The dining room at an orphange in Voskresyenk, a small town two hours south of Moscow...
Most definitely BEFORE.
And what an AFTER!
TA-DAH, n'est-ce pas?
So how did this magic happen? On Sunday Katya and I went with some of my students and volunteers with the organization "Maria's Children" to paint a mural at the orphanage and to simply spend time with the kids. They do this kind of activity throughout the year as one of the many ways the organization helps children in need. The other volunteers were amazing and they're a close-knit group. They were like SWAT team, organized down to the last detail, swooping in and pulling off the whole event. Some of the volunteers, mainly in their late teens-twenties, themselves grew up in orphanages and received help through Maria's Children. THAT is inspiring.
After unloading all our supplies, we "checked out" the walls and interacted a bit with the kids as they finished their lunch. There were only 23 kids out of the 71 who live there year round; the others were away in the forest at a "dom otdikha." (Think something like a very basic scout/YMCA facility where you actually stay in a big building—and usually in an area surrounded by forests).
It's really sad that only 10 of those children are actually orphans; the rest are there because either their parents didn't want them, or because their parents' rights were revoked because of neglect, abuse, etc. As a result, most of the kids there cling to the hope that they're only in an orphanage temporarily, and that their mother or father are coming soon... I couldn't help but wonder, what about the aunts? Uncles? Grandparents? Family friends? I just can't fathom that many kids being simply unwanted.
That being said, I was very impressed by the director of the orphanage/school who greeted us. She's clearly a woman who give her heart and soul to these kids, striving to create a better future for them. She's making a difference; some kids from this orphanage are moving on to brighter futures. They are challenged academically and athletically.
The building probably hasn't changed much in 60 years; as the director said, any repairs/improvements must be done with their own hands since they have no money...
That's why these murals will make such a difference in cheering the children up. Those who helped us to create them will be so proud whenever they're in that room; those who are away and will discover them as a surprise will feel special that someone cared enough to come and create them. I'm glad we painted the dining room; they're in there five times a day! Perhaps that will be five more times to smile?
We started off with some pencil sketches. Ruslan, the leading artist in the group, works magic with a pencil and brush... At first the children just watched him, a bit in shock. As one boy kept saying, "Нельзя!!" It's forbidden! You can't draw on the wall!
It didn't take long, however, for him to join in...
As he painted, he chanted to himself in a sing-song voice, "I'm breaking a schoooool rule... And nooooobody can punish me...!" It was so funny!
We then dug in with the paint, encouraging the children to join us. I'm up on the ladder.
Meanwhile, another mural was underway. On the opposite wall, children were busy painting planets, little by little.
They then filled in the cosmos with sponges and paint....
And we all enjoyed a MUCH-awaited snack. After 2 1/2 hours in the car and our time painting, we were so hungry!
It was then time to play with the younger children; they're not able to paint for hours on end. I brought my parachute to play games with them and it was a big hit! No one had ever seen one before, so people were quite curious.
This little girl, Yulia, was so afraid at first... But then she wouldn't get off! To make her feel more comfortable, I told her the parachute was the ocean with soft, nice waves... And she could swim in it as long as she wanted, feeling the water against her body... The other children then helped to create gentle ripples in the parachute and Yulia was filled with glee. She visibly relaxed and had such a good time...
Playing with parachutes can be tiring, so we took a break to play some communicative games—telephone and "associations." As you can see, Katya was our resident photographer throughout.
Look at these sweet ten-year-old boys who just wanted to be cuddled... Vasya, the boy on my right, didn't want to leave my side. He was SO sweet and so happy...
After about an hour and a half of play, we stopped to check on the murals—and look what we found!
The actual painting up-close is FANTASTIC. I hope it will help the children to imagine what the future could hold. Meanwhile, the kids realized we would be leaving soon—and they conscientiously soaked up every last drop of affection.
This little boy fell in love with my student... She was pretty happy, too!
Here we all were at the end. The children were so thankful to have received little stuffed "Coca Cola" polar bears that had been donated. Even the ten-year-old boys held them in a way that shows they will cherish them:
Yulia, the sweet little girl who "went swimming" on the parachute, actually cried when she saw the owl and she tried to run away from it. I then picked her up and told her how the owl was name "Anochka" (sweet Anya), and that she was there to make sure the children were OK—that they always have enough to eat, that they know they're special, and that... they eat their vegetables. I asked her to then find as many ladybugs as she could in the tree leaves, and there were four (I painted them). I told her there were four ladybugs because Yulia herself is four—and it's proof that the owl, the ladybugs and all the butterflies around the tree are her friends.
She soaked it all up and was BEAMING by the end. It was just grand!
We also had to be a bit creative in talking with cooks, convincing them that they aren't now wicked "Baba Yaga" witches—instead they are kind cooks who have come to rescue the orphans form a terrible fate at her hands. Even the cooks "ate it up"!
We then got stuck in almost five hours of traffic on the way home... So what a LONG day... But, really, what a great one. If you're in Moscow and want to join us some time, friend "maria's children" on facebook for the schedule of excursions. You can also call the studio directly to become involved in any number of ways!
p.s. I just ordered a parachute online for Maria's Children to keep... Friends are coming from Michigan to visit us next week and they'll bring it. The kids will be so happy!
p.p.s. Thanks to Oksana Yushko for some of these wonderful pictures!