Hello from an exceptionally cold and freezing Perm! You will be happy to know that we have got through the worst of the cold weather, and everybody in Perm is already looking forward to the spring! Despite the freezing temperatures, there is still plenty of news for you…
NEW BOY IN 24/7 SHELTER
On the 6th February a new boy moved into our shelter! His name is Dima and he is fifteen years old. Dima used to live in a small town called Nizhnii Tagir, which is a few hours away from Perm. Both his parents died when he was quite young, and he lived with his grandmother. After a series of disputes Dima ran away, and spent a few months just traveling between different towns in the region, and spent a month on the streets of Yekaterinburg. He was finally picked up by the police on a train to Perm, and was taken to a holding center in the city. Whilst he was there he began studying on our course at the ACT center, and told us that he wanted to move into our shelter ‘A Step Towards Home’. We are trying to get in touch with Dima’s grandmother, so that we can attempt to help them resolve their conflict, but in the meantime Dima is very happy to be living in our shelter and has just started studying at a local college to become a mechanic.
NEW YEAR’S CELEBRATIONS
New Year is by far the most important celebration of the year in Russia, and this year was no exception at the Love’s Bridge centers! Following an early New Year’s party at our 24/7 shelter to say a big ‘thank you’ to all our local sponsors, there were celebrations at the ACT center for current participants and graduates, a party at our day shelter, as well as the real thing on the 31st for all the children living at the 24/7 shelter. Our two new managers Hamish and Hannah-Louise as well as the shelter staff organized an evening of fun and games for the boys currently living there. We were also really happy to see shelter graduates Sveta L. and Dima B., who decided to come along too. It was especially good to see Sveta, who came all the way from Orda (three hours away by bus) to celebrate with us! After lots of party games, we left the shelter and spent a few hours sledging on ice slides all around the city, and enjoying all the live entertainment the city government provides! Everybody had a great time, and had a day to rest before the boys living at the shelter went off on their winter holiday. The celebrations still weren’t over, however, as Russian Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January, when the staff at the day center organized yet another afternoon of fun and games for volunteers and kids. We’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ for all those who helped make all our New Year’s celebrations so fantastic this year, especially the Washington Group here in Perm, and all those in Ireland who sent out presents to former and current street kids who are making positive changes in their lives.
After the New Year the boys from the 24/7 shelter went for a short break at a ski resort in the countryside north of Perm. Most of the boys hadn’t been skiing for a long time, so they were really happy to get out of the city and onto the slopes! Even after the long journey there, the boys ate their dinner as quickly as they could so that they could get out on the slopes as soon as possible, and the next morning they were just as eager! They rushed out to make sure the snow was frozen enough to go sledging on the hills, and were very happy to find out that it was. Having spent a few hours sledging, the boys went and explored the forest on skis, then came back to the lodge, tired and happy, to play some games together and learn how to play billiards.
The week continued in very much the same way – the boys skied every day, regardless of the extremely cold weather, and especially enjoyed competitions and races. Not far from the ski resort there was also an ice-skating rink, which the boys were absolutely overjoyed about, and ended up going there several times. At the end of the holiday everybody was tired but happy, and as always, there was plenty to talk about on the way home to Perm.
ACT CENTER UNDER THREAT
As you may know, in 2003 we opened our third project in Perm; the Adaptation Center for Teenagers, or ACT. The Center quickly became one of the most successful projects here in Perm, and is highly regarded by many people here in Perm. A specialist program for helping underprivileged teenagers was developed especially for the Center, and since the opening we have helped many teenagers who otherwise wouldn’t have anyone to turn to for help. In the center, teenagers are not only able to take part on a three month course on independent living, but can also receive help and support from our teacher, social worker and psychologist in order to get back into education, find work or training, or simply get their documents back in order. Over the past three years more than 100 teenagers have taken the three month course, and many more have received other kinds of support. Now more than 60% of those who studied with us are back in education or work.
The premises of the ACT were completely renovated for Love’s Bridge with the enormous help and support of local businessmen and companies in Perm, and now, unfortunately, we are unable to say how much longer we will be able to carry on our work with teenagers in this center. The company with whom we signed a rent agreement has recently gone bankrupt, and the company who has taken over the entire premises has put up the rent two and a half times, which is completely beyond our means. The current company who owns the premises has refused to come to any compromise, despite the extensive renovations we have carried out, and the work that takes place here. For now we are continuing out work in the ACT center, and the eleventh group of teenagers is currently studying on the course. If you are in any position to help us in this situation, please get in touch.
Recently we were offered the opportunity to invite our teenagers living in the shelter and studying at the ACT to start working out in a local gym. At first the kids went in one group, but not everybody liked going in a group, and some of them were quite embarrassed. We decided to let the kids go by themselves if they wanted to, and one of the ACT graduates, Dima T., has started going regularly on his own. He hasn’t taken part in regular exercise for a long time, and this opportunity has really done a lot for his enthusiasm and energy. Like lots of our teens, Dima sometimes finds it difficult to socialize with people, and whilst in the gym Dima bumped into an old friend of his, with whom he has started to go to the gym with regularly. So it has helped him not only get fit, but find friends, and become more sure of himself too!
As you may have heard, Russia has been experiencing one of the coldest winters on record, and some of you may have been wondering how the street kids have managed to cope with this terrible weather! For the children living at the 24/7 shelter, the cold meant an extra two weeks off school, which there weren’t too many complaints about, but for the children still on the streets, it is of course the most difficult time of the year. We saw a noticeably smaller number of children visiting the ACT centre and day centre, probably because finding a warm place to stay and sleep (in basements and around water pipes) is the kids’ first priority. Thankfully the worst cold (up to -35 Celsius!) was over after two weeks, and we are all enjoying tropical temperatures of -10 Celsius or so!
Greetings from an unusually warm and wet Perm! The temperature has been hovering around zero for a few days now, which means all the snow has been melting – it feels more like the start of Spring than the bleak mid-winter – so we are keeping our fingers crossed for a white Christmas! We have been very busy over the last few months, with some exciting changes taking place, and are expecting an eventful festive period, with plenty of celebrations to look forward to.
5 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
On October 19th we celebrated the 5th anniversary of our 24/7 shelter “A Step Towards Home”. It’s hard to believe that it was that long ago that we opened our doors to help homeless children who want to give up substance use, resume studies and live there full time. Many guests came to the shelter to help celebrate, including some of our major sponsors, city administration representatives and shelter graduates. It was great to see some old faces and find out about their recent successes.
We recently started running computer classes in the 24/7 shelter, and they have been well-received by the children. By running the classes we are giving them another important skill which they will be able to use in their lives once they have graduated. The classes also act as motivation for the children – they always enjoy using the computers, it’s an interesting activity for them. We plan to start classes for non-shelter children in the near future, to allow ACT center students and other underprivileged teenagers to have access to computer training.
At the start of December Jered Markoff went on a short trip to Prokopevsk, a city in the heart of Siberia. The visit was organized by ‘Partners In Hope’, an organization we have been working with over the last three years, and the object of it was to see how the techniques and projects which Love’s Bridge have developed can be replicated in Prokopevsk. The situation in the city is quite different to that in Perm, and there are very few children living on the streets. However, the local institutions struggle to deal with the older teenagers and help them to adapt to independent life.
A company which employs a huge amount of people in the Prokopevsk region has donated large amounts of money locally to improving the social institutions in the area, and commissioned Love’s Bridge to write a proposal to establish a center which would be similar to our very own ACT center. It is very exciting to have the work we are carrying out in Perm recognized at such a level, and to be given the opportunity to have an influence on the lives of underprivileged youth in other areas of Russia.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
December has seen some changes in the Perm management of Love’s Bridge. Jered Markoff leaves us as Project Manager, but remains President of Love’s Bridge – he will be missed by all the staff and kids here, and wish him all the best with his new ‘day job’ in Geneva! The two new Project Managers, who will be working alongside Lisa Wasserman in Perm, are Hamish Heald and Hannah-Louise Mobbs, and here are a few words from them:
Hamish – I studied Russian at university in Britain, spent a year and a half living in Moscow and have a great interest in charities and voluntary work, writing my dissertation on charity in Russia. I have volunteered with and run projects for orphans and underprivileged children both at home and over here. I read about Love’s Bridge on the website and saw all the photos, so it has been exciting to see everything in action and meet all the staff and children face to face! Our first few weeks working here have been really interesting, and I’m looking forward to all the challenges that lie ahead in 2006.
Hannah-Louise – Having also studied Russian and living in Russia for some time I am very happy to be living in the wonderful city of Perm. Like Hamish I have had plenty of experience working with children both here and back in the UK, but nothing could have really prepared me for the projects here! It has been a very exciting few weeks as we have got to know Love’s Bridge children both old and new, and have discovered so much about the work that goes on here. The next few months are sure to be really exciting lessons for us!
UPDATES ON FORMER SHELTER KIDS
Dima – You may remember reading about Dima before – he was one of the first children who moved into the 24/7 shelter, who had ended up living on the streets and using toxic substances after his mother disappeared. He lived with us for two years, during which time he gave up substances and started going to school for the first time in his life. He moved into an orphanage in a city four hours from Perm in 2002, but he found it difficult to adapt to life in an institution and would run away from time to time.
After looking into the situation for a while we managed to find a family in Perm who were willing to look after Dima, and the orphanage agreed to this. The arrangement suits him very well, and he is happy to be living with a real family for the first time. He also gets to come to the 24/7 shelter to see his friends, and we are very glad that he will be able to come on the New Year’s holiday with us!
Masha – Masha used to come to our day shelter while living on the streets. She moved into our 24/7 shelter for quite a while, and then moved back in with her mother. However, she couldn’t totally give up her substance use and often ended up living in basements and sewers again. She took the Independent Living course at the ACT center and graduated from it two years ago, but couldn’t quite break with her old lifestyle. About a year ago she started to make some improvements, and then at the start of 2005 she became pregnant. Since then she hasn’t used substances once, has stopped living on the streets, and has been preparing for life as a mother with her long-term boyfriend Oleg M. (also a former 24/7 resident and ACT center graduate). She gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on December 18th, and we will be here to help the new parents with their exciting new life.
NEW YEAR’S PREPARATIONS
Everybody is getting very excited at all our centers about the forthcoming celebrations, and there are a number of parties to prepare. New Year is the main holiday for Russians, so we have an extra few days to get ready! Our ACT students are going to a center in the countryside, where they will ride horses in the snow and have a traditional Russian ‘banya’ (sauna); we will have a big meal at the day center; there will be a party for everyone linked to the 24/7 center – staff, sponsors and kids; on New Year’s Eve itself we will have a small party in the 24/7 center just for the children living there. They will also go on a short holiday in the New Year to a ski center in the mountains, so as you can see there is plenty for us to organize!
SMALL WOOD WORKSHOP OPENED
In September we opened a joinery workshop where street youth can learn to make things out of wood – it differs from carpentry in that the items produced are relatively small and artistically shaped.
This new workshop enables underprivileged youth to learn a new skill and keeps them away from high-risk activities. Like the doll-sewing that we started last year, this is a voluntary activity and participating young people will be able to earn a bit of money by selling the items they make. The instructor is a talented person named “Vladimir” who has been working with us part-time as a doctor for five years now – he also works in a school part-time, so now he is a part-time doctor, part-time joinery instructor and part-time teacher!
We believe this workshop will play an important role in reaching our major objective, which is empowering street youth to become self-reliant. Learning marketable skills and work-ethics is one of the keys to reaching self-sufficiency. At the moment the workshop is located in a school and only operates 9 hours per week, but we would like to see the workshop expand and include one more instructor, so older teenagers can prepare for full-time employment under the supervision of instructors who are familiar with their needs.
ACT CENTER PARTIALLY FINANCED BY THE PERM GOVERNMENT
In August a new group of teenagers started an “Independent Living” course in our ACT center. There is one important difference between this course and previous ones – this course is partially sponsored by the Perm city administration. This is a pilot project, and part of a changing social service structure which allows the government to award grants to successful NGOs. We think this is an excellent trend, not just because our project is being financed, but because the “competition” may help municipal structures to improve their services.
The highlight of the school holidays for the kids living in our shelter was traveling alongside the 2,300-mile long Volga river in our van. They visited several old Russian cities, including Kazan, Samara and Ufa. They spent one day in the Kazan Aquapark, and camped along side the Volga river to get some sun, swim, fish and play. Earlier in the Summer they went rafting, participated in sports at a tourist center, learned to look after
domestic animals in the country side and the older ones helped to reconstruct an architectural monument in the Perm region .
LUFTHANSA HELP ALLIANCE
On the 2nd of September we were visited by a Lufthansa flight crew, who gave a generous donation to the project – over the years different Lufthansa crews have visited our shelters, and they’ve always been very helpful.
In September Anne and Maureen Slack came from Oregon to stay with us for a week. Anne is one of the Love’s Bridge directors and Maureen sponsors one of the young people in our shelter. They visited our shelters and spent a lot of time communicating with the children and teenagers in our care. The kids in the shelter really loved the guests and the boy that Maureen is sponsoring couldn’t help crying when they were leaving.
This August and September several other very helpful visitors came to Perm — volunteers from Ireland. Dympna, Eamonn, Ailleann and Stephanie, thank you all for donating your time and efforts to the Perm street children project!
You might remember Sasha P., an ACT graduate, who we wrote about in September 2004. As we wrote in 2004, her progress was frustrated when her step-father and sole
caretaker died. She started making progress after she completed the ACT course, but then went downhill again after her step-father’s death. Her situation recently started improving — she started studying again! We helped her enroll in a school where she can learn a profession and receive other benefits. We are very proud of her and hope she does well!
Vova, one of the boys living in our 24/7 shelter is 16 years old now and in a couple of years it will be time for him to graduate, so he needs to start preparing to live independently. He has always been eager to work, but so far couldn’t even hold part-time jobs – he always tired of any routine quickly. Now Vova is an apprentice in a team renovating apartments and has worked 20 days so far, which is real progress! Until earlier this year Vova had a personal tutor, but academic study doesn’t seem to be his strong point, so he will be more prepared to face life on his own if he learns a profession. He will continue basic scholastic training in our shelter.
CNN “INSIGHTS” REPORT ABOUT LOVE’S BRIDGE
On June 16th – 18th a report about Love’s Bridge projects by CNN’s Ryan Chilcote was featured on CNN International “Insights”, including an interview with Christina Greenberg, which you can see here.
SVETA MOVES INTO AN APARTMENT OF HER OWN
As some of you may know, Sveta graduated from our shelter two years ago and moved into foster care. Now that she is almost 18 she moved into a small apartment on her own, a big step for her! She also successfully completed her school year. Her new home is about two hours outside of Perm, and it’s not furnished or renovated yet, but it’s a good start. We’re proud of her for completing the transition from the way she used to live years ago, in sewers and gutters, to living independently in a home of her own! We wish her success in getting set up in her new town.
SMALL CHILDREN VISITING OUR DAY SHELTER
Most of the street kids who come to our day shelter are 10-16 years old, but this month a brother and sister started coming who are only 3 and 5 years old! Tania, our day shelter teacher, described their first visit: “Sasha and Katya were very dirty when they came. When I took them to the shower they just stared at the warm water, it seemed like they’d never been in a real bath or shower. When we offered to make them something to eat they said ‘Just give us the food and we can make it ourselves’. They acted as if they were used to doing everything by themselves and hadn’t had any adult supervision.”
We looked into Sasha and Katya’s situation and we found out that their mother is a street teenager herself, unfortunately one of the ones we have not been able to reach yet. They live in an old house with broken windows and doors that is due to be demolished. She spends most of her time drinking and going out with friends so the kids are pretty much left to fend for themselves. We feel it’s better that such young kids stay with their parents, if possible, so instead of taking them into our shelter we are trying to help the mother make changes in her life so she can take care of them properly. We’ll do our best to make sure it works out.
NEW CHILDREN IN OUR SHELTER
In May, Tanya (16 years old) joined our 24 / 7 shelter. Tanya left home in August 2003 because of family problems. Our social worker started looking into her situation, and already met with her stepmother once. According to her stepmother Tanya’s mother and father divorced when she was 3, and for some years she was living with her mother, who was constantly drunk and rarely cared for her. After a while her father picked her up, and we’re told that he took better care of her, but it seems she hasn’t gotten over the scars from her early childhood yet. It’s still not completely clear why she left home, and it will probably be a few months before we have all the answers, but we will try to reunite her with her family if possible. Until then we’ll make sure Tanya gets the education and emotional support she needs.
Vanya N. (16) moved into the shelter in the beginning of June. Vanya lived in Kazakhstan until he was 14. Unlike most of the kids in our shelter he never used substances; however, he was forced to live on the streets because of extreme poverty – his father is absent, and his mother earns less than $15 per month. He left Kazakhstan with his mother to escape ethnic strife (because the Russians dominated Kazakhstan during the Soviet era, native Kazakhs have been aggressive towards ethnic Russians in recent years). He applied for a passport almost a year ago, but hasn’t received one yet; without any documents, he is unable to receive social help, enroll in school or get a job. He was in a municipal shelter before coming to us, and he liked it there, but government regulations prevent him from staying there for more than 10 days, so after the 10 days were up he moved into our shelter. He appears to be a bright and hard working boy. Our immediate goal will be to help him get his paper work in order, or at least get a temporary ID, so he can enroll in the equivalent to high school this September. He already found summer employment to keep himself busy until then – and he even helped another one of the older kids (Vova) find a summer job.
SHATURA’S PROGRESSIVE FUND RAISING INITIATIVE
On the 15th of June Jennifer Gaspar from “Partners in Hope” visited Perm with Georges Zurbach, the financial director of Shatura. Shatura is a furniture chain with retail stores in Perm, and they organized a progressive fund raising effort, which involves selling stuffed animals in their stores, the proceeds of which will benefit our project, and encouraging their local employees to contribute. The company plans to match all contributions. Shatura isn’t the first local company to get involved in supporting our street children projects, but this kind of progressive fund raising is new in Russia and we hope it will catch on, because the development of local charities is very important to Russia’s future.
The majority of the children in our care completed their school year already, another year of successful study! They are going on various nature outings and other activities that take advantage of the brief warm weather. Some of the older teenagers have found summer employment.
PROJECT FEATURED ON CBN NEWSWATCH
In March 2005 our project was featured several times on CBN Newswatch. You can read the story here: http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/CWN/031105russia.asp. The video clip is no longer available on CBN’s web site, but we plan to make it available on our web site soon, together with some of the other footage John Kluver filmed in January 2005.
NASTYA’S JOURNEY WITH SASHA K.
You might remember that Sasha K. moved into our shelter in December 2004. He came to Perm from a nearby town, because nobody took care of him there he thought he could find work here. He did find a part-time job, but had nowhere to live until he moved into our shelter. After moving in he enrolled in school for the first time in years, and has been doing well in his studies. In March Nastya, our social worker, traveled to his home town with him so he could attend a court case regarding his alcoholic mother’s parental rights (initiated by the government). When they got there Nastya phoned the municipal service that was responsible for him during the court case.
However, they took Sasha to a hospital for tests, and told him he would have to live there for two months – even though he had been living in our shelter for several months and was perfectly healthy! Apparently they just didn’t have any other place for him to live. After a week he couldn’t stand it any more and came back to our shelter.
If Sasha’s mother has her parental rights taken away, Sasha will receive an apartment from the government after he turns 18. Regarding his plans for the future, Sasha says “I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but the most important thing is to learn a profession. I want to experience the freedom of being able to take care of myself and not having to depend on anybody.”
March was an excellent month for several older teenagers who used to live on the street, because thanks to the efforts of Vera (social worker) in our ACT center, they were able to find employment. This includes Sasha U., who recently got out of juvenile detention. He was there for stealing, which is certainly wrong but sometimes hard to avoid for kids who are living on the streets and desperate to survive. He recently said “When I got out of detention I wanted to find work and get a new start in life. But things turned out to be more difficult than I thought. I was living with a group of friends, 13 of us were sleeping in one room. Then the police sealed our apartment because they suspected one of us of a crime, and I was forced to start living in basements. One day one of my friends told me that people in the ACT center could help me find work, so I went there because I was tired of waking up hungry every morning. First Vera helped me replace my lost documents, then she found work for me at a saw mill. The director was very nice to me and wanted to help. I worked there for a few days, but it was very difficult to sleep at night because the other teenagers would make a lot of noise and the police would often raid our basement. I couldn’t keep up with my work and had to stop. Then Vera helped me find another job, near my sister’s place outside the city. Now I can get a good sleep at my sister’s place before going to work”.
It’s often next to impossible for these young people to find work on their own, because employers know taking them in is risky, but our social workers have become experts at persuading directors to give these former street kids a chance. Because of limited resources we are not able to provide teenagers over 18 years old with housing, so Vera usually helps them look for a relative that can put them up temporarily or tries to persuade a municipal institution to take them in until they receive their first salary and can rent a room.
Other former street children who found employment through the ACT center recently include: Vova K, Lena T. and Christina P. — Misha D. and Vanya K. also got new jobs.
RECOLLECTIONS FROM STREET OUTREACH
We regularly engage in street outreach, a non-religious activity which involves driving to different parts of the city to find street children, feeding them and inviting them to our day shelter. The goal is to gain their trust, so that we can eventually help them leave life on the streets. In 2004 Russian president Putin put a special emphasis on the problem with street children, so municipal services scrambled to get them off the streets, which usually means arresting them and keeping them in a holding facility. Because of this children are often afraid we’re going to arrest them, and it’s become more difficult to make contact. Here are Jered’s recollections from a recent street outreach engagement:
“Usually at least one of the older kids comes along, but this time was different because little Sasha, who just started coming to the day shelter, asked if he could come along as well. Having him with us actually helped a lot, because he reassured the kids we met that we were there to help them. Two of the boys we met were named Sergey and Alexei, they live at home but they beg because their parents are very poor. They were very thankful for the food we gave them, but they ate quickly and were noticeably worried that we might be plainclothes police. We gave them small cards with a map showing how to find our day shelter. Some other kids we met were sniffing thinner and didn’t want to talk with us. Hopefully we will meet them again someday when they are not in an intoxicated state.”
SAD NEWS REGARDING DENIS M.
As you may recall, Denis graduated from our shelter last year. Things seemed to be getting better for him: in 2004 he graduated from the equivalent to trade school and was reunited with his aunt, who he hadn’t seen for years. His aunt was very happy to see him again and invited him to live with her. He moved in with her late last year, and she did her best to look out for him. However, his aunt was unable to supervise him during the day, and he started occasionally sniffing thinner again. One evening in January, when he was in an intoxicated state, somebody (we still don’t know who) beat him up and left him lying in the snow behind an outdoor market. The temperature was well below freezing, and by the time he was found the next morning all of his limbs were frozen. He ended up having to get most of his fingers and toes amputated.
Denis is surprisingly cheerful despite his challenging physical state; the reality of what happened to him hasn’t really sunken in yet, which may actually be for the best since he would probably be quite depressed if he was fully aware of his condition. He has learned to walk again, and he also uses his hands well enough to take care of himself.
It is difficult to find anything positive in Denis’ situation, but it is a good reminder of what we are up against: we are fighting for the lives of every child and teenager we work with, and if we fail the consequences are very unpleasant.