My dear friends,
I think most of you already know, and maybe some don’t, but for the past seven years a charity foundation Gracious Heart has been one of the most important parts of my life. I founded it in 2008 in Russia. The foundation helps to support children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In August last year we registered Gracious Heart in the UK, and by doing so extended our help for the children in the United Kingdom.
On my website, I would like to share some information about our foundation and tell about our recent achievements. In this article, I will start off by telling what exactly made me start the foundation, and of course, about what results our little kids, which we are so proud of, achieved.
Even when living in Russia, I for a long time supported Russian orphanages.The turning point in my life, which led to starting my very own foundation, was the birth of my daughter. I realised, that children are the best gift, and they completely change our lives.
Unfortunately, for millions of parents of disabled kids, every day was a battle to ensure their children survive and stay well. After the birth of my daughter, I realised that simply supporting orphanages is not enough, that I have the capacity to do more.
I began to assemble a team of like-minded people, with whom we could achieve real results. The team was assembled, and in 2008 we launched Gracious Heart Foundation in Russia. Now, that I am in charge of the English branch of the foundation, the Russian branch is in the safe hands of my sister Nadezhda. Initially, the foundation provided help and assistance to orphans, children’s schools and boarding schools across the country. Then, gradually we expanded our activities and started to help families on low income, support children medical organizations and rehabilitation centres.
In 2010 for the first time we had to deal with disabilities, and learnt the catastrophic statistics of morbidity of cerebral palsy. That’s when we started to help children with cerebral palsy, and to be honest we were overwhelmed by just how much it was needed! The thing is, that cerebral palsy is the most common children’s disability. Only according to official data in 2010 there were 85 000 children diagnosed with the illness! And according to non-official info — more than half a million!
The corresponding figures in the UK are also quite daunting — around 30.000 children are diagnosed. The disease is caused by destruction of one or more parts of the brain during pregnancy or giving birth, which in turn lead to disturbances in motor and muscle activity. If you decide to ignore them, it will result in inability for the children to live their lives to the full. And vice-versa — hard work from parents and doctors allows to significantly improve the quality of life and the wellbeing of the kids. Thus, in 2011 helping children with CP became the main activity of our foundation. We raise money for treatment and rehabilitation, purchase specialized medical equipment and finance scientific research, which may help to establish the genetic cause behind CP. We developed a complex program of rehabilitation, and achieved considerable success in improving coordination and the muscle tone of the kids, who participated in it.
Physical rehabilitation, however, is not our only goal. We pay a lot of attention to mental state of our children and their social integration. I believe, that every child deserves to be loved and accepted by the society he lives in. Children with CP are often very clever, they understand everything and know, that they are different from others. But I don’t want this difference to be the reason of their alienation from themselves, their families from the rest of society. That is why we are trying to break down the wall of indifference and negativity, which stands between the society and people with disabilities.
We constantly try to break stereotypes and the attitude of people to the disabled in general, and those diagnosed with CP in particular. In 2011, our foundation became the official partner of the first Russian film festival “Look at me as an equal”, dedicated to disabled people. During the festival, we presented to the public our exhibition of photographs “I Believe. I can.”, in which we showed children diagnosed with CP engaged in regular activities all children love: some draw, some listen to music, some try on their mother’s shoes. We told the story of each and every child depicted on those photographs, about their constant battles, little victories, and the huge belief, that everything will eventually be all right!
In 2012 several children and their families came to London, and plunged into Christmas atmosphere of the British capital, walked the decorated streets, visited the main attractions, museums, and enjoyed musicals. In 2013 in cooperation with Groupon.ru we organized two events, and all proceeds were given to the cause of treating children with CP. In December 2013 we participated in charity fairs Seasons Project in The Ermitage and “Heart BAZAAAR” in Sokolniki.
We also organized many large-scale charity events, which attracted celebrities, and business elite — a charity ball The Heart of the Dragon, an evening of “Icons of Russian Ballet” in London, a charity auction together with trendspace.ru, and many others. As a result of our activity in Russia, 1245 children have now got a family, thanks to the “Give child a family” initiative. Another 352 children received help in paying for their treatment and purchasing specialised rehabilitation equipment. Also, 10 medical centres and 9 social organizations received monetary donations in the course of action of our programmes. Three years in a row our foundation received awards in the nominations for best social projects and non-profit organizations. We believe that this is something we can be rightfully proud of!
And we are not stopping there! Having done a huge work developing the fund in Russia, we decided to go international. Previously, the fund had already organized two very successful rehabilitation courses for children with cerebral palsy in the OAE and Brazil. This time we decided to concentrate on England. According to statistics, every year two thousand kids are born with cerebral palsy. The British government do their best to help them, but there are still many families who desperately need support.
In October 2014, we held a launching event of Gracious heart in the UK at London’s Asprey’s jeweller’s. It was attended by a host of English philanthropists, politicians, artists and just people who are not indifferent to the cause. I invited a researcher Joan NG to tell about the project we sponsor, which is aimed at studying the reasons and genetic factors which cause cerebral palsy, and possible treatments. The guests were treated to a catwalk show from designer Nicholas Oakwell, watched an X-Factor contestant Jamie Afro perform live, as well as entertained by a London magician Johnny Oxford. The guests also could participate in an auction and a lottery. All proceeds, as well as 20% from sales of designs of Nicholas Oakwell and Asprey were given to the fund.
Having celebrated the launch of Gracious Heart in the UK, we started working hard. At the moment, our fund supports three organizations for children with cerebral palsy in England: Steps, London’s Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy and The Children’s Trust.
All three are non-profit organizations, which work with children with cerebral palsy and their families, help with rehabilitation, organize learning and developing events. We have launched a joined project with restaurants Dion and Ciro’s Pomodoro, and a fraction of the fee received for certain menu items will be transferred to the fund.
We are also cooperating with a fitness-giant LA Fitness — once a month at Holborn and South Kensington branches a special spinning class will be held, and all proceeds will be given to the fund. Four representatives from our fund ran the London Marathon, and raised more than five thousand pounds in the process. In February, Pushkin House organized an evening of poetry, and all proceeds were also given to Gracious Heart.
We have no intention to stop on what we have already managed to achieve, and hoping to attract new partners and collaborators in the face of restaurants, museums, and other big organisations, organize new events, trips and exhibitions, and in general, do all we can to support children with cerebral palsy and their families even better than before. I will share all the details of our new initiatives and achievements of our fund on my blog.
I believe, that changing even one child’s life is priceless. If you have an opportunity to help anyone, change someone’s life — do it. Together we can do a lot!
You can donate here: www.justgiving.com/graciousheart/donate