Day 8: Big Brother Big Sisters St. Petersburg, Russia

First full day in St Petersburg, Russia. We left at 11:00 a.m. and just getting back at 9:00 p.m. Meetings with St. Petersburg Big Brothers Big Sisters were rejuvenating and a ton of fun. Once again I met well educated women making a difference for young men and women in orphanages. Anush the Executive Director was very welcoming. Our careers had some parallels in working from the corporate side and then wanting to find a career that would be more rewarding. She said she found herself while doing this work and I can certainly relate to that statement. I loved how she said that she “dreamt about charity.” I feel like sometimes I stay up at night worrying about funding.

Maria who works with Anush in Case Management was equally as impressive. I was fascinated that before coming to the organization one of the things she was involved with was teaching  Emotional Intelligence in orphanages. From my involvement last year with UMass Boston’s Center for Collaborative Leadership’s Emerging Leaders Program, I had the opportunity to briefly train on this methodology . I was impressed to hear about this work being used in the orphanages.

We first talked about seasonal affective disorder and the volunteer recruitment season. Our climates are very similar… cold, harsh winters that make it difficult for recruitment. The group also attributed the economic crisis and trust as major challenges. The value of “Power of Community” is recognized, but it is in its infancy stage. Networking is hard because people do not actively engage in building strong professional networks. For example a business breakfast/after hours mixer is unheard of in their country. Where as it is one of Mother Caroline Academy’s major recruitment strategies. Asking for time off to volunteer, telling people that you volunteer or posting it on your CV are not common practices here and sometimes may be a sign of weakness. Questions of intent arise..for example the thought of a woman working with a kid in an orphanage instead of having her own. Mentoring is starting to become more culturally acceptable but there is still a lot of work to be done to make this more of a cultural norm.

I had the opportunity to train mentors using the “unpacking the backpack strategy.” This tool looks at a fictional story of a possible mentee and highlights both positive and negative stressors taking place in their lives. The ultimate goal is to showcase the assets of the young person and get the mentors to a place where they can recognize the assets of the mentee and not as bag of problems. I did this training with BBBS Moscow and they will also work to reframe a story about a girl/boy for training their mentors.

I really enjoyed presenting this and seeing how well received this tool will be for the mentors in the St. Petersburg office. One mentor I trained hadn’t been matched yet and she found it very helpful. Looking forward to seeing their adaptation to this tool.

We had lunch at a restaurant called Market Place in one of the largest malls in Russia, and I thought NJ had a lot of malls! It was really fresh and nice food. A constant I see in cafes is co-ed washrooms. It makes me think a lot because in America they make it a big deal what washroom to use and in Russia it isn’t a big deal. Some establishments have separate places for males and females but a majority of the cafes have unisex washrooms where you come out and could be washing your hands next to a man. Here .. not a big deal.

I had the opportunity to work with one of the mentors on how to combat the problem of an authority
figure using the mentor as punishment. This is a topic I have dealt with and have tried to work with MCA guardians on during training. In this case the mentee wasn’t doing well in school and the authority figure said that her grades needed to improve before they could spend more time together. A punishment like this is detrimental to a mentee/mentor relationship. The advice I offered was to present the authority figure with our standard goal sheet. If the mentor and mentee could demonstrate to this person they have a solid plan, one that focuses on academic success, not just socialization and sleep overs, it may create a better buy in for the authority figure, mentor and mentee. The passion this young woman had for her mentee was amazing to see. It reminded me of a few mentors in our program.

After some great collaboration Anush had special plans for us planned by one of the Big Brother Big Sisters board members. We had a personal tour of the House of Scientists. During the second part of XIX century it was the palace of Duke Vladimir, brother of emperor Alexander III. He was married to Duchess Maria Pavlovna (German princess.. maybe we are related!) The palace stands very close to the Hermitage, on the Neva embankment. I have never seen anything like this in my life. There is a mixture of different architecture styles like baroque, classicism and Russian folk art. I felt like Belle or Cinderella as we walked in and out of the rooms. The carpets were so old, we had to put plastic baggies on our feet. The most spectacular was the one ballroom where trained musicians we’re practicing. The other area that was incredible included the library with books dating back to the 14th century. Not many people get to receive an invitation like this and I am so appreciative of the opportunity.

Walking around this city I have felt overwhelmed with gratitude thinking about how I even got here. So far they only regret I have for this trip is that I don’t have enough time for the organization, one day was not long enough for training and exchanging information. I know we will stay in touch and hopefully work on some projects together face to face.

One thought on “Day 8: Big Brother Big Sisters St. Petersburg, Russia

  1. The workshop was a great experience- very inspiring and informative. Provided me with essential tools I’m definitely going to use. And made me more confident as a mentor feeling a part of this truly international project! Thank you, Julie, for your enthusiasm and sincere involvement!! you are always more than welcome in Spb, and I really hope we’ll find a way to keep in touch!

    Liked by 1 person

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