Pskov Centre: January-May 2017

We’ve come to the end of our 2017 academic year, and our Pskov Post-Orphanage Centre has now been up and running for 8 whole months. It’s time to take a look at what we’ve been up to since the last time we reported at new year.

First of all, we moved into our new office and classroom space at the beginning of the year. Two spacious rooms which afford us classroom space, a corner for conversations and some admin/office space. All our club members have enthusiastically chipped in toward the project of making the space “our own”. We’ve sourced all sorts of old and inexpensive or free furniture, cleaned it up and painted it, made a home-made black board for lessons, and a corner for tea and conversation.

At the beginning of 2017 we also welcomed a new teacher – another Marina – an old school friend of our Director Marina Golubeva. Our new Marina runs weekly crafts lessons which almost all of us have found to be not only interesting, but also very practical.  At the moment we are busy making useful household items, such as placemats, patchwork hot pads and useful containers for our own use, but in the future we may also sell some of our work at handicraft markets. For those who really master a craft, such markets can be a real source of income in an economy where finding and keeping a full-time job is not always easy.

All of our handicrafts are made from materials that would normally end up in household rubbish, so they don’t cost us a thing, while nevertheless adding to the beauty and order of our homes. Marina’s real talent, though, is fostering other, group-bonding conversation, during our craft sessions. She is very good at fostering a trusting atmosphere in which participants feel comfortable discussing even some of the harder personal questions they may wish to address. By her example, Marina encourages us not to lose faith in others or in our own abilities, even when times are hard.

For those who are less enthusiastic about sewing-based crafts, Marina has introduced poker work (drawing by making burn marks on a wooden surface), at which two of our club members have already become quite proficient.

Helping our orphanage graduates find fulfilling work ranks as one of the highest goals of our Centre. A permanent and interesting job, when and if found, tends to be much more than just a new workplace for our your adults – really it can be a trampoline ride right into a new life. This is especially true because of both the difficult economy and the prejudices against employing orphanage graduates.

For this reason we are absolutely thrilled to report a recent success story. Natasha is a graduate of Belskoye-Ustye orphanage, who has, for more than 10 years, been living in an adult institution. Natasha is an extremely bright young woman, who is very good at paying attention to fine detail and likes doing work with her hands. Earlier this year she was looking to begin training as a massage therapist, when we learned of a job opening with an acquaintance who happens to be a taxidermist. Natasha thought she would like to try her hand at helping Vladimir – who owns the business – and she took to the new work like a fish in water. The strange work seems literally made for Natasha and her skill set. By the end of the first month, Vladimir reported that Natasha had become an invaluable help, and proposed further rapid training and full time employment. Just a few short months later, Natasha is suggesting her own creative additions to the artistic endeavours of her employer, and his praise is ever increasing. Natasha says she has never felt happier or more inspired. Nor is her new employer indifferent to her fate in general; Vladimir is encouraging Natasha to move out of the institution and continue to work with ROOF to secure her own housing in Pskov. Thank you so much, Vladimir, for the opportunity that you are giving to Natasha!

Another key success for our Post-Orphanage Centre this spring is that Yulia has won her court case for state-granted housing, with the help of Arsenija Razumovskaja, from the Pskov Lawyers’ Association. The decision came into effect on the 7th of April; the regional administration is now obliged to grant her a flat of her own. This is a victory that ROOF has been helping Yulia crawl towards for over 13 years, and we are very thankful to Arseniya for taking us through the final stages of the legal battle. We are told that it is likely that Yulia will be granted her housing before the year is out.

In addition to helping Yulia and others from our Centre pursue their housing rights, Arseniya continues to run monthly seminars for us. Recently we have benefited especially from her advice on the obligations and benefits of orphanage graduates (and others) regarding utilities payments. Paying for water, gas, electricity and other municipally supplied services is not as straightforward as it might sometimes seem, and all of us learned important tips for reducing our monthly household expenditures. Arseniya is always ready to provide individual advice and consultation on any topics which are important to our orphanage graduates.

Our continued tutorials in basic academic subjects are beginning to bear noticeable fruit. We now know each of our students much better, and it is clearer which areas need the most effort and attention. Some of our graduates want to raise their general level of literacy and numeracy just to feel more secure in themselves and in day-to-day tasks, while others of us want help to get further in studies – whether formally or informally.

Here we would like to take the space to especially compliment Alyona for her success in Mathematics. Over a very short period of time she has gone from a pre-school level to being able to independently complete multiple-step word problems and exercises. Congratulations, Alyona, on your efficient progress, and thank you for all your hard work!

Our trip to the local monument to Alexander Nevsky presented us with an interesting opportunity to run a multi-disciplinary lesson where we combined History, Geography and Mathematics. We looked at the geography of Nevsky’s biography and, via mathematical projection, the spacio-temporal events of his life. The lesson left students and teachers inspired by the possibilities of using context to teach school subjects more effectively, given that such interdisciplinary “intersections” awaken our hidden cognitive abilities. So often this context is how we come to really embrace the meanfulness of school lessons!

In the last months we’ve also continued our film club, visited the theatre (a poetry evening dedicated to the work of the Silver Age poet Severjanin), and enjoyed lessons in sketching and painting.

We’ve continued our tradition of inviting Ivan Pavlevich Adelgeim to speak to our group about church holidays – this time he explained the meaning of Pascha (the Orthodox term for Easter), beginning with an exploration of the meaning of the story of the Exodus and relating this back to Christ’s life and the events of the crucifixion and Resurrection. Our tea-time together featured the traditional Russian Orthodox treats of pascha (a sweet and creamy spread) and kulich (traditional easter bread loaded with luscious eggs).

We’ve also made friends at the local Pskov chapter of the Animal Protection agency “Zoo-Zaschita”. Some of our orphanage graduates take in homeless animals, and when one of the cats was in need of an operation “Zoo-Zaschita” agreed to fully sponsor the expense. After our trip to “Zoo-Zaschita” we ended up speaking for hours about helping the helpless and the importance of taking care of others who are defenseless and about our motivations for doing so. Simple life events often become occasions for great discussions at our Centre.

As we celebrate birthdays and other important events and simply live life together, our Centre is increasingly becoming a place where all of us feel more and more comfortable coming for the moral support that all of us need in life. Thank you to all our sponsors for making our Centre possible!