160,000 young people currently live in Russian orphanages, 70% of whom are considered to have ‘mental deficiency’ or physical disabilities. ‘Mental deficiency’ is a broad term that covers a wide range of learning disabilities, behavioral issues and serious psychological disorders. Young people growing up in the Russian care system are evaluated at an early age and then placed in certain types of institutions depending on the results of these evaluations. Performed by external experts who only meet the youth briefly, these evaluations are often inaccurate. Shy or traumatized children regularly are assessed to be incapable of learning and then are placed in institutions where only limited learning opportunities are available. For those that manage to graduate out of the system (25% do not), a low level of education and lack of basic social skills make it difficult for them to find their place in life.
Big Change was established in 2002 by a group of teachers wishing to help orphanage graduates successfully transition to living independently. Big Change works with orphans and orphanage graduates to obtain an education, choose a job path and gain the confidence and skills required for independence (such as resolving problems independently). It collaborates with educators, social workers and other childcare professionals and volunteers to identify the most effective ways of supporting youth who have grown up in care to realize their potential and become independent adults. Big Change’s approach takes into account the trauma that many of the youth have experienced and the way it may be externalized (“lost” interest in learning, no aspiration, lack of self-control, low self-esteem, etc.). It delivers services through four interconnected programs: 1) an educational program focusing on forming an individual development plan and intensive study in school subjects; 2) a self-study program to teach independent learning and critical thinking; 3) a professional orientation program exposing youth to their career options; and 4) an extracurricular activities program orienting youth to the world around them and putting cultural and history studies into context.
EMpower’s 8th and final grant to Big Change will help the organization improve its sustainability by strengthening its fundraising and marketing capacity including the recruitment of a new full-time fundraiser and the design, purchase, and use of a database.
Primary Location: Moscow
Funded Since: 2010
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