Hope is a youth worker in Central Asia. Since April 2009 she has been working with an international NGO that helps children who grow up in orphanages to develop practical and relational skills in preparation for independent living.
The project started in 2002 after research confirmed that most of the children raised in orphanages were highly institutionalised and unable to cope in the real world.
We aim to fill some of the severe gaps in the children’s developmental, academic and life skills education by providing life lessons (about values and consequences, for example), and teaching practical skills such as cooking, how to use a computer, and how to catch a bus. We also help them build a support network by recruiting and training local volunteers to work with us.
Five months ago, at the request of the government, we began a pilot programme to assist orphanage “graduates” to transition from institutional life to independence. Our first two graduates to enter the programme were 18-year-olds Gulya and Aliya, both of whom had grown up in orphanages.
Gulya and Aliya moved in with me, and we started to work with them on basic living skills such as budgeting, shopping, cleaning and cooking.
On their second night with me I showed them how to make plov (a rice dish), and just a week later the two of them cooked plov for three guests. It was an impressive success, especially as their previous kitchen experience consisted only of washing dishes and chopping vegetables for salads!
We helped them write their CVs and, terrified but ready, they started knocking on doors looking for work. Within an hour and a half they both had job offers!
Because Aliya’s job was down the other end of town, I took the bus with her so that she could learn how to get herself there. At journey’s end Aliya handed over the fare and was given the equivalent of five cents change, which she promptly tossed in the bin. I suggested that next time she decided she didn’t need her money that she give it to someone who did.
That wasn’t Aliya’s only incident related to wasting money, but the calculation of how much five cents a day became over a year at least made her think. But when she started getting her pay packet she realised how much money she didn’t have, and what she couldn’t pay for with what she did have, and it started to click: she has now become very frugal.
Gulya and Aliya recently moved into their own flats. They stop by on their days off for tea, or we go for a walk, but they are both settling well into their new homes and enjoying the challenge of learning to live with their new flatmates.
We are impressed with how they have met a significant amount of challenges and worked through them – they have learnt so much in a short time, and have really gained confidence and maturity.
Next year we hope to be able to work with more graduates in the same way. Through our experience with Aliya and Gulya, together with needs expressed by the current group of will-be graduates, we have started running transition readiness classes. These sessions seek to cover practical issues as well as issues related to our young people understanding their own behaviour and character.