Project #4741

Prepare 30 Russian Orphans for Adult Life

by St Gregory's Foundation

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!

Our photography lesson
Our photography lesson

Recently, we took our young people who all grew up in Russian orphanages to a photographer's studio to meet a photographer and have a mini-lecture about some of the basics of photography.

We took them on this particular outing because our young people find it difficult to look at photos of themselves or to take photos of events in their life and we wanted to raise their confidence.  They often carry a camera with them or take photos on their mobile phone, but usually they don't like the result.  They don't like the way they look, they don't know what to do with their hands, whether to smile or be serious.  As children in the orphanage, their only experience of photography was formal, posed group shots.  They weren't able to take snaps of their lives or be photographed spontaneously.  Even now they usually get shy in front of the camera.  This is why they usually refuse to be photographed and complain that they can't share any of their own pictures with their friends.

So we sought out a good photography teacher who could explain some of the basic principles of photography to them.  During the session we looked at a number of pictures and asked questions about them.  They were so interested that they didn't feel they had had time to ask all their questions, so we are going to organise another outing with a master-class for them.

Thank you very much for making this outing possible.  Teenagers taking photos for Facebook might seem like a really trivial subject, but it turns out that it exposes many of our young people's deep anxieties.  It's so useful to us to be able to take them out to meet new people and to gain confidence and without your donations we wouldn't be able to.  Our aim is that when they look at themselves in future they will see someone of value, someone they are proud to be.


Thank you for taking this project close to your heart and donating your time, money and attention to young people from children’s homes to help them to find their feet. Your support encourages them to make great progress and achieve good results with confidence.

 This month Global Giving is giving a great opportunity to raise funds – they will provide 100% match of the first regular monthly donation set up in December as long as this donation is new and continues for 4 consecutive donations. The match is $250 on the US site and £100 on the UK site.

 Regular monthly gifts mean a lot to us, help us plan ahead and know with some certainty the funds we have – and that makes a great difference to our young people. If you can set up a regular monthly donation through Global Giving this month, we can take advantage of their matching offer this Christmas!

The new school year has brought us a new group of teenagers aged from 17 to 22, orphanage leavers from children’s homes and now students from several technical colleges in St. Petersburg. The personnel of these state colleges slowly but steadily started to recognise the progress and the difference that our project makes for our young orphanage-leavers. As a result, 5 colleges signed a contract of co-operation with the Sunflower Centre to provide individual and group counselling sessions as well as home visits and workshops for young newcomers. Not bad for the small Centre which started its work on a very modest local scale and has managed to grow into the best practice Centre which shares its expertise, knowledge and skills with other state social services on the regional level.

All newcomers are anxious about changes from orphanage to independent living. They worry about their inability to lead an independent life. One of them is Svetlana (age 19) who finished boarding school No. 7 and is now studying in college No 70, where she is learning to become a seamstress. Sveta has some learning disabilities, so our team organises regular home visits and monitoring of Sveta’s progress of becoming independent. Sveta permanently worries how she could manage on her own. She says: “I bought some tomatoes, one kilo, and paid 504 roubles. Then a girlfriend said I had been conned… It’s always like that!” She has her own flat but she is now living in a hostel at the college as there is no furniture in the flat.

Another problem of young orphanage leavers inherited from their past is inertia, inability to take decisions. Kirill (age 21) attended children’s home No. 67. He then did not study or work for one year. After some time he started to earn on a very modest scale; this encouraged him to enrol in one of the collegesas a motor mechanic. Here he encountered difficulties in his studies, mainly of an organisational nature - he is late, he cannot distinguish between the time to work and the time to play. Kirill himself describes the situation thus: “Well, I’m constantly late, sometimes I oversleep… Well, I’m used to doing nothing and now I must take classes … They said I had to choose the topic for my diploma by December, but I am still not at all ready to do the diploma.” This worries him as he must obtain his diploma by the end of the year, whereas he is still having trouble studying successfully.

Besides study all our youngsters are afraid of failing, controlling emotions and establishing relationships.   Thus, Kirill wants to discover himself and establish trusting relationships with girls. He says: “I am afraid to show girls my true nature so that they do not think that I am strong and have no feelings at all.” He has relatives living in one of the villages nearby but has no contact with them. Kirill lives in his flat in St.Petersburg.

Our main task in the beginning of the year is to identify the needs of our newcomers and of course we continue to provide help to those young people who came to the Sunflower last year. As a rule we conduct meetings to get acquainted with teenagers and we ask them to answer our questions regarding their plans after graduation. Such meetings interest our young people a great deal as for the majority of them it is very important to be heard and ask any questions that they never had the opportunity to ask in children’s homes. A friendly environment raises their confidence and builds trust inside such groups. Many young people also choose extra individual sessions where they can untangle their complicated and painful emotions towards their families and hopefully reach some resolution.

To help newcomers adapt quicker, we organise for them and for those young people who we helped last year mutual trips and workshops. We found that mixed groups help newcomers to socialise better and gain confidence more quickly. We leave you with what our teenagers say:

Katya: “Many of the youngsters I know do not want to study and just waste time. I am already finishing my training, I enjoy sewing and think up clothes to make. The ‘Sunflower’ centre supported me when I needed it. And now myself I can help these youngsters sort out their educational problems.   It’s just that they have not yet understood what it is to do the kind of work that you might enjoy.”

Katya and her sister Sasha: “My sister is now independent, she doesn’t need as much help as me. At the children’s home I had a mentor, but now I do not have one and I need someone who can give me advice.”

Serafim: “I myself can now help people, I can tell them about the ‘Sunflower’ centre. It seems to me that in this way the youngsters can more quickly confide in someone and talk about their problems. I am already almost independent, but I myself also need meetings in order to have a talk with someone and seek reassurance.”

Katya and Sasha
Katya and Sasha

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Organization Information

St Gregory's Foundation

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

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