Thank you to everyone who has helped the Sunflower Centre this year to support young people who have grown up in orphanages and tend to lack self-confidence. They find it difficult to integrate into mainstream society and to take responsibility for solving their problems. Sunflower helps them to address these problems, and this knowledge can be a real breakthrough moment for young people.
Thanks to your donation via Global Giving we aim to cover as much as possible professional counselling meetings, training and workshops, which help to establish friendships, and give the teenagers some mentors in the outside world who they can call on when they have to build their own independent life.
Today we will share our latest news and we'd also like to tell you about an opportunity to have 30% added to your donation. Global Giving is holding a final Bonus Day, the last bonus day of the year, starting at 9:00:01 EDT on Wednesday, September 16th and will be adding a fantastic 30% to your donations made via https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/russian-orphans/ . Matching will last until funds run out or until 23:59:59 EDT. We recommend you make your donation as soon as possible if you would like to see it matched.
And now back to our news, which Elena Sukhorukova, Sunflower Project Leader has shared with us:
“Usually in the summer holidays at the beginning of June all the orphanage residents are sent to summer camps. The administration and institution’s staff are determined not to take any risks and to take all residents to spend their summer together without any alternative for young people, who often would like to get a job during the holidays. Our young people have a real difficulty in negotiating other possibilities for the summer with the institution staff and also have to find somewhere to live because the "children's home" would be closed through the summer. It is difficult to break these strong ties with the system which prefers to keep young people in orphanages rather than support them in their motivation to build an independent life.
This summer 6 of our teenagers spent their summer in the camp – some of them chose to use all state benefits, some young people were helped by their foster families - let’s hear what they said after they have returned from their holiday:
Taras “ I think that I myself can deal with my financial problems, no one should buy shorts or flip flops for me – I can do it myself. But where do I take the money? I try to earn where I can after graduation. Sometimes my foster mother gives me money when I am doing hard physical work in the countryside”.
Aliona “What can I buy with my scholarship money, except maybe some food on the plane? I have never flown before and might never have this chance again or won’t be able to earn money for a holiday. Why not take what we are eligible for?”
Sunflower also works with young people like Seraphim – who works and lives independently in his flat, but for whom the institutional system keeps a place in the hostel and full state support if young people decide to take the opportunity to continue vocational training within the institute. For many young people who don’t have experience of being independent or the benefit of family advice it is a real challenge to resist the strong ties of the system – Seraphim choose to work over the summer period instead of going to summer camp, but at the end he was very tired and decided to leave his job and return to the institution. “I will save a lot of money as I’ll be staying at the hostel and don’t need to pay rent or food, yet I will receive a scholarship and save it. I want to take advantage of my benefits” says Seraphim.
Seraphim is a representative of the group who find it difficult to continue their independent living. He is a law-abiding young person, who follows the rules of the institution and builds relationships with teachers easily – and is one of our young people who have been trying to leave the system for a long time. Sunflower’s task is to support them in job searches, to bring them motivation and emotional support as well as the knowledge and skills necessary for independent living and helping them avoid pitfalls.
Amongst the other young people from the project, three young girls have succeeded to get good and stable results – all three passed their exams and two of the girls have found jobs as counsellors and moved in to their new flats. Another girl, Kate, who just moved from the institution’s hostel to her new flat, finds it exciting to furnish it to her individual taste “ not like everywhere, but like I want it”.
All our young people have just returned to their studies and we are looking forward to continuing our work for their success! “
Thank you so much for being with us on this journey and giving an opportunity for our young people from orphanages in St. Petersburg to take their first steps into adult life with confidence.
Thank you for being with us and keeping our project running for one more year. Your support and generosity help our long-term programme “My tomorrow” to build and develop the lives of young people, graduates from children’s homes in St. Petersburg.
Our programme for young people is a special one. How long does it take you to grow a beautiful plant from a seed? How much of your time and efforts do you spend, thinking that tomorrow you will see a great result of your work?
“My tomorrow” is such a project – it helps teenagers and young people without family support and very little life experience to step into life, to grow and develop their personalities and find their place in society.
This year the project offered support up to 30 teenagers and young people: 40 % of whom had no contact with their families or relatives. All of our young people-beneficiaries find it extremely difficult to deal with day-to-day planning and feel insecure about adapting to society – they receive very limited knowledge of life skills in orphanages and children’s homes. Now young graduates, some living in hostels, some sharing flats with siblings or distant relatives, struggle to identify their future path.
Over the last several years, Sunflower Centre has offered intensive courses of counselling, individual and group sessions and training with social service specialists and physiologists for teenagers and young people from very different backgrounds: 13 % in work, 13% - receiving higher education in institutes/universities, 46% - on vocational training and about 26% undecided or hesitant about their future study/work.
One of the most essential tasks of this training was to motivate and teach young people to deal with everyday life. Training sessions included talks and practical advice on how to communicate, to feel secure and self-motivated, how to stay positive and learn to communicate, and offered practical guidance on life and domestic skills. Other project activities included creative workshops, organising events, while for the summer period the project will offer hiking and other outdoor activities.
Our excellent team of Sunflower specialists (teachers, physiologists, social service workers, tutors) help young people to overcome inertia and motivate them to find a suitable job after graduating from colleges or receiving vocational training. The majority of young people had a negative experience or lack of interest in their jobs as usually their profession was chosen for them (but rather by staff of orphanages/children’s homes). At the same time the young people get confused and feel insecure about possible changes – as a result of the experience they have been received in orphanages and children’s homes – with the main idea not to move on with their lives. One of the girls, Katya speaks to us:
"Irealised that I am bored here and my job isannoying(Katia works as a cleanerin the orphanage, whereshewas apupil), but in contrast to a new job everyone in the orphanage shows thatthey worry and pity for me, are interested to hear about my life, andalso tryto pay betterwages, not like everywhere.”
This is a common position for many of our young people. They are afraid to know the world around them and prefer to “play safe” and return to familiar surroundings, even if they are capable for much more.
Our project offers and helps young people to recognise their personality and to celebrate their differences. One of our teenagers, Taras, who was a very reserved and emotionally closed young man, has shared with us how he feels now: “I feel relaxed at our training and feel good and positive about myself, when I talk to our tutor”
Our young people say the project helps them to be realistic and sincere about themselves. Thus, Semen, who has found a job, couldn’t cope with the work at the beginning and blamed the company, colleagues, and friends for his failure. As a result, he left work later on, unable to comply with all the conditions. He was offended by friends who told him that it was his fault that he could not hold a job. Semen decided to get help from Sunflower and visited our training and got individual help from our tutors. Two months later he successfully applied for the same job, where he works until now.
This January one of our orphanage-leavers, now mother of three, Galina, has started to work as a tutor at a group session for teenagers. Her tutor’s advice, personal experience and similar start as a graduate from the orphanage are highly appreciated by her students and we congratulate Sunflower and its excellent team with the results they have achieved this year.
You are important as you really are – say all our young people to each other in Sunflower Centre. We hope that your support will mean this great work can continue in the future.
You've been helping us support young people who are about to take the big step from living in the Russian children's home system to living independently. Galya is one of the extraordinary people who make this programme possible. She grew up in a St Petersburg orphanage some time ago and now has three children with her parter. We have known Galya for several years through our families support group and invited her to speak to our group of young people preparing for independent life.
During the session Galya talked about how scared she had felt when she first left the children's home. This struck a chord with the group and they were able to share their own feelings of fear. It was a great surprise to them that everyone in the group felt the same. Olga (aged 21) said, "I thought that I was the only one, but now I can see how scared I am even to find out how other people live after the children's home." Galya shared with them her own experience of overcoming this fear with the help of our support group, and explained how they can use the meetings to change their situation in practical ways.
We are very proud of Galya for not only overcoming her own problems, but for her desire to help others. She really puts her finger on what they need:
"The guys usually don't want to think about the future, but when I told them about myself and my past, I noticed that they were scared, surprised and delighted. I can see myself in them, they remind me of my childhood and I would like to help them. They are given a lot that we didn't have when they leave the children's home [she means welfare payments and free training courses etc], but that doesn't change anything, it doesn't make them any more happy or successful, because they don't know how to use these benefits. They are terrified that people will con them. I can see that they want to study and work, but they don't know how to start."
We aim to give our group the starting points they need to grow in confidence and change their lives. Through your support we are helping our young people recognise their talents and discover new ones. In the children's home, they will all have done some craft activities and some are quite talented, so we took them to meet stained glass artists to talk about their work. In the last few months, we also invited our young people to a joint party with our family support group. We were so glad they came because in the past they have said they can't stand young children. There was such a friendly atmosphere that everyone got on well together. Taras particularly enjoyed playing with the children and making up games for them. Afterwards, he said, "I always thought that I was rubbish with small children, but playing with the kids today helped me see how easy it is."
Please help us build on these promising steps so our young people can find work and prepare for the day when they have their own family. If you'd like to see your donation go further than usual, you can donate on Wednesday 18th March, when Global Giving will be adding 30% to donations (NB this is not available to UK donors donating via globalgiving.co.uk). Please e-mail Sarah Gale (email@example.com) if you would like a reminder just before bonus day.
Success looks different for different people. For Seraphim, it was a job in the warehouse for a big fashion store in St Petersburg.
Recently we’ve been doing a lot of work with our orphanage-leavers on finding and keeping a job, which is a particularly difficult subject for young people who have been institutionalised.
Seraphim is 23. In May he’s enrolled on yet another training course, which would ensure that his living costs were covered. All through September he thought that May would come round quickly so he didn’t really need to worry. Then at the end of the month in our discussions he realised that he didn’t have enough to live on. His welfare payments don’t cover his expenses and his friends are more likely to ask for help than to offer it. What’s more, he knew he wanted to change his mobile phone, get online, go out with his friends and eat something other than buckwheat porridge.
So he decided that May was too long to wait for more money. At first he agreed with his girlfriend that they would help each other. He would let her live in his flat and she would buy all the food and cook for him. But soon Seraphim got fed up because he “began to feel like he was back in the children’s home. She tells me what to do and checks up on me all the time”.
It was only at this point that he started getting interested in finding a job. He came to our group sessions and had three individual consultations to work out what he's capable of and what positive character traits he has. We’ve realised that one of the major problems is that all our young people are terrified of meeting new people. When they present themselves, the first thing they say is “I grew up in a children’s home”. They find it very difficult to identify their positive traits or skills, let alone tell others about them.
After this preparation, Seraphim got an interview and got the job in the warehouse for a fashion store. Straight away he was given a uniform, a name badge and a pack of official documents. All of this made him realise he could change his life around. He is very happy in his work, has met lots of new young people and has found out more about how they live. Seraphim still comes to our group sessions after work and shares his experiences.
“I went on my break, but I got distracted and was late back. When I got back, they fired me. I was so scared that I persuaded them to let me wash the windows as a punishment as long as I could keep my job. I really value the job and am scared of losing it. I carry a notebook with me so that I can write down all my tasks, because I find it difficult to remember them. There’s so much to learn.”
Growing up in an institution, children and teenagers are never allowed to take any responsibility for themselves, even in small things. So, we do a lot of work to teach them that their actions have consequences and to motivate them to take control of their lives. It isn’t an easy learning curve, but it’s fantastic to see what a difference getting a job can make. It’s not just about finances, but about making new friends and taking pride in achieving something that used to be unthinkable. Above all, our young people stop being victims of circumstances and start being able to shape their lives.
Children in orphanages are showered with gifts from well-meaning donors at this time of year, but you are giving a gift which will last a whole life. You are teaching them how to flourish as adults. Thank you!
In September, our group of orphanage-leavers started meeting again. For the first time, some of our members brought friends along, which was great. Their friends were mainly aged 20-23, the age when state care ends, and young people realise they have to solve their problems completely alone.
Don't get me wrong, the system is generous. They house them in institutions until they are out of their teens. They even give them a room or a studio flat when they leave. The trouble is they don't give them any of the adult skills they need to survive alone, so at 23 many of the young people might as well be ten years younger.
I'd like to tell you about Seraphim, who is one of seven of our young people who has just taken the big step to move into their own appartment. To start with he thought that he would have to fit a steel door and bars on the windows, he wouldn't be able to tell friends where he was living, so that no-one could rip him off, steal from him, or take his appartment from him. This is how our young people see the world because in the children's home or at college they tell them what has happened to their peers. Poor Serpahim didn't have a clue how to cope on his own, but he had been taught how to be terrified.
Fortunately, last season we did a lot of work on how to set up home and start to live independently. We visited interior design exhibitions, and Seraphim began to imagine what his appartment could be like. We introduced our group to designers and artists, and meeting such friendly, interesting people made him want to get to get to know his neighbours in his new home. In practical sessions, he learnt how to order furniture, how to buy DIY material and how to pay the bills. All of this gave him confidence that he would be able to cope with problems.
This season, Seraphim brought along a video he had made of his appartment. He proudly explained how he had solved a few problems that had cropped up along the way. Mostly he had had to deal with his friends, who had tried to scare him. They told him he shouldn't get any furniture, because the shop would rip him off. He'd pay and then they wouldn't deliver. Or the delivery man would know where he lived and come back and rob him. Seraphim stood firm, and now he is trying to encourage the rest of the group to take the step towards independent adult life.
Good parents gradually give their children more responsibility and show them how to handle it. All too often, Russian children homes totally institutionalise their residents, giving them no choices and no responsibility, until they have to leave and face life alone. Thanks to you, we are able to be there for at least some of the young people who will leave St Petersburg's orphanages this year. We don't solve young people's problems for them. We give them the skills and the confidence they need to solve them. Then we enjoy seeing the pride they feel in becoming truly grown up. Thank you for helping Seraphim and the rest of our group.
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