Us and the Russian Orphans, Two by Two.
I often recall George’s early insight that orphans have a special place in God’s economy. In the very beginning of our work with Russian orphans, it was hard to imagine alongside the bleak statistics of the mid ‘90s. Let me remind you that just 15 years ago some areas where we work had up to 70% unemployment and over 70% of older orphans ended up jobless and homeless. Up to 15% committed suicide within a year of “aging out” of their institutions. Now, though, it’s easy to find many examples that confirm the truth of George’s biblical wisdom. Not only is the economic environment much better, but through our work I’m also proud to see the kids choosing exciting careers and working hard to get a better education and therefore better jobs. I’m happy to list the Canadian Embassy, ExxonMobil Russia, SOS Villages, and real estate agencies as work places of some of our program participants. Last week, together with a team from the US (specifically our long-term partner Bridge to the Nations) I visited the Pokrov orphanage and was happy to see Zhenya B who grew up at that orphanage and now is working as a caregiver there. Zhenya shared with me that she’s happy that the kids she’s working with live in conditions so much better than when she was a child there.
The Bridge to the Nations team prepared an exciting program teaching CPR, First Aid, and the Risks of Social Networking and Data Privacy at Ministry Centers and Technical Schools. They also led interactive discussions on the issues that the young people face in our countries, how we help the needy in our countries and what we value in each other’s culture.
Marcia, teaching CPR in Tech School #23, Suzdal
At the beginning of the program our team met with 6 interns who help lead educational and healthy lifestyle activities in the Ministry Centers and Technical Schools and helped to better equip them to work with older orphans and young families.
Internships is one of my favorite programs. You should see the enthusiasm and pride with which the interns (we currently have six, two in each region) take their responsibilities. The program offers them a valuable experience: to join, they submit their resumes and go through a job interview. Once hired as interns, they attend all staff meetings and learn job skills including work ethics in a friendly supportive environment. Upon completion they have the prior job experience that is often required by employers. They are positive and inspiring examples for other orphans and that opportunity often helps shape their future plans. Nastya K is a student of psychology and sociology in Vladimir and this year she’s writing her graduation paper. She shared with me that until she became an intern, she couldn’t decide on a theme for her paper. Now, as an intern, she often finds herself in the role of a counselor and that prompted her diploma theme: Individual Counseling for Older Orphans. I’m picturing one day seeing a book written by Nastya that would be used by many specialists in their work with orphans.
Dale leading the session with the interns
If you’ve ever visited the Ivanovo Ministry Center, you certainly have met Antonina, our crafts and sewing instructor. This time when we were in Ivanovo we had a nice conversation with the staff over tea (a great Russian tradition!). Antonina shared something that was very touching for me and the rest of us. She recalled the days when she still worked in the orphanage and a US team came to visit. They staged a scene from Noah’s Ark and two men were on stage holding hands and pretending to be the Ark while the kids were grouped together in pairs representing the animals. Then they had to run and hide inside the Ark. Antonina had tears in her eyes as she explained: “The children ran into their arms. You should have seen their eyes. They looked at these men, they touched their arms and hands, and they tried to come as close as they could as if they were looking for a shelter. That’s your ministry, she said, it’s like Noah’s Ark for the orphans”.
Antonina presenting Dale with a gift made by the girls of the Ivanovo Ministry Center.
On our last day in Vladimir, as we were enjoying a cup of tea in a downtown café I asked Dale and his daughter Jamie about the highlight of their trip. Being able to make a difference in the orphans’ lives was their answer. No surprise, and no doubt the orphans would say the same. It’s certainly my story. And so when are you coming to Russia with your arms open? Together, arm in arm, we’re boarding.