Last night Chris, Natalia and I went to the center run by the charity Maria's Children to hang out with the older teens/young adults who go there on Friday nights. Since children "age out" of Russian orphanages at age sixteen, it's wonderful that these young people have a place to go that's like a home: a place where they're always welcome, where they can always meet up with friends and get the support they need. It is such a happy place.
The studio buzzes with energy... There are always many things going on at once while adults, teens and kids pursue all kinds of crafts. You can see Natalia above, joining in on making clay beads that will be painted and sold at the charity's next auction. Maria's Children provides art therapy and assistance of many other kinds to children in orphanages and wards for the handicapped (where kids are often abandoned) -- and to other children in need.
Last night was particularly festive as people enjoyed the flowers and little treats that had been dropped off by others in preparation for March 8th, International Women's Day (a huge holiday here). I ended up raiding my stash of gifts originally purchased to give all of the women and staff who work at school with Katya and Natalia, instead bringing the 24 dual-end lip glosses from Bath and Body Works' Summer Blowout Sale for all the young women and staff at the center. It was so much fun to surprise them! We also brought a bunch of yummy treats from Volkonsky Bakery, our absolute favorite place for sweets.
I'm so glad that Chris could join us; orphans in Russia rarely have any contact at all with men. Simply taking the time to be there, to talk with them and be truly engaged in conversations -- focusing on them, caring about what they have to say -- matters.
Maria told me one anecdote that made this crystal-clear: last summer she brought an American couple she knows with her when she visited a orphanage for blind children. One little boy, age 11, I think, particularly enjoyed laughing and talking with the husband. He then touched the man's face to get an idea what he looked like. "What?!" he exclaimed as he felt the man's beard. "Are you a dog??!"
He wasn't kidding. He had never before touched a man, never before had interacted with a man in real life. He was completely serious. The American man was absolutely overwhelmed, too.
Natalia had so much fun that she wanted to go back this morning! It's going to be good for the girls to spend time there... It certainly put things in perspective for them this morning as they fought over which of them "owned" a particular toy. I reminded Natalia that her new friend from last night would be happy to simply have any toy, never mind a family...
The fighting instantly stopped.