For the seventh year running, we are delighted to be nominated as Russia’s Leading Travel Agent, at the World Travel Awards.
The World Travel Awards are very prestigious; they are known as the Oscars of the travel industry. That’s why this is a huge honour for everyone within the company, and we would love it if you could help us win the title for the fifth time!
Time flies by for us! And we grow and we develop. As we are very passionate about Russia and the Russian people, we would like to do our bit for this incredible country. This year, as a part of our World Travel Awards campaign, we will be supporting a Russian charity, the Life Route, which helps disabled people in Russia get one-to-one support and raises the awareness of adults’ mental issues. They are doing a very important job, and we are happy to contribute in the Life Route’s valuable efforts.
Therefore, this year, for every vote we receive from our World Travel Awards page, we will donate to the Life Route.
The Director of the Life Route charity Ivan Rozhansky kindly agreed to speak to us about their mission, programms and challenges.
Can you give us a quick overview of what the Life Route does?
We focus on providing aid to disabled adults, and people with mental disorders (autism, genetic syndrome, organic lesions of CNS, etc.), those who live with their families, not in the care homes, within Moscow. We have also started helping people with mental disabilities living in psycho-neurological boarding schools.
Normally, their life in Russia is confined within four walls. To break this rule, the Life Route organises training in practical applications, such as joinery, pottery etc., and various recreation programs. This enables the participants to engage more socially and learn skills that would never normally be offered to them. Our volunteers work with groups of disabled people to give them social skills and entertain them, thus, give their parents a chance to have a break from everyday hardworking routine.
What programs do you implement?
We have several ongoing programs intended to improve the quality of life for people with mental disorders, and their relatives (who care for them). We are engaged in the organisation of daily employment, permanent employment and recreation. An adult, despite mental and physical disorders, wants to benefit others, to do something with meaning, to see the result of his work. The lack of it leads to a loss of self-respect, meaning of life, a life joy.
We arrange their participation in hand-made production of toys, ceramic and wooden souvenirs etc. and in recreation programs that include physical exercises, art therapy, walks in the city.
We also help and assist families in crisis situations, for example, when the guardian gets ill and cannot support the mentee for a period of time, or just to give a break to a family from everyday care of members with disabilities.
You mentioned that you help people to find employment. What kind of employment are you able to find?
We have two workshops that provide jobs for people with mental disorders. With assistance of educators, craftsmen, painters they can participate in producing toys, wooden and ceramic souvenirs, items from cardboard, felt and bast.
We also seek to ensure that people with disabilities can work in regular companies. It means that we need to arrange the escorts, for example, to help them to get to workplaces. And of course, it is necessary that those around them should not be afraid фand stand aside of them.
Are there many foundations in Russia working in a similar area?
Only a few charities are working with adults with mental disabilities. For example, in Moscow, there are several volunteer organizations, and a charity called ‘Вверх ’ (‘Up’). There are similar projects in different regions of Russia (Pskov, Vladimir), and Moscow, in some way, is still behind the regions. But over time, there are more organizations and volunteer movements dealing with the problems of adults with mental disorders coming up.
How many people have received help from you?
This year, 98 people participated in our programs. More than 100 received consultation assistance (psychological, informational, legal).
What challenges do you face as a charity?
First of all, lack of funding to implement our programs all the time. We are also facing with a shortage of work facilities and a high rental cost. But, on the good side, this year we have grown very much, including our reputation and brand recognition.
Which trends in the charity sector in Russia can you highlight?
Charity becomes a part of our life, and more people get involved in it. TV and social media mention those, who are in more difficult life situation, encouraging a more positive attitude to disability, and help to raise funds for them. It is still much harder to collect money for adults than for children, but this is possible! Unfortunately, one of the negative trends is the fraudsters and fake philanthropic foundations that bring discredit to charity in general.
How has the attitude to people with disabilities changed over the last few years?
The attitude changes, though, very gradually. It is already indecent to discriminate a disabled person, as used to happen in public places recently. Many public services (from ramps to employment for disabled people) do not seem to be logical yet, but some steps toward taking people with disabilities out of their four walls are being done!
And yes, it's one of our tasks to change attitudes, make a man with mental disability not scary or dangerous to society, make him more understandable, probably. We believe that public fear starts from lack of awareness, we want to tell more good stories, to be more enlightened about the possibilities of our wards so that they are not afraid to be treated with understanding. And that families where there are little children with disabilities know that everything can be normal in the future! Encourage them not to hide their children, not abandon them, demonstrating that they could get help, education, communication and support.
Do you have many volunteers working with you?
We do have many volunteers. Most of the projects are implemented by their forces (under the guidance of specialists). Most volunteers are of the age of those who they help, 20-35 year old. Some of them are going to link their professional activities to therapeutic pedagogy, psychology and psychiatry. Most have nothing to do with the topic, but simply want to be useful. Among our volunteers there are musicians, philologists, programmers, actors and accountants. We also have ‘special volunteers’- people with additional needs who lack communication and are happy to be helpful.
How else can people help you?
As mentioned above, we are always short with funds to fulfil and expand our projects. The best help for us is a small but regular donation through our website www.liferoute.org.
People can also come to volunteer with us, just write to us at email@example.com. People are welcome to provide us with an equipment, materials, even food products for one of our programs. You can buy products made by our mentees at charity fairs. Some of the items can be purchased in gift tents at VDNKh in Moscow. And we are constantly searching for new premises for our projects and appreciate any help with this.
We thank Ivan for answering our questions!
We have spoken a little about the ThePromise before, but to give you a better idea of who they are, and what they do, we thought we would get in touch with some questions. Who is better placed to tell you about ThePromise than ThePromise themselves after all.
To discover their answers to our questions read on!
Can you give us a quick overview of what ThePromise does?
ThePromise works to improve the lives of disabled children in Russia by promoting a system of support (Portage) for disabled children in partnership with families and carers, and by encouraging a more positive attitude to disability.
Our pioneering work focuses on training and supporting teams of Portage workers in the community, working with families with disabled children in their own homes and rehabilitation centres.
What inspired the charities founders to help disabled children in Russia?
Sarah Settelen, the founder of ThePromise, made a promise to her profoundly disabled daughter Ellie, shortly after she died in January 2000. She promised Ellie that her cherished short life would not be in vain and that other children in the world, many of them hidden or silenced, would be heard, celebrated and supported.
After volunteering in a Russian orphanage for children with disabilities in the summer of 2002, Sarah made a pledge to the children she met that she would do whatever she could to improve their chances of a future.
What areas in Russia do you cover?
ThePromise now works in Ryazan, the city where the original Portage Projects were setup, as well as Moscow, Taganrog and excitingly are about to support a new project in the city of Voronezh.
What services are you able to provide to the children?
We enable Portage to be provided to disabled children on a one to one basis, allowing them to learn and develop essential skills. We also provide some specialist advice around Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech and Language Therapy from volunteers based in the UK.
How are these services contributing to improving the lives of the children you work with?
Portage provides the children with opportunities to learn, communicate and develop important skills. This in turn opens up new avenues such as feeding themselves, communicating with others, playing, making friends and even going to school.
Could you describe what ‘Portage’ is, how it helps to improve the lives of the children and how it differs to traditional teaching methods?
Portage is a system of one to one early childhood education used successfully with disabled children in many parts of the world. It utilises what we know about ‘normal’ development and breaks every stage down into small achievable steps. The Portage worker devises specific activities and games for the children, and family or carer (in the case of the children in orphanages), to practise together which will focus on the skill the child is trying to achieve. Over time, the children make significant developmental gains.
How many children and parents have you helped so far and what does that mean to your charity?
ThePromise has worked directly with over 300 children and families or carers. We have also trained over 350 students, specialists and carers to become Portage workers, and many organisations who have gone on to set up their own Portage services. Little by little we plan to spread the word about the life-changing power of Portage to groups and organisations throughout Russia.
How do you measure success in terms of the impact your charity has on the children’s development, and on their everyday lives.
Many of the children and families we work with tell us that without Portage and the support from their Portage worker they could not imagine what their life would be like. For example, a child who can feed themselves at meal times can join in with the rest of the family at mealtimes rather than having to reply on a parent feeding them. Children are learning to walk and so are no longer reliant on someone passing them the toy they want.
Before Portage, families simply wouldn’t leave the house, they wouldn’t feel able or confident enough to take their child to the park, to the shop or to a nursery. But with the skills and confidence Portage gives the children and parents, they are able to access services and enjoy life as a family.
What challenges do you face as a charity?
We face similar challenges to lots of charities in this day and age. We rely heavily on the generosity of our supporters to help us fund the projects we are supporting, and new projects that we want to help get started. We are very aware that our supporters and being asked by many charities to donate their hard earned money and we try to be as sensitive and grateful as possible. We hold a number of events throughout the year in order to offer people something enjoyable while at the same time raising money for our work in Russia. We work very closely with our partner organisation in Russia and together we raise money for our programmes from donors in both the UK and Russia.
How can people find out more about The Promise?
How can people keep up to date about your current initiatives?
Details of our work, new projects and events can be found on our website www.thepromise.org.uk. We are also on Facebook and Twitter, please like or follow our pages to see what’s going on. We have a large email database to which we send quarterly newsletters. To join our database simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have any events that people can take part in coming up?
Yes, on Friday 2nd October we are holding an 80’s Boat Party in Kingston-upon-Thames. We would love people to join us for this leisurely evening cruise along the river, enjoy traditional Fish & Chips delivered fresh to the boat and dance the night away to some 80’s classics. There will be a bar and plenty of chances to win great prizes in the raffle. Tickets are just £40 and available by emailing email@example.com.
We have been very lucky to be invited by Westminster Russia Forum to be a the charity of the evening at their upcoming Art Exhibition and drinks reception on Thursday 15th October, details can be found at http://www.westminster-russia.org.uk/#!events/cfvg.
We are also very excited to be taking part in the Brandenburg Concert Season for the first time this year. On Saturday 14th November we will be at St Giles-in-the-Fields, enjoying ‘A Choral Celebration’ as part of this wonderful Autumn Series. There is the option of an hours walking tour of the area and the church before the concert, so please get in touch with Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details – we would love to see people there on the night.
How else can people help The Promise?
As mentioned above funds to enable us to support and expand our projects are always needed. Coming to our events, taking part in a sponsored event of their own to raise money for us or becoming an Angel (our regular givers) are all amazing ways people can help us. Just £30 a month provides Portage to a child and their family. There are lots of other ways on our website, including recycling print cartridges and registering with EasyFundraising so that every time you shop online ThePromise will receive a donation.
We are also always looking to work with corporate sponsors and can provide information on this.
And don’t forget, they have a JustGiving page set up at https://www.justgiving.com/thepromise/donate.
The Caspian Challenge: To kayak all 2,300 miles of the Volga River in Russia– solo and self-supported. An epic endeavour that aims to raise at least £1 a mile for Hope and Homes for Children.
To the outsider, Russia is a bit of an enigma. Coming from the UK, it’s also just mind-blowingly huge in size. On my wall map of Russia, the Volga River, being Europe’s longest river at 2,300 miles, barely seems to scratch the surface of the country – a country that covers 11 time zones. I’ll confess that more than once, I’ve found the idea of 3 months in Russia more than a little daunting and quite intimidating at times.
It’s hard to think of Russia without also thinking of its stereotypes: harsh Siberian winters, political controversy, the discipline and beauty of Russian ballet, the vodka, the beetroot soup and also the Russian movie villains that always seem to be planning some kind of unspeakable mischief (especially in James Bond films). In fact, I hadn’t really noticed just how many movie villains tended to be Russian until I started planning the Caspian Challenge! If I’m honest, now less than 2 weeks away from visiting for the first time, I don’t really know what to expect. Any preconceptions I did have of a terribly serious and stern nation have already been shaken by the great deal of support and warmth I’ve received in the preparation stages for this challenge. Without exception, each and every Russian person and organisation I’ve encountered have gone out of their way to be helpful and supportive. I feel that there’s a great deal of pride involved in being Russian and also for the river often referred to as the “Mother Volga”.
A few months ago, I felt so nervous for choosing Russia as the setting for my challenge but curious enough to delve a little deeper and to continue preparations so that I might find out for myself. Some of those nerves undoubtedly remain but much more, I feel excited to discover the charm of Russia for myself – beyond the headlines, beyond the stereotypes. It feels a bit like getting ready be introduced to the significant other of a friend that you’ve heard wonderful things about.
Russia, I can’t wait to meet you.
The Charity: Hope and Homes
The UK-based charity works with willing governments across Central and Eastern Europe and Africa, helping to get abandoned and orphaned children out of institutions and into loving families. www.hopeandhomes.co.uk
Fundraising page: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/caspianchallenge