Project #4741

Prepare 30 Russian Orphans for Adult Life

by St Gregory's Foundation

This year 25 teenagers regularly attend the activities – 15 of whom are at least in their second year, and 10 of whom are new. The group has already developed warm and trusting relationships, which has helped the new young people settle into the group work, and has helped the whole group discuss more serious issues.

Last year, the programme’s participants often turned to the group for help in finding work, and for support in finding the sort of work that they would find interesting. They do not know how to adapt the training they had in college to real life and the majority did not complete their education. Reaching the point when they had to live independently, they stop feeling part of a society in which they are used to living. They begin to study themselves afresh, recognising their preferences and listening to their desires. Their greatest difficulty is in how they present themselves – their internal conception of themselves does not bear any resemblance to their actual appearance. That relates to how they feel about themselves and how they appear on the outside.

This disconnect becomes apparent in conversation with the participants: 

“I seem to be really thin because I wasn’t allowed to eat at the children’s home, they just didn’t give me anything to eat” (Taras, 22 years old, is of normal weight and does not look thin).

“I got my hair done in this fashionable way and now I look sporty” (Tanya, 26 years old, does not look after her hair and looks unkempt and dishevelled).

“I could do with losing weight, I’m so fat, I’ve probably got 25 kilograms spare” (Kirill, 23 years old, is a tall and strong boy who looks big but does not have excessive weight for his height).

The issue is that in the family a teenager openly receives information about himself, his opportunities and about changes both internal and external. He sees change in photographs, clothes and the physiological changes in his parents and his grandparents. His relatives can answer his questions about the changes in puberty, they can care for him when he’s ill and teach him to speak about his feelings. In orphanages and similar institutions, teenagers are deprived of such focussed and sensitive attention. It’s only when alone with themselves, after leaving the orphanage, that they begin to observe the development of their personality, feelings, emotions and sensations. They also begin to find the connection linking their blood family with their physiological peculiarities. In observing and answering this demand we put before our young people a complex exercise, directed at the study of their body, feelings and health.

In the context of an exercise about the construction of the body, we organised a visit to an exhibition entitled “The Human Body”, where there were real-life displays of, for example, skeletons and organs. Our youg people asked questions of the expert guide about the problems caused by addiction – they were interested in the various illnesses and the details of how the organs worked. “Can you show us how the heart looks after a stroke? My mum died from that, I want to understand what happened” (Kirill, 22 years old). “Are those the lungs of a smoker? If I smoke will my lungs be like that too?” (Lidia, 14 years old). “If I had a birth defect and my skull was deformed, would my brain be deformed too, or would it be like other people’s?” (Sergei, 23 years old).

Many of them could overcome their fears and dispel myths. Some started developing new habits. “I’m going to have breakfast every day now that I’ve seen this stomach ulcer – I don’t want mine to get any worse” (Tanya, 26 years old). Some of the teenagers started paying more attention to their personal hygiene, and others to the size of their clothes.Working with this theme – without penetrating into the personal stories of any of our youmg people – allowed them to experience the boundaries of their bodies and to study their personal boundaries.

Thanks to your support we'll continue to introduce different social roles to our teenagers : in the family, in professional life and in education. Our next training will introduce the topics of motherhood to our gilrs: birth, childhood and the relationships between men and women. This will support them in forming an image of themselves.


Our young people who have grown up in orphanages are used to one-sided relationships in which they get attention from sponsors, the state and volunteers. By contrast, we have offered them volunteering experience. We explained how animal shelters work and sparked their interest in voluntary work with homeless animals.

This needed some advanced preparation: the teenagers had to think about what to take with them to the animal sanctuary, bearing in mind not all food is safe for animals to eat. Some of the teenagers were apprehensive and some were frightened by the experience: “I can’t look at them, I’ll cry. It’s too sad,” said Olga. Similar worries helped other teenagers realise the purpose of the visit, namely our participation, interest and care towards homeless animals.

At the shelter they didn’t just interact with the animals: they became actively helpful to the staff there. All the participants in the group, supported by the staff, helped to tidy up the cattery.

The part that engaged our young people the most was walking the dogs. In turn they could take a few dogs out for a walk and a few of them quickly became the children’s favourites. Tanya was very excited: “It’s my dog! I want to take him home with me!”. This was a very positive and unifying moment for everyone from the group. They laughed a lot, shared their emotions and hugged the dogs.

It was an entirely safe experience for our teenagers, filled on all sides with honest warmth and happiness. Even those who were afraid of the dogs took part and stroked the animals, talked to them and stayed near them.

The happiness of being with the animals turned to sadness when they had to leave. We let the teenagers know that the shelter is open to the public and that they could come here independently – and it would be great if they could make a habit out of it. At the end of the day Tania  “I am so relaxed. I wish it was always like this! I’m really happy, this is my dream! If it wasn’t for this I don’t know what I would have been doing today.”

Sunflower Centre have organised this trip thanks to your support to the programme for young people who grew up in the St Petersburg orphanages.Thanks to your help our young people are learning how to be responsible ' forever, for what you have tamed'.

Please consider making a donation tomorrow  -  GlobalGiving is offering a 50% match on donations made on #GivingTuesday, November 29th up to the first $1 million raised on They have $500,000 in matching funds made available courtesy of generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.This is the largest amount of matching funds GlobalGiving has ever had in one day and a wonderful chance to make your donation even larger.

Kiril feels like he has been living under a black cloud.  The good news is that he recognises this now and wants to accept help so he can change his life around.  You can help us be there for him as our activities start up again after the summer holidays.

Kiril was referred to us at the beginning of 2015 by social services.  The social worker's main concern was that he needed help to climb out of a depression.  Kiril is 21 and completed a college course to train as a shop assistant.  He doesn't actually want to do this kind of work, which seems very difficult to him. "You have to talk to lots of people and I'm afraid.  I end up being rude."  For about six months he worked as a general labourer at a garage and he liked it there.  He thought it would be good to retrain as a mechanic.  He got a place at college, but unfortunately got chucked out after only a term for skipping sessions.  Social services helped him renovate his room and solve some practical problems.  He took this help, but wasn't able to build warm, trusting relationships with the social workers, and refused to visit a psychologist.

Kiril responded positively to the suggestion that he meet us at the Sunflower Centre, was on time to our meeting and was interested in our conversation.  For the first two months, Kiril had individual help from one of our social workers.  He gradually got used to her, allowed her to visit him at home and started to telephone her himself.  It was very important for him to have a stable relationship with a specialist who he could ring or write to at any time and who would reply to him.

Gradually, Kiril started to join in with our group support sessions.  It was hard for him, but he began to get to know the other young people, and to exchange contact details with them.  Kiril was one of the first to start using social networks to post pictures of our activities, and he would invite the others to meet up.

Slowly Kiril began to open up.  He would talk more often about himself and his family and about life in the children's home.  His life experience told him that you should never trust anyone, but his need to solve his problems gave him the motivation to open up to us.

Until he was six years old, Kiril grew up with his mom.  He didn't know his dad and his mom didn't talk about him.  His mom was seriously ill, and from time to time he had to go and stay with relatives.  When he was six, his mom started having to use a wheelchair and it became impossible for her to look after her son.  None of their relatives could look after him, so Kiril was put in a shelter.  After a year, he was transferred to a children's home, where he was told that his mother had died.  It was very difficult for him to adapt to his new life.  The other children bullied him and called him a "home boy".  Kiril says that so much bad stuff appeared inside him that it made it difficult for him to get on with other people.  He realises he has a problem, but doesn't know what to do about it.

For three months, Kiril wouldn't see our psychologist.  However, our approach of supporting him until he asked for help allowed him to come to a decision.  "I had decided to become indifferent to everything.  I want to kill off any feelings of love or tenderness and to make myself cold and inaccessible, but in fact, I'm trying to get away from myself, and from anything that's good in me.  I am scared that I'll become like a little bird again and just drop out of the sky.  I can't admit to anyone apart from you what's going on inside, but it's very hard for me.  Two feelings are at war in me: love and hate.  Love says, "be kind to people, open up, trust them."  But hate whispers to me: "why do you need these two-faced people? What do you need love for?"  I don't know what to do.  I want to have someone close to hug, but I can't, because I always stay proud and independent.  I look at the kindness and love in my heart as a weakness.  I've lived under a black cloud of nastiness and hatred and judgement for several years . . .  Maybe the time has come to crawl out from under it? But I can't do it.  I'm afraid.  I really need your help."

This month, Kiril is planning to start individual sessions with our psychologist and to continue coming to our group sessions.  The hardest step of recognising his problem is behind him, and we hope to see him flourish as that black cloud lifts.  We are very grateful to you for giving us the opportunity to help orphanage-leavers work on the psychological problems left by their traumatic childhood experiences.  Of course they need practical help too, but our experience is that they find it much harder to solve their practical problems while they are still suffering so acutely.   Sadly, there are many other young people like Kiril who will need our help this autumn.  

Kiril being given an EEG
Kiril being given an EEG

Almost all the young people in our support group for orphans have spent time in a psychiatric hospital and they usually blame the psychologists working in their orphanage for sending them there.  Kiril said, "If the psychologists had talked to me before jumping to conclusions, I would never have ended up in a psychiatric hospital".  Feeling let down by those who should have been there to help them, the young people find it hard to trust not just psychologists, but also other people who they could turn to for help.

We wanted to change their attitude towards psychologists and give them the chance to talk about their previous bad experiences, so we took them on a visit to St Petersburg University's psychology department.  The group was introduced to some research psychologists who are working on a project researching orphans' use of language.  They gave us a tour, explained their project and we had a chance to chat informally over tea and cakes.

It wasn't easy to persuade the group to come, and it was mostly the old hands who took part.  Interestingly, the boys were much easier to persuade than the girls.  We think this is because they find it harder to form relationships and so are keen to get as much help as they can.  In the orphanage, the girls are more often given jobs to do by the staff, perhaps looking after some younger children, so they have more experience of relating positively to adults and their peers.

Those that did come were very enthusiastic about the experience.  They took advantage of the chance to discuss their negative experiences of psychology, and were also impressed by the openness with which they were treated.  They were able to try out aspects of the research experiment, including having their brain activity monitored with an EEG.  They discovered that the process was quite safe, and encouraged each other to sign up to take part in the project.  Taras said, "I'll definitely come and take part in the research! It's great that we were able to talk, ask advice and find such sincere support.  Today I found answers to several of my questions."  Our group also hope that the findings of the research will help improve conditions for today's orphans.  Seraphim said, "The meeting was interesting and informative.  I hope that thanks to the research other orphans will be able to avoid having the stigma of being sent to a correctional school."

The visit was a very positive step for our group and has opened up new sources of support for our young people.  We are very grateful to you for making it possible.  If you would like to contribute to our activities again, then June 15th is a good day to make a donation because Global Giving will be adding 50% to donations to our project.   This bonus day starts at 9am EDT and runs until midnight.  Please note that if you give through the UK Global Giving site, the UK bonus day starts at 2pm BST and runs until 5pm the following day.  We recommend that you make your donation early because when matching funds are gone, they're gone.

Thank you again for all you are doing to help our young people get their lives on track.




A chance to chat
A chance to chat
Nastya with her god-daughter
Nastya with her god-daughter

All the young people we help are survivors.  Some of them are truly remarkable.  Today we'd like to tell the story of one such young lady, Nastya, who we have been able to help overcome terrible insomnia and nightmares caused by her difficult experiences.  Today we also have a great opportunity to help more young orphans like Nastya - it's Global Giving bonus day! That means that today a bonus will be added to all donations made up until midnight (EDT).

Nastya is 20 years old.  She managed to resolve all her problems when she left the children's home except one, her terrible insomnia and nightmares.  She came to us for regular counselling sessions and fortunately, we were able to help.  We found a link between her troubles sleeping and the recent loss of several people who were close to her.  

Nastya was born in a young offenders' institution when her mother was just 16 years old.  None of her relatives took Nastya in, so she was sent to a children's home.  Her grandmother and aunt were addicted to alcohol and drugs and her father didn't know she existed.  For a few years, Nastya's uncle's family cared for her in the home, where his sister worked, and took her home for weekends and holidays.  But one day they suffered a house fire and Nastya didn't see them again.  The little girl was devastated at the loss and was comforted by the care workers at the home.  When she was a teenager, on the advice of staff at the children's home, Nastya got back in touch with her grandmother, who told her about her family and showed her photographs of her relatives.  She started to visit her regularly, and even ran away from summer camp, since "the camp was boring and babushka needed me to help her.  She was ill and couldn't walk.  I used to go to the shops for her.  Then the police caught me and sent me back to the camp."

This contact with her family was a great support to Nastya and helped her through difficult times.  She began to notice that her class mates had more difficulties at school at in their relationships than her.  For example, "when they told us that we couldn't study in 9th class in an ordinary school with normal kids who live with their families, but that we were being transferred to a remedial class, only me and my friend objected.  We understood that then we would never get our school leaving certificate, and it is very important to me because none of my family ever got that."  Nastya finished 9th class in an ordinary school and went onto college.  When she made new friends, she always tried to get to know their families and to help them as much as she could.

Over a short period of time, a number of people who were close to Nastya died: her grandmother, her friend, her boyfriend and her dad, who, after many years had found out about Nastya and was trying to sort out the documents to make her formally part of his family. 

Losing these people, Nastya was very scared that she would lose the chance to spend time with their families who were so dear to her.  "Sometimes I just want to go and sit with them, to talk and to drink tea together."  During one of our sessions, Nastya said that she was happy to call the mother of her friend who died and arrange to meet with her.  She recognised that her friend's mother would need support, because she knew what it was like to lose someone close.

"You helped me to sort out my feelings, to value the people who have been close to me in my life.  Before I was overcome with fear that I would lose anyone who was close to me, and so I was afraid to make new friends.  At last, I was able to see that I have learnt a lot from those who were close to me, I have learnt how to help people."

It's important for Nastya to have close, trusting relationships, to feel that she isn't just able to help people, but also that she can accept help herself.  She understands how important it was for her to have reliable, supportive adults around her, so she is a keen participant in our group project, and inspires the other young people to make changes in their lives.

At the moment, Nastya is studying Physical Education, Sport and Health at university.  She says, "I don't find it easy to study.  I'm having to re-sit my exams, although I go to class regularly.  It's really important to me that someone like you talks to me from time to time, so that I can sort out my difficulties.  I really want to work as a sports teacher in school and it's very important to me to know that someone believes in me and my abilities."

Thank you for believing in our young people too.  By donating, you make sure that we can support them when they have no-one else to talk to.  You are helping Nastya reach her potential as a hard-working, caring young woman who, we are sure will go on to help many others.  Thank you!


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Organization Information

St Gregory's Foundation

Location: Hampton Wick, Surrey - United Kingdom
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Julia Ashmore
Crewe, Cheshire Russia

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