Coping with Learning Difficulties, Poverty & Loneliness
Young Polina (name changed) has been on our hearts and part of the Love Russia family since she was small. Love Russia first met her during some of the earliest Summer Camps where many of our volunteers will have known her as a child living in an orphanage. Latterly, her home was a college dormitory where 40% of the students are, like her, orphanage leavers. Although accommodated for longer than is normal, eventually extra support from the college was no longer possible. Her government-allocated flat was issued in a remote location and that is where she must live. Ready or not, Polina must face independence.
We drove almost an hour from Ryazan to a small village with her Mentor. This is her only real friend, to whom she is so attached she calls him 'Papa' and contacts him multiple times a day. On our arrival we were greeted by a friendly smile displaying the sorry state of her teeth. She gave generous hugs for all, despite meeting us for the first time. Offering a hug could be perceived as a sign of confidence but she is emotional and fragile. It is clear she seeks comfort and affection from any adult, even us, relative strangers. This worries us because Polina is lonely and could easily be influenced by dangerous individuals who may take advantage. She is 20 years old, but because of neglect in early life and subsequent learning difficulties, she seems barely into her teens.
This flat is liveable, with basics that just about work. The furniture, left from a previous occupant, is rickety but usable. This puts Polina among the luckiest orphanage leavers - some ‘flats’ issued to orphanage leavers are little more than a concrete shell. Still, it is dark, dated, crumbling and sad with paper hanging off the walls and ‘hygiene’ facilities that scarcely merit the title. It's hard to imagine sitting down, getting comfy and calling it home. In our world, a few pots of paint would go a long way to brighten these grim surroundings. But with barely enough money for food, home improvements cannot be contemplated without help from her Mentor and people such as us. Again, there are hundreds more orphanage leavers in the region with no-one to check on them, give them advice or help them out. The Genesis programme that helped Polina through college gives around 120 disadvantaged students a small bursary, contact with a mentor, and the knowledge that someone cares. Mentors like Polina’s are the parent figures taking care of every orphanage leaver they can – pray with us for more like them!
The purpose of our visit was to help fix her TV and to deliver Polina a much-needed fridge. Her face was a picture of delight and bewilderment at the concept of LR supporters, people she didn't know, giving her such a generous gift. After unpacking and finding the right place to put it we walked to the small village store to buy fresh foods to put inside. Her cupboard suggested she'd been living on dried pasta alone. While shopping we noticed she struggles with simple arithmetic, making it difficult for her to budget her extremely limited income of just £22 a week. We were reassured to find the lady in the shop was kind and aware of Polina's limitations. We hoped that in time a voluntary role might be found - perhaps mopping the floors in the shop or clearing snow for the village committee- something to keep her busy and give purpose to her days.
Oh how we felt for young Polina as we prayed with her and said our goodbyes. Tears welled in her eyes knowing that in a few moments she would be alone again. This time, we imagined, hugging the brightly coloured cushion, one of the other gifts we’d left, until another week or two had passed and 'Papa' would pay her another visit.
It was only 20 minutes before we heard from Polina wanting to talk on the phone. This time for advice on how to make a healthy soup with the food from her fridge!
You can help vulnerable orphanage leavers by supporting the Mentors who care young people like Polina.
Or, perhaps you might like to buy an Alternative gift - there are plenty to choose from that benefit orphanage leavers.