Ruslan slumped his teenaged shoulders forward; I winced. Emotion reddened his face.
âI was ten. My mother had been taken to the hospital. I had no idea what was going to happen. They put me in a room with a big window. They put food through the slits in the walls. I could see everything that people were doing but no one could touch me or come in and talk to me.â
Sergei, his best friend and co-resident of a small orphanage explained, âyour family is in crisis, and there you are, in a room alone.â
Apparently, thatâs standard for children in Russia who are about to be placed in an orphanage â quarantine and evaluation first. More than 80,000 children are taken from their parents and placed in orphanages each year in Russia.
Sergey and Ruslanâs luck has now turned. Theyâve been studying at Big Change, a Moscow charity that provides individualized education and training in life skills to teens and young adults who have lived for years in orphanages.
âI first met them at a tea for students in English. Given their level of motivation and native intelligence, Sergei and Ruslan would have been at the top of my class for secondary school students where I teach. That they ever thought they wouldnât be able to pass basic level state exams touched me.â
âAre you going to study management as well?â I ask Sergei
âYes, together,â Sergei says. And he and Ruslan bump fists. âWithout Big Change, we could only think about university, but that would be all.â
âIrina Pavlovna (director of Big Change) told us over and over we could do it, we could pass the 9th grade exam. Then we started to believe it.â
Sergei and Ruslan are about to take their 9th form exams. You canât even get a job cleaning floors without passing it. To go to university in Russia, you must pass the 11th form exams.
Again, they are lucky. They are taking their 9th form exams at about the right age. Most students come to Big Change as young adults, after having grown too old for the orphanage. Some are unable to read, almost all unable to focus and study. Many havenât taken their 9th form exams, because they were labelled when they were young as âunable to be educatedâ and sent to sub-standard orphanage schools.
Big Change was founded in 2002 and has depended on a mix of state funding, donations from individuals as well as international corporations such as KPMG, EM Power, and DHL. As national priorities have changed, state funding has been slashed.
Next year, Big Change has enough staff, tutors and mentors to enrol 60 students, and provide classes of one to three students each, if we secure enough funding. Every student has a mentor and an individualized plan. It costs 10,000 roubles a month for each student for the whole school year. Thatâs 10,000 roubles to help each child attain his or her dream.
For more information and to consider donatingÂ please go to http://bigchange.ru/en/about/.
Or call Big Change at +7 – (499) 317-44-44.