“When we first entered the store, I was scared.” Why you should become a mentor for a child from a boarding school

“When we first entered the store, I was scared.”  Why you should become a mentor for a child from a boarding school

Kirill Nevdosa is 24 years old. He spent his childhood in a boarding school. Currently, Kyrylo is a 4th-year student at Semyon Kuznets Kharkiv National University of Economics.

He is studying to become a specialist in social security. In addition, he coordinates social and educational projects at the Help Us Help UA International Charitable Fund and heads the Office of Children and Youth “DIiMO” at the Ministry of Social Policy.

Kyrylo is a great example of what children with support can achieve.

In life, the boy was lucky to meet people who showed him what a family is, taught him the skills he needed in life and prepared him for entering the university. Kyrylo now considers them his mentors and says that today any adult can help another child in the boarding school in the same way.

Next is his direct speech.

Kyrylo Nevdokha

Having something of your own is a desirable luxury for a child in a boarding school

As a child, I grew up in a children’s home, and as I grew older – in various boarding schools. I did not know what my home and extended family was. Although four families wanted to adopt me at the same time, something didn’t add up.

The situation started to change when I was 11 years old. I remember that I really wanted to taste homemade food. I ran to one of the workers at Oleksandr’s boarding school and asked him to bring a bun or jam from home. For me, this meal was about special emotions. When you don’t always eat the same thing as a hundred others. And when you have something only yours. That none of the other children have.

Kirill in childhood

On one of the Sundays, we did general cleaning in a group with other children. We had such a “tradition” – to put things in order in the rooms where we live. And then we could watch cartoons and play something. Just then Oleksandr comes and says that he will take me to visit him for the day off. I was very surprised at the offer, but quickly ran to put on the best I had.

We arrived in Oleksandr’s car to his home. I was very embarrassed and unusual. I grabbed everything, I was interested in feeling everything by touch. Now they are offering to fly to Mars to see how life is raging there. So the first trip to my family was the same adventure for me.

Over time, weekends at Oleksandr’s family became frequent for me. He and his wife had a large family – two daughters and grandchildren who lived nearby. And Monday turned into the saddest day of the week. Because I had to say goodbye to everyone and return to the boarding school.

Boarding system – unable to prepare for independent life

Now I consider Oleksandr my informal mentor. Because thanks to his family, I saw what a family can be like, how they communicate with each other, what they do together.

We had a whole educational program in our boarding school. Once a week, other children and I listened to a topic for an hour. For example, how to use a washing machine, or how to shop in a store. However, there was no practice. We perceived the information as a fairy tale. And only in the family did I get access to household appliances and learn to use them – wash clothes, cook food.

Also, Oleksandr’s grandson, who was several years older than me, showed how social networks work and helped register his account. And he also taught me to share. Because in boarding school we get a little greedy. We hide all the more or less valuable things under the pillow so that no one will find out.

Also, thanks to that family, I learned how to use money. When we first entered the store, I was scared. Only one thought stuck in my head: “Everything must be bought!”. But Dmytro stopped me, explained what we needed and what we didn’t. Of course, I did not accept all the advice with gratitude at the time.

For a child from a boarding school and 5 hryvnias of his own, this is a whole universe. Sometimes I sold or exchanged gifts that volunteers brought us on holidays. I could sell toothpaste for 30 hryvnias to someone for a few hryvnias. To then go to the store and use these pennies to buy ice cream. Maybe it was a waste of money. But I and the other children were motivated by the very fact: I bought myself what I wanted, and my neighbor didn’t have it. That is, it was also about individuality, which we lacked.

As for gifts, the children in the boarding school do not appreciate them very much. After all, we ourselves are not asked what exactly we want. They brought only what the director said. And then these packages were closed in a closet and given to us for some events. Only in Oleksandr’s family did they ask me for the first time what I wanted “under the Christmas tree” – they gave me a portable speaker.

Now I am very grateful to Oleksandr, his wife, I call them grandfather and grandmother. We continue to keep in touch, and they consider me a full member of the family. When we all gather at the same table, we always remember those first meetings, when I was a “scared sparrow”.

Change the script of life

Around the age of 18, I became a participant in the first All-Ukrainian Forum of the National Children’s Council in Kyiv. There I met Ksenia Zubriy, a national consultant of the Lumos Foundation in Ukraine, an expert on deinstitutionalization reform (DI) of the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Children’s Rights. She actually became my second mentor.

Kirill with Ksenia Zubriy. Photo from social networks

Who is a mentor for a child from a boarding school? This is a friend who believes in you. Who will say: “You are well done.” A person who will teach you how to behave at the airport, help you with English, or support you when it’s difficult. A mentor is more than just a teacher. This teacher is useless. Who cares about the child without expecting payment for lessons in return.

Ksenia was that friend for me. Thanks to her support, I was able to enter university, learn public speaking and much more. We often quarreled because she made fun of some of my actions. But now I call and thank her for her knowledge and support. This person, like Alexander of his time, played an important role in my destiny.

Give time instead of candy

In 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Resolution No. 465 “Some issues of mentoring a child.” Since then, any adult able-bodied person can become a mentor for a child in a boarding school. But in practice, everything works very poorly.

Some people are put off by the long and rather difficult process of registration:

  • first, the person needs to contact the Children’s Service (SSD),
  • go through an interview
  • collect the necessary documents and health certificates,
  • sign a mentoring agreement with SSD,
  • take training courses on social adaptation of children and their preparation for independent life,
  • only at this stage – you can get to know the child and take him under mentorship.

However, I and others who are concerned strive to simplify this path. There are non-governmental organizations that help people take these steps to mentoring, such as the Mentoring Association. I work at the international charity fund Help Us Help UA, we also have a mentoring program – the educational project “Scholarship”. I take care of 30 teenagers there. However, it is much easier and more efficient to accompany one or two children.

I will not say that I am a “professional” mentor, but I perfectly understand the needs of children and young people. We communicate with them as equals. Sometimes they need someone to ask how they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Will it help to improve knowledge of some subjects. For example, one of the boys asked to practice English because he doesn’t understand anything at school.

I know from my own experience that such attention is much more valuable than gifts. The arrival of volunteers, stars or deputies to the boarding school sometimes traumatizes children. They write in the news that “we gave children love”, but it would be better if they paid for a foreign language course.

Five times I became very attached to one of these activists, wove names on beaded bracelets. However, every time I was disappointed – they disappeared, the connection was broken. Only my bracelets remained.

Therefore, it is better to give children their time. When you and the mentor go somewhere for the whole day, the child will have more emotions, he will open up to you. Although you will not take her with you, you will give her the support that will help her survive in residential conditions. You can motivate a child to learn, show a different path in life.

Recently, in the Office of Children and Youth “DIiMO” we conducted an anonymous survey among 4.5 thousand children and youth regarding their best interests. And 52% of respondents want to have caring adults around. I was once again convinced of the importance of mentoring.

I want to believe that every year fewer and fewer children will grow up in boarding schools. And while they exist, try to become a mentor for a girl or boy who really needs it. A child needs to hear simple phrases from someone: “I believe in you”, “You are well done, I am proud of you!”.

Anna Derevyanko, especially for UP. Life

The material was prepared by the Ukrainian Children’s Rights Network with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation. The material represents the position of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the position of the International Renaissance Foundation.

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