is also the most practical way of providing washing facilities to groups.

We wish you a wonderful summer and will be in touch when we get back to St Petersburg with all the news from our summer camp.

We
We've started the decorating!
New, safe stove for our bath-house
New, safe stove for our bath-house
Transporting the windows for our ban
Transporting the windows for our ban

They say being a mother is the hardest job in the world.  How much harder it is if you haven't experienced good mothering yourself, if you and most of your friends grew up in an orphanage.  As we approach Mothers' Day we want to celebrate all those mothers who are struggling against the odds to bring their children up well, those mothers who are confounding the low expectations of everyone around them, those mothers who are honest enough to know they need help and are brave enough to seek it.  They aren't perfect, but with our help they can give their children a safe and loving childhood, which is more than they had.

It is because we believe in these women that each year we run our summer camps, and we are busy preparing for this year's now.  We need to prepare both our families and our simple little centre, which has been shut up through the winter.  This year we have a particularly big task because we are rebuilding our banya, our traditional Russian bath-house, so that we will have safe washing and laundry facilities for our families.  Unfortunately, our banya’s stove was dangerous, the floor and one wall rotten – in short it needed rebuilding before this summer’s camp.

So at the very end of March, our volunteers took a weekend, when they were hoping to fit new windows and door.  This wasn’t possible in temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Just delivering the windows and doors was a heroic effort, dragging them from the main road on sledges because the delivery lorry couldn’t get through the metre of snow lying on our lane.  We didn't waste time just because we couldn't do the work planned, We still cleared weeds and overgrown trees from around our playground.

At our weekly support group for our families in St Petersburg, we have also been working hard on preparing our families for the summer camp.  We need to know that they are committed because the experience will be intense.  This year we have a particularly high proportion of families who are new to us.  We started off by visiting them at home, but now they are getting to know our other families at our Saturday meetings.

Tanya and her daughter Sonia are one such family.  They regularly cross St Petersburg to come to the support group, which involves changing bus or tram three times in each direction, all with a stroller.  We were impressed by Tanya's motivation and wanted to encourage her, so we invited her to take part in the summer camp.  Tanya is very worried:

"There was a time when I didn't even know what my child needed to make her smile and be happy.  But now my daughter smiles at me and I am happy.  There are many things I don't know how to do, but I am learning fast - how to feed her, how to look after her and how to play with her.  I'm looking foward to our first trip together, but I'm also nervous."

The GlobalGiving community has responded generously each year and enables us to run these summer camps.  This Mothers' Day, GlobalGiving makes it easy for you to give to support Tanya and other mothers like her in honor of your own mother.  If you follow the link to make a donation, simply choose how much you'd like to donate and then at the checkout, select Make this donation in honor of someone.  You can then choose a card design and write your own message to the special person in your life that you'd like to honor.  Thank you to everyone who is able to help.
 

 

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Organization Information

St Gregory's Foundation

Location: Hampton Wick, Surrey - United Kingdom
Website: http:/​/​www.stgregorysfoundation.org.uk/​
Project Leader:
Julia Ashmore
Hampton Wick, Surrey United Kingdom

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