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.



Åsa Wikström, Country Manager Belarus, Moldova, Russia

This is not a home

A visit at an orphanage leaves you with mixed feelings and many questions. The children are lovely and it is always very nice to be around them. And nowadays in Russia the orphanages are often well-run institutions with a relatively high material standard. But when you talk to the children and when you leave, you constantly wonder why they ended up in an orphanage, how long they have been there and how their life will turn out.

The organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia runs a program where adult volunteers are matched with children who need a mentor and friend. Currently, five orphanages in Moscow are involved in the mentoring program and around 180 children, “Littles”, have a mentor, a “Big”. Big Brothers Big Sisters carefully selectsvolunteers and matches them with children. These matched friendships usually continue for quite a long period of time and they are monitored and supported by staff from Big Brothers Big Sisters.

In October I visited one of the orphanages that takes part in the mentoring program. According to the director of the orphanage, it means a lot to the children to have a mentor; someone who is there for them, someone who spends time with them and pays them undivided attention. The children are used to people coming and going and giving them presents, so before the start of the mentoring program the orphanage staff often have to explain to the children that the Big Brother/Big Sister is a friend and not a sponsor.

We walk through long corridors and locked doors. There are rooms where the children can do all kinds of activities, from sewing to rollerblading. They go to school in the orphanage and in one room three young children have an English class. One little boy shows me the room which he shares with five other boys. The atmosphere is warm and friendly and I guess you could say that the children have everything they need: food, clothes and education, and caring people around them. But this is not a home. This is not a family. And the questions remain: Why are they here? Is this the only alternative? Have all other options been considered?