Big Brothers, Big Sisters

bigbrothersbigsistersBig Brothers Big Sisters of Russia is a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters International, one of the most efficient mentoring programs for children. In Moscow BBBS helps children living in institutional care (orphanages) and disadvantaged children. A volunteer becomes a Big Brother or a Big Sister to a child, visits him or her once a week for at least one year. Studies show that children who have a mentor have higher self-esteem, are more stable emotionally, have better motivation to study and show more initiative. Currently there are 162 matches in Moscow.

Olya Fedchenko, a Big Sister, and Zhennya, a Little Sister, have participated in the BBBS programme for almost a year. Olya is 27 years old, she works in finance; specializing in loan debt. Zhennya is now 16 years old, and lives in one of Moscow orphanages. She loves photography and drawing and would like to be a designer. Olya and Zhennya talk about their experiences of being a Big and a Little, about their friendship, best memories and dreams for the future.

On joining BBBS:

Olya: I have wanted to be a volunteer for some time, because I wanted to do something useful, to help people. I read about Big Brothers Big Sisters and I liked this idea, in that it lets you interact with people and that it helps children – I love children. So I decided to try – and I ended up staying!

When I applied for the BBBS programme I imagined that my Little will be a small child, in elementary school. But then the case managers explained that most children in orphanages are teenagers. I was really worried that they will find me a teenage boy – what would I talk to him about! But they told me that my Little will be 15- year old girl – Zhennya, who likes to read and draw, and I relaxed.

Zhennya: I wanted a Big Sister because I wanted diversity, something new in life, someone to talk to. I like hanging out with people who are older than me – they are interesting and they know a lot. When I thought about my Big Sister I just wanted her to be cool, lively and a good person. Now I think life would be boring without Olya. Having a Big is really important for kids, for all of them. It supports them and provides them with a base in life.

On meeting for the first time:

Olya: We met at a BBBS sport event for Bigs and Littles last May. I remember the case manager showed me a group of teenage girls, pointed at one of them and said “This is Zhennya”. She was so shy and tiny.

I asked her about her interests, tried to get to know her as much as I could in a short time. We were talking about books and it turned out she liked fantasy while I prefer classics. She draws animation, and I know nothing about this. So I was contemplating that I should learn about all these things so that she and I can be on the same page!

Zhennya was also testing me, as teenagers often do with adults. For example she told me she smokes and trying to quit and watched my reaction. I was very calm, just told her that she shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing but should consider that it is harmful for her and decide for herself. I have the same attitude until this day – not to turn into one of Zhennya’s teachers but be a friend who she can tell things to and receive a piece of advice, I never pressure her.

On best memories:

Zhennya: Open-work dandelion Fedya! That’s the nickname I gave Olya. Open-work dandelion because she has curly hair and Fedya comes from her surname Fedchenko.  I drew a dandelion on her vkontakte page! Mostly my best memories with Olya are just emotions – emotions of joy. I always think of Olya as someone who likes crazy fun, we laugh so much together!

Olya: My best memory was when we exchanged diaries for the summer. Before Zhennya went on summer holidays I gave her a diary and bought one for myself. The whole summer we were writing whatever we wanted there and when we met after the holidays, we exchanged diaries. Zhennya surprised me – I expected a diary full of events from summer camp but instead it was full of quotes from the books she read. My diary was more about travelling experiences from that summer.

Zhennya: I wrote down quotes from the books I read at that time and their titles. Which quote do I remember now? “Someone always leaves first, but the one who stays suffers”.

On what they learnt from each other:

Zhennya: I learnt a lot. I learnt openness. Usually it is hard for me to talk to people and let them know what I am like. You can say she taught me to be more comfortable with who I am, to be myself. My relations with other people improved, with friends, with teachers. I have many problems with one particular teacher. Recently I sat down with her and we talked honestly about what is going on. And then we arranged a meeting for the whole class and we all talked, because the relationships between the class and her were not working out. The meeting helped and the situation is improving now. It is not like Olya to tell me to do this, but I was wondering what she would advise me in this situation and I thought that’s what she would do.

Olya: Lots of positive emotions. Zhennya truly became my younger sister. Her opinion is important to me. I never have a question in my head: “What am I doing here?” I feel that Zhennya is happy to see me and that she is interested in meeting me, she is waiting for me. We often call and write each other just to share something.

On the future

Zhennya: I would like to find a good job that I would really love. I would like to lead, but without humiliating other people. There are some women who I find inspiring. Recently I saw a movie about Margaret Thatcher, she was really cool. I also admire Coco Chanel, she changed a lot of things. She was brave, she wasn’t scared to take risks. I like to take risks too, in my drawings. At school we are supposed to draw according to certain rules but I often break them and draw in my own way. I step away from what is expected and do things the way I think is right. Afterwards teachers say I did a good job!

I would like to still be friends with Olya after BBBS programme finishes (Littles participate in BBBS until they are 18 years old). It would be a shame to lose such a good person and a great friend.

Please keep in mind that you need a good knowledge of Russian to become a Big Brother or Big Sister because the children don’t speak English very well.

Contact information for BBBS:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia

Старшие Братья Старшие Сестры России

To become a volunteer leave an application or call +7 (495) 500 40 42