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Stepping up in Moscow

31 August 2012

HEART-RENDING reports used to emerge of children in orphanages in Russia and Eastern Europe who were endlessly left in their cots and deprived of all the loving stimulation that a small child needs. St Andrew's, an Anglican church in Moscow - one of the further outposts of the diocese of Europe - has done something positive about the children who have grown up with that deprivation. The chaplain, Canon Simon Stephens, is shown here with just a few of the young people who have benefited.

Not only is the church a haven for UK expats, and many others, but it is also the home of the St Andrew's post-orphanage education centre, known as Step Up (or, in Russian, Vverh). It helps many young Russians who have grown up in the orphanages in and around Moscow.

Step Up was founded by members of the St Andrew's congregation in 1999, and, since then, it has helped to change the lives of several hundred young people who otherwise - Russian statistics suggest - were likely to end up in prison, as prostitutes, or dead as a result of drugs or alcohol by the age of 22.

It has a staff of professional teachers who coach students, mostly with very low standards of education, to complete middle and high school, so that they can enter further education and colleges, and eventually get jobs. In addition, the young people are taken to concerts and exhibitions, to other cities and monasteries, and much more. Sport and dance are important; they stage and perform theatrical productions, and also have a soccer team.

All this is to compensate for their deprived early years, and to help them to develop social skills and personal talents. It also teaches them to take responsibility for their own actions, and to give them the confidence to do so. Step Up is supported by the Charity Aid Foundation, many other Western and Russian charities, and big businesses such as PriceWaterhouseCooper and Nestlé, but more is always needed.

Many of the young people return to the Step Up centre, long after graduating from high school, for the comradeship and support it provides. Many of them say: "Step Up is my family."


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