“Anna” went into the Russian orphanage system at age three, passing through four institutions, and eventually was stamped with the diagnosis “learning disabled.” Seemingly destined for a lifetime of institutionalization, at age 28 she found her way to the Moscow-based organization we fondly know as Big Change (photo below). Anna’s schooling was assessed at the level of a seven-year-old, but she knew that only education could give her the freedom she yearned for. Today she works in a hospital and is taking computer classes at the world-renowned Bauman Institute.
Big Change not only closed the enormous gap in her formal education, but also taught her life and job skills, affirmed her dreams, and gave her mentors. In the process, Big Change was itself fulfilling dreams—the dreams of founder Irina Ryazanova and her little group of educators who banded together to meet the needs of those who are discharged from orphanages only to fall through society’s cracks.
Ten years ago this month, Friends House Moscow became one of the very first financial supporters of Big Change. Over the years, we’ve continued to support educational programs, career counseling, a professional library, and other needs at Big Change. But now we’re only a very small part of their finances. Big Change has succeeded in attracting an impressive group of corporate and individual donors to support their 25 teachers and many activities.
At the end of last year, our church, Moscow Friends Meeting, itself became “homeless”—we lost our meeting place when the wonderful community center we were using was converted into a pet supply store. But the story has a happy ending (at least for now)…we are now meeting in the offices of Big Change. They had not forgotten us!