Åsa Wikström, Country Manager Belarus, Moldova, Russia

Big brothers and big sisters

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia is one of our partner organizations in Russia that runs a mentoring program for children. Adult volunteers, “Bigs” are matched with children, “Littles”, in need of a mentor and friend.

Here are some passages from an interview with Olya, a Big Sister, and her Little Sister Zhennya who have participated in the program for almost a year. Olya is 27 years old and works in finance. Zhennya is 16 and lives in an orphanage in Moscow. Olya and Zhennya talk about their experiences of being a Big and a Little.


Olya: I had wanted to be a volunteer for some time, because I wanted to do something useful, to help people. I just didn’t know which program to choose from, and then I read about Big Brothers Big Sisters. When I applied for the program, I imagined that my Little would be a small child, in elementary school. But Big Brothers Big Sisters explained that most children in orphanages are teenagers. I was really worried that they would find me a teenage boy – what would I talk to him about! But they told me that my Little was a 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. And I have so many questions about everything! 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.

Olya: In the beginning I treated Zhennya a little bit like a child but now we are equal, although of course I feel very protective of her. Her opinion is important to me. She is more than 10 years younger than me. I learn a lot from her about young people’s lives. She knows a lot about photography and drawing, she tells me about that. I feel like the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and my relationship with Zhennya is important. I never ask myself, “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.

Zhennya: I learnt a lot from Olya. Usually it is hard for me to talk to people and let them know what I am like. You can say she has taught me to be more comfortable with who I am, to be myself. My relationships with other people have improved, with friends, with teachers. I would like to still be friends with Olya after the Big Brothers Big Sisters program has finished (Littles participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters until they are 18 years old). It would be a shame to lose such a good person and a great friend.



Britta Holmberg, Project Director


barnrättsbyrån 2

In my morning newspaper, the editorial complains about how difficult it is to assess the effects of development assistance. I get to work and the same day I read two reports from our partner-organizations and am so proud to read about results on so many levels. The services we support reaches children and families most in need and definitely makes a difference in many people’s lives.

I read about how the Child Rights Bureau in Sweden with our support has developed the first practical children’s advocacy service in Sweden. One of the cases is a girl who after years of sexual abuse finally disclosed and instead of getting the support she needed from different authorities, found herself in a situation where everybody claimed that she was someone else’s responsibility. The Child Rights Bureau stayed with her throughout her difficult time and helped her getting the support she was entitled to. Isn’t that a result?

I read the impressing report from Philani Nutrition Centre in South Africa, an organization that we have supported for almost ten years. Philani annually helps around 5000 children and pregnant mothers and a randomized control study has shown significantly improved health and well-being for the mothers and babies who are part of their home-visiting program. But that’s just numbers. Behind those numbers are stories that illustrate the complexity and hard work behind those figures. For example this one told by one of the home-visitors:

“One day when I was doing house to house visits a remote rural village accessed only by a gravel road, I found the family M with a pregnant 20-year old and a 16 year old with an underweight child suffering from tuberculosis. They live in one room with their mother and father. The eldest daughter told me to finish early because she was afraid of the father coming inside; they did’t want any people entering the house. I returned another day and asked why they didn’t want the father to know that I was visiting. The 20 year old replied that her father sexually abuses both of them and she is pregnant with his child and HIV positive”.

After several visits, the home-visitor helps them to get medical treatment, she convinces the grand-mother that she needs to help her daughters get away from her abusive husband and finally she helped them move out. They are now getting the treatment they need and are safe from abuse.

Isn’t that a result?


Photo: Barnrättsbyrån