Faces of The Fellowship: Zhenja | IFCJ
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Faces of The Fellowship: Zhenja

Zhenja, 7, and Marta, 12, live with their mother, Yana. All three share one tiny room in an apartment owned by Yana’s ex-husband’s step-father, and the girl’s uncle occupies the rest of the house. Yana and the girl’s room is not much more than a tiny strip of floor separating Yana’s bed from a bunk-bed purchased by The Fellowship.Not only are the girls crammed into a small room, they also must avoid their uncle because he has a terrible drinking problem. Yana and the girls do their best to keep away from him, but this is difficult while living in the same home.The tension in the house is especially difficult for Zhenja, who was born with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition that causes developmental issues. Zhenja has autism and hyperactivity, and she often falls into stretches of uncontrollable aggression and rage. These emotions are only exacerbated by her difficult living conditions.During the week, Zhenja attends a boarding school for children with developmental disabilities, and on Fridays, thanks to a subsidy from The Fellowship, she attends a program at the local Jewish Community Center (JCC). According to Yana, the program is a God-send.“I love the way they treat Zhenja at the JCC,” says Yana, “On the streets and at the playground most parents try to distract their children from Zhenja, because she is a bit different. People get annoyed with her and don’t want their children to become friends with her.”But things are different at the JCC: “Everyone is friendly to her. Sometimes she even wakes me up at night to tell me about some nice thing that happened to her there. Every day she asks me if she can go to the JCC program instead of school,” says Yana.When Zhenja tells her mother stories, Yana feels so blessed to hear her daughter speak easily. Two years ago, Zhenja didn’t speak at all. She needed medical care and voice training, so The Fellowship helped cover the cost of medicine and provided Zhenja with private tutoring each week. Now Zhenja speaks fluently.The Fellowship continues to provide Zhenja with three hours a week of private tutoring and sponsors a bus that brings Zhenja to the JCC program. Additionally, we support Zhenja when she is hospitalized at least twice a year.The children’s father, who divorced Yana shortly after Zhenja’s birth, visits once a month. He helps pay the family’s utility bills but does not provide any other support or assistance. The family’s only income is Zhenja’s disability pension, which is far too little to live on.Without The Fellowship’s aid, the family wouldn’t survive. We provide Zhenja and Marta with medicine and help the family heat their room in the winter. The Fellowship also sponsors both girls' attendance at JCC programming – including Zhenja’s weekly program and art classes for Marta – giving them a warm reprieve from their often-challenging reality.


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