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Main | Archive | Issue 3/2008

Big Brothers/Big Sisters: 15 Years in Russia
Column: Charity

Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or BBBS, programs have been operating in the U.S. for over a century now and have successfully provided social services for orphans as well as disadvantaged children and youth in Russia the last 15 years.

It all began back in 1992 when participants in the BBBS program in New York and Moscow met and exchanged experience. After that an assistance program for orphans was launched. Soon afterward, several childrens institutions and children living in single-parent homes joined the program. After the first BBBS program was launched in Perm in 1999, the idea caught on in other places. The regional governments provided office space and created some staff positions. Trainers from Moscow, Lithuania, and the U.S. taught local staff workers and psychologists in correspondence with BBBS international standards. From Perm the program quickly expanded to Tyumen, Yoshkar-Ola, Ryazan, Yaroslavl, Kirov, and Tambov. We are happy to have succeeded in matching mentors with hundreds of disadvantaged children and in creating opportunities for friendship, care by adults and hope for a better life in the future.

In 2007, over 400 mentors were selected in Russia for working with children between 7 and 18 years old. BBBS programs in this country provide care for disabled children, orphans, kids from single-parent families as well as children with behavior problems. The latest polls of the parents of the children involved in the program showed that the physical health of 60 percent of the mentored children improved, 80 percent did better in sports, 90 percent performed better in school and the emotional state of 100 percent of the children concerned improved.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters began operating in Moscow in 2006. Currently we are cooperating with four orphanages in the city where more than 300 children who are from 5 to 17 years old live and study. We try to enlist the help of employees of embassies, and Russian and foreign companies--they become a role model for these children. A Big Brother or Big Sister is someone to talk to, confide in, a friend with whom a kid can go to the movies, for a walk . The embassies of the U.S. and Ireland have already become our partners. Justin Harman, the Ambassador of Ireland, for one, is honorary chairman of the BBBS supervisory board. Ernst & Young, Cushman & Wakefield, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Holiday Inn Vinogradovo, the Renaissance Hotel, and the companies TBWA, and Mayfair are all our corporate partners. Seventy five staff members of the mentioned companies are either completing their training for the role of Big Brothers and Big Sisters or are already mentoring their Little Ones. We insist that the very first meeting take place in the childs home, in a familiar surrounding. Later on, it is not a bad idea to go with the child to the zoo, to the cinema or the theater, visit an exhibition or just have ice cream or go for a walk.

Holding BBBS special events, during which mentor pairs--Big and Little Brothers and Sisters--are honored is one of the most graphic ways of our work. One such event was held on October 27, 2007, thanks to Holiday Inn Vinogradovo, which provided premises and food at its own hotel as an act of charity. The above company is BBBSs main sponsor in both the U .S. and Russia and it is planning to run a program that will provide jobs to children who have left Russian orphanages.

Owing to our cooperation with The Walt Disney Company, we managed to hold yet another event on December 22, 2007, just before Christmas. At the entrance of the building of the Bolshoi Theaters new stage, the children were welcomed by clowns and characters of Walt Disney cartoons, including, of course, Mickey Mouse, the main character. The chance for the children to have their pictures taken together with some cartoon characters was their biggest gift. It was really very touching: the somewhat shy children approached, as if enchanted, Snow White, Aladdin and Mickey and then reluctantly parted with them, waving goodbye and making way for other kids. The halls and stairways leading to the stage were adorned with balloons. Before the Nutcracker ballet began, Marina Zhigalova-Ozkan, managing director of The Walt Disney Company Russia, the actress Chulpan Khamatova and the pop singer Dima Bilan made some introductory remarks to the audience. The children enjoyed a colorful ballet with striking decorations, costumes, and wonderful dances. The next event is to take place on March 1. The company Jacks will treat the guests to its trademark pizza. Walter Martinovich the companys general manager, is already a Big Brother of a boy at a boarding school.

Yelena Filinova.
Photos courtesy BBBSR.


-, 2006