Project Spotlight: Helping Children with Special Needs in the FSU | IFCJ
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Project Spotlight: Helping Children with Special Needs in the FSU

STORY Angelina (Photo: FJC)

In the former Soviet Union, tremendous discrimination and stigma still surround children with physical or mental challenges. This is why The Fellowship is so dedicated to helping the families of children with special needs. Many are desperately trying to make ends meet, as well as pay for much-needed treatment and therapies for their children.

Psalm 82 calls us to “defend the weak,” and this is exactly what our Fellowship friends and supporters allow us to do for these children and families in need. Just ask Maria and Angelina.

‘I Want to Thank The Fellowship from the Bottom of My Heart’

When Maria finally received a diagnosis for her daughter from a trusted psychologist, she began crying from relief. “To hear that I wasn’t the only one seeing a problem, made me feel so validated.”

Maria started noticing something was off when her daughter turned one – the baby would never make eye contact, would constantly cry, and never smiled. Angelina, Maria’s beautiful baby girl, seemed inaccessible and disconnected from the world and the people around her. But Maria only had access to a midwife for medical care, as she lived in a very rural area of Russia. The midwife waved Maria’s concerns aside, saying the worried mother was just being oversensitive.

When Angelina turned 5 years old, Maria finally traveled into the city to see a doctor, who referred her to a psychologist who diagnosed Angelina with autism. “I finally could name what was wrong and get some help and support,” Maria said.

Maria spent the next few years trying to get care and therapy for her daughter, with little to no success, because the village she lived in had no services for children with special needs.

Maria finally decided to pack up her small house that had been left to her by her parents, and move with her daughter to the city. They rented a small room in a hostel, which cost them the majority of their child and disability benefits. But in the city, there were services that could help Angelina, and a school that she could attend.

“I cannot go to work because Angelina needs me most of the time,” Maria said. “I hope that when Angelina gets more of the care that she needs and is integrated into a system that helps and supports her, I will be able to find a job. Our benefits do not cover even the basic expenses, and we are constantly struggling to put food on the table, let alone purchase clothing or other basics. I hope things will change for the better soon.”

10-year-old Angelina is thriving in the city. She spends many hours at school drawing animals and people, dreaming of one day owning a pet. She is a talented poetry reader and has entered her school’s poetry reading contest. She is getting the help she has needed and is finding friends for the first time in her life.

“I like it here because people like me and appreciate my talents. Our apartment is small and cold, but my mother hugs me at night and sings to me, so I sleep well and wake up happy,” said Angelina.

Mother and daughter both started crying when Fellowship representatives showed up at their door with big smiles and an even bigger basket filled with delicious treats, nonperishables, and nutritious food. They had never owned this much food in their lives.

“I have fended for myself and my daughter from the very beginning. I never knew how joyful I’d feel being taken care of by a thoughtful and loving organization led by caring and selfless people. When the representative handed me coupons for clothing, I couldn’t contain my childish excitement. I felt so grateful that my daughter and I could shop for clothing together for the first time. I want to thank The Fellowship from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for stepping up to the plate and giving us a shoulder to lean on.”

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