Kostroma Kids Program
A Few Minutes of Normal
It troubled me greatly when I received updates about Valera’s troubles after the 2008 summer program. He was creating a lot of trouble for the staff, he began drinking and experimenting with drugs, and he started cutting himself, with cuts all up and down his arms and chest. These updates did not seem to fit with the kid I had met the previous summer, so as we prepared for our 2009 summer program, I hoped to spend some quality time with Valera.
One day, the boys were watching a movie. Jokingly, I asked them if it was "Boomer" (the only Russian movie I know). Valera, surprised that I knew this movie, ran to his room and brought back the DVD. He asked if we could watch it on my laptop. So, despite the movie only being in Russian and me having the Russian vocabulary of a 4 year old, Valera and I sat down to watch the movie.
By this time, it was quite late, and the other kids and volunteers had gone to sleep. Valera and I were watching the DVD while sitting on a high backed bench at a little table in the common room. Valera was sitting with his face resting on his hands on the table, leaning forward. I was sitting back with my arm around the back of the bench. About halfway through, Valera sat up, and over the course of a few minutes, he slowly leaned back until he was leaning against my arm. He sat that way for a couple minutes, and then he slowly leaned toward me until he was leaning against my shoulder. When I didn't move or flinch, I could actually feel him exhale with relief. He and I sat like that for the rest of the movie.
I’ve had a number of kids do this during our visits, especially the younger kids who all fight to hold your hand, sit in your lap, or sit next to you. I wish that Valera could sit with someone’s arm around him every day, to help him to see that he is important and loved, to guide him on a different path than the one that he is on now. But, at least for a few minutes, I think he knew what it feels like to be loved and to know that someone really does care about him.
For all the problems Valera has endured in his short life, at least for a moment, he felt safe. I wish there were more we could do for him, but at least for a few minutes during the summer program, he could be happy. I tell people who go with me to Russia that, while it would be great if we could change the world, we need to focus on the here and now. We've accomplished a lot if our only achievement is to give these kids a few weeks of "normal", a few weeks where they feel special. Click here to support the summer program...