We had a chat with our new psychologist Olga Zhdanova, and asked for her impressions of life in the Love’s Bridge centers:
It’s winter and getting colder by the day… but in the centers it always seems cozy and warm. That is thanks to the children who come to us every day: their energy knows no bounds, their enthusiasm, curiosity and desire to be around us and with each other is overwhelming. I love observing the children growing and changing every day, right before our eyes. They learn to be organized and responsible young people. But we must always bear in mind that they are still children! We should not expect them to become too serious!
Taking the age and background of the children into consideration, we have to be careful in choosing our methods of working with them. For example, when talking about health problems, trying to strike fear into them is absolutely pointless! Talking about the terrible consequences of smoking has absolutely no effect on these children whatsoever. It is only by giving the children a positive example, and educating them on the whole picture of a healthy lifestyle, that they are empowered to make choices for themselves that will positively impact their own future, and their families too. We do our best to help each child learn and develop at their own speed, and most importantly, enable them to know when and how they are going in the right direction! It is only through this independence that they can improve themselves, their situation, and their future chances in life.
Knowledge is Power!
This fall yet another project was added to the diverse Love’s Bridge portfolio. The kids involved came up the name “Healthy and Happy” for the project, which is aimed at raising awareness of health issues that affect young people.
We gathered a group of vulnerable 14-18 year-olds experiencing various difficulties in their lives – some are struggling at school, others are not attending school at all. Some have emotional problems, mild learning difficulties and some face various domestic problems at home, such as alcoholism, violence and neglect.
They meet every week in a small group with Love’s Bridge staff where they learn a great deal about protecting themselves from serious health issues. More importantly they are also being trained to be inform their friends and peers on the health problems and risks they face every day.
Once the group is fully trained we plan to visit other local schools and speak to more at-risk teenagers about these problems, and we hope that being in the same age group, our young volunteers will be able to get the message across even more effectively than we would by ourselves!
A world turned upside down
Dima came to our center with his mother, whose thin and exhausted face said it all. She was clearly feeling at the end of her rope, and had come to the center in desperate need of support. As she spoke, a picture emerged of the family’s situation. A single mother, she had recently brought her two sons to the city from a village in one of the remote parts of the Perm region. She had managed to rent a room for her family, and had got a job working in a school canteen. Dima’s father lived separately and provided neither financial nor moral support. She was clearly struggling to provide for her children. Dima, aged twelve, was thin and very small for his age. His clothes looked entirely inappropriate for the cold weather outside. He was extremely timid, but pleasant and polite. The family’s struggle to find their feet in the city was clearly reflected in Dima’s problems at school – he was barely passing any of his school tests and assignments.
Immediately we started working to discover Dima’s interests and invited him to take part in “School without Lessons”. He was assigned a mentor who would work on his Math and English. Once Dima started regularly visiting, we saw his confidence gradually grow, and his obvious pleasure at being welcomed at the center. He started taking part in other activities, and proved himself a trustworthy and responsible teenager. He has started making friends, although this has been a slow process as his shyness has been quite inhibiting.
One of the greatest joys of the project is being able to treat every child as an individual. With each tiny step we see Dima moving towards his goals. As such a small and specialized organization we are also able to keep up regular contact with Dima’s mother, and offer her help and support in bringing up her children. We are proud of the progress Dima makes every day, and know that by the end of the school year, he will not only find the confidence to do well at school, but also to make friends and make his way in the world.
The Perfect Match!
We work with a variety of ages, from kids who have barely started school and are already in trouble, to teenagers on the verge of adulthood yet still need support. We are always on the lookout for ways to enable the children to help themselves… and each other!
This autumn we started activities for a group of 7-10 year olds from a nearby orphanage that cares for children with learning disabilities. The group is varied in their abilities – some aren’t able to read, but can draw beautifully! Others watch closely what the teacher is doing, but then forget what to do when they need to work independently. We decided that for this particular group, every child needed an older helper, and enlisted the services of some of the teenagers.
During the sessions, which are usually arts based or related to skills development, the younger children and their new friends have formed lasting bonds. Every child receives the individual attention and support they need, and the small age difference has made it easy for them to relate to one another. The younger children wait for the teenagers with huge excitement, and after the class they often spend time playing outside, listening to music, or just talking. For the teenagers, too, the project has been very successful. They have learned the value of helping others, and the art of being patient and gentle. We hope that this experience will inspire them to help others throughout their lives.
We usually get the group to come to our center, as the change of scenery makes a world of difference to the kids. When we do visit the children in the orphanage, they go mad from the excitement of having visitors. They want to show us every single thing they own, from photographs to colored pencils to tiny little souvenirs.
It has been a pleasure to see relationships grow amongst the younger kids and their new found friends. In spending time with the older teens, they can learn about the world outside their orphanage, and, most importantly, escape the isolation of their institution and feel part of a wider community.
Let’s keep it up!
Many thanks to all of those who have made our work possible this year! Special thanks to the S.L.A.T.E. charity and Michael Kerins, who continue to raise funds in Scotland and bring them directly to the project in Perm himself. The kids are always delighted to meet the people who make our projects possible.
If you would like to organize some fundraising for the project, or have already done some, we would love to hear from you!
Thank you again for your support and please give all you can for the kids in Perm – a little goes a long way to brighten the lives of some very needy children.