Prepare 100 Russian Orphans for Adult Life

by St Gregory's Foundation
Prepare 100 Russian Orphans for Adult Life

Over the last few months the restrictions on our lives have waxed and waned.  We have been able to organise some group outings and face to face meetings, but at times we have had to return to online meetings and chats as virus cases surged in our community.  A particularly useful outing was to an exhibition of artwork inspired by the pandemic.  It was an excellent conversation-starter for talking through the emotions that have bubbled up over the last year.  It may also have inspired one lad, who was already keen on drawing, to take up painting. 

When group outings have been difficult, we organised a photo quest around areas of our city.  To find and photograph all the landmarks in the challenge without using their phones to navigate forced the young people to use maps and ask passers-by.  Borya, aged 18 said afterwards, "It turns out it's not so scary to ask passers by.  Now I'm not frightened of being out and about when my phone's battery is dead.  I know I can just ask the way."

Before the pandemic most of our young people struggled to make realistic job plans.  Enrolled in vocational courses that they didn't actively choose, and usually don't like, they leave college with few skills.  In the last year, many of the have been first in line to lose their jobs.  One way we've tackled this is by taking a small group to visit Vadim, one of their peers, at work in a phone shop.  He was able to answer their questions and stressed very much that when you start work, you are not expected to know what to do by magic.  That people are happy to help and you can ask questions.  We are really proud of Vadim.  He left his children's home just before lockdown.  We were able to help with food parcels and travel tokens when he had money troubles.  Now he says he would like to pay us back, because he knows first hand how difficult it is when you have to live independently for the first time.  He did a great job of demystifying the work-place for his friends.

Nadya, is another young person on her way to a job, we hope.  Now 23, she left her children's home in 2019.  For the whole of the last year she has been living with her boyfriend and relying on his salary and her benefits.  A friend encouraged her to get a job and to ask us for help.  To add to Nadya's worries, she had been told at the children's home that she had developmental problems, but no-one had explained any more to her.  She knows that her memory isn't good and sometimes she needs instructions to be repeated.  This made her nervous about the idea of going for a job.  

We took her along to a doctor who confirmed that she has a mild learning difficulty affecting her memory and ability to do complex tasks.  

Nadya is trained as a seamstress, but finds the work difficult.  She has tried helping her boyfriend in his decorating business, but she says she is rather slow.  We have enlisted the help of an organisation that specialises in finding work for young people with learning difficulties.  We went along with Nadya for the first session, and she enlisted on an introductory course.  Now Nadya is doing a work placement in a clothes shop and is negotiating starting a job, either in the shop or in the warehouse.

So many of you have been so generous over the last year, despite the problems you have been encountering in your own lives.  This week, our wonderful colleagues at GlobalGiving are rewarding generosity.  From today until 15th March, all donations up to $50 (£35) will have a 50% bonus added to them.  It's a great time to give and help us meet the growing needs of orphanage leavers in our city.  Thank you!

Nadya
Nadya
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Lenya is one of the interviewees on our video
Lenya is one of the interviewees on our video

Our project is 10 years old and in that time we have helped more than 250 young people transition from children's homes to independent living.

And what a year our tenth year has been.  It has been a huge challenge, but it has also confirmed our belief in our approach.  Our orphanage-leavers need resilience more than hand outs.  Yes, food parcels have been part of our response when group members were left without any income at all, but that cannot be all we offer.  We have all had to be resourcesfull to get through this year, and we want our young people to have the skills and confidence they need to cope with whatever life throws at them.  We are bursting with pride that even in the midst of such difficulties those who have been with us a while are still desperate to help others.  They are our partners, mentoring the younger ones and supporting each other.

So, we wanted to share a short video with you (see link below).  In it, some of our young people talk about what they think young people in children's homes need.  It's impressive stuff.  

None of us know what 2021 will bring.  Even if the pandemic is beaten we will still need to cope with the pscyological and economic fall-out.  If you would like to help those who have lost jobs find new ones, and to help them all rebuild relationships, please donate on Tuesday 1st December.  On Giving Tuesday GlobalGiving will be adding a bonus to every donation, so your gift will go further.

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone who have helped us get to this point.  Some of you have been with us for many of the last ten years.  You have helped us develop from a little pilot project into a well-respected programme supported by children's homes and other institutions in our city.  We could not have done it all without you.

Links:

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Food parcel for Kiril
Food parcel for Kiril

So, as we wrote last time, our work has continued through the Corona virus crisis, supporting young orphanage-leavers now online and by phone.  Initially, as quarantine was announced we were in crisis mode: checking that our young people had money to buy food, and delivering food parcels where necessary.  Many orphanage-leavers work in the informal economy, so didn't get any cash benefits when they suddenly lost their jobs.  In some cases, we have also paid for internet connections, so the young people can keep in touch.

The financial difficulties, have been joined by a series of practical problems, which we have been helping them to work through.

The first problem seems an unlikely one.  The young people, although they use their phones a lot, found it difficult to download and use new services like Zoom.  With their anxiety levels high, it was difficult for them to follow a simple set of instructions.  They needed a lot of virtual hand-holding before we could establish regular online sessions.

Once that issue was resolved, the young people living independently have needed help with:

  • planning their budget,
  • cooking with the ingredients they can get hold of (many are used to eating at work or out at cafes),
  • working out where to go for help if they feel ill or if they have lost their job,
  • and understanding the guidelines and new patterns of behaviour.

The groups have also been thinking about how they can support each other through these difficult times.  As for many of us, some unexpected positives have emerged.  Through the increased use of social media, young people from the different groups, who rarely met before, have been getting to know each other.

Orphanage-leavers are extremely vulnerable during this crisis.  Our approach of building resilience, financial, practical and emotional is absolutely vital.

Now we break for the summer, with a few of the group attending our summer camp.  We will be back in September, when hopefully we will be able to operate more normally.  As ever, we will keep you posted.

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There is an irony in that my last report to you was about how helpful outings are for our orphans, and now St Petersburg is in lock-down.  All but key workers are asked to only leave their homes for emergencies and to exercise within 100 metres of their home.  The quarantine is a time of great stress and anxiety, not least for those with precarious finances and mental health.

Being alone is very difficult psychologically for young people who grew up in orphanages where they were never alone.  They also tend to live in very small flats and have low-paid employment, which may now be under threat.

Now is a time when they will need support as much as ever, but the groups are unable to meet.  Our team has risen to the challenge.  We are already active on social media, providing a forum on V Contacte, the Russian social media network, for group members to interact with each other and ask questions.  We post several times a day with advice.  We are also used to offering phone support and are stepping this up.

As a new feature, we have launched a Chatbot, which can answer common questions and put members of the group in touch with staff virtually.  For members of our parents' group, we are also providing child-care for those who are key-workers (working in food shops, cleaners in hospitals etc).

So, just as your life is changing rapidly, we are doing our best to find solutions to the new problems and praying for the day when the crisis is over.  We will keep you posted about how we get on, but rest assured that we will not abandon the young people who rely on us for advice and support.

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Nastya at the gallery
Nastya at the gallery

We spend some of the money that you so kindly donate on outings for our young orphanage-leavers.  These outings are a really important part of our programme - much more than just treats.

The young people who have been with us for the longest often help choose where we will go.  They also understand the anxiety the outings can cause for the younger ones.  They help those who don't know how to get to the meet-up point, and even lend money to those who can't pay for their bus fare. This first stage of learning how to get about town is a real confidence booster.  One of our younger ones said, "I'm scared of getting lost if I'm on my own in town.  I never go anywhere apart from work and home, but somehow with the group I've started feeling more relaxed about it.  I even took my girl friend to a museum."

Getting out and about is also a chance to mix with people who didn't grow up in orphanages.  A local youth club often invites us to events that they are organising.  Recently we went to a discussion they were running about what it takes to become a well-balanced adult.  They talked about how to cope with difficult emotions, how to work toward your goals without being afraid to even try.  Our group members are already having to take adult decisions, so the theme was useful for them.  It was also a chance to discover that they do have things in common with their peers who grew up in families.  As Tanya said, "I thought that it was easy for other people to become adults.  They learn it at home.  But it turns out they also don't know what they're doing.  They have lots of questions.  Usually I don't ask normal people about this sort of thing".

Lastly, our outings help the young people to develop their own tastes and opinions.  In the children's homes they had no opportunitity to choose, so often they don't know what they like.  When we went to a contemporary art gallery together, we looked around together and then everyone was able to choose which floor they would like to return to to have a better look.  There was an exhibition of photographs with challenging social theme.  This provoked a great deal of emotion and discussion about inequality and justice.  We were pleased to see everyone expressing their point of view.  Ira compared our outings with museum trips with the children's home: "Before I could never leave the group and go and look at something on my own, and then go to the cafe if I wanted to.  They didn't trust me.  They thought I would run away.  It really stopped me wanting to look at anything! Now I'm treated like an adult".

Andrei's comment, really sums up the changes these outings can make:

"Sitting at home, I don't know where to go.  I've no idea how much it will cost, and I'm scared that people will be sneering at me.  Today made me want to go out more often.  People treated me ok."

Your donations make it possible to organise a varied programme of outings filling a big gap left by a children's home upbringing.  Thank you!

 

 

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Organization Information

St Gregory's Foundation

Location: Hampton Wick, Surrey - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SaintGregsFound
Project Leader:
Sarah Gale
Hampton Wick, Surrey United Kingdom
$82,388 raised of $87,000 goal
 
660 donations
$4,612 to go
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