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Diema’s Dream - Make the Dream Come True!
True charity is the desire to bring benefit to others, without considering the benefits Helen Keller (1880-1968, the first American deaf and blind person to earn a BA degree)
Text by Marina Lukanina
Photos by Alina Ganenko

eople tend to take certain things for granted, especially such “simple” things as the ability to walk, to see, to hear. It is not until we witness children and adults with severe physical or developmental challenges that we start to wonder what would be like to lead the life of a disabled person, especially in such a “nondisabled- friendly” country as Russia.

I remember when I first moved to the USA back in 2005 I could not believe seeing so many people in wheel-chairs in public transport, at the theatre, in the grocery stores. It was a very unusual picture for me as in my home country, Russia, I never saw these people leading a normal and active life. The government in Russia seemed to “ignore” the fact that they exist, that they also would like to get out of their houses and be part of society.

The situation is slowly changing, however, as Russia adopts an increasingly western approach. But there is still a long way to go. Hearing about such organizations “Diema’s Dream” – a Russian charity founded by an American – brings hope that the lives of many disabled people in Russia will change for better.

Mary Dudley established “Diema’s Dream” almost ten years ago, after she visited several Russian orphanages and witnessed the conditions the orphans were kept in. Diema Martinov was among the children that Mary met on her “Russian journey” and there was something about him that encouraged Mary to set up her charity in Russia.

“I choose to do this because these disabled children need someone to fight for them, to have a better life, the right to feel loved and the right to reach their potential in life”, says Mary. “I mourn the children that are mentally disabled and deplore the treatment they receive.”

The Foundation “Diema’s Dream” was registered as a Russian charity in 2006. It is also registered in the USA and UK. The main focus of the Foundation is helping children with severe physical and mental disabilities. “We have four programs that fully support the mission of our organization whose main aim is to help disabled children adapt to society, and to change public attitude towards disabled children,” commented Elena Volodina, Deputy Director of Charitable Programs.

The very first program of the Foundation was the program “Help.” The program entails helping four orphanages in Moscow, Ryazan and Tula regions with supplies, educational materials, medicine, clothes, etc., help which is much needed as the orphanages’ budgets are always restricted, and funds are consistently scarce.

Another program that the Foundation runs is called “Family Center Program.” It encompasses a variety of projects ranging from helping families with disabled children to receive free rehabilitation services and consultations to providing social activities and individual development programs. Art therapists, specially trained teachers, psychologists and speech trainers are at the full disposal of disabled people.

The “Take A Step” program was launched in 2009. The goal is to help low-income families that have children with congenital anomalies of physical development to improve their quality of life. Of course there are more children in need than the Foundation can actually support so the selection process is quite serious.

“We have three selection criteria that absolutely have to be met before we are able to allocate the funding,” says Julia Rybakova, Program Coordinator. The child must urgently need surgery, the city or the federal budgets be unable to cover the expenses, and the family’s income is below certain level.”

Julia continues: “We often get referrals from medical institutions or former patients that we have helped. We try our best to help children in need become more productive members of society.”

“The Village Program” evolved from the need to support children who become young adults during the past ten years of the Foundation’s existence. According to the law, after the age of 18, disabled people are put into nursing homes or boarding houses that have very limited opportunities for further development. That is why the Foundation is starting a project providing houses to be used as “family settlements” where young disabled adults live and feel members of society. They learn various adaptation techniques necessary in a social setting. One house in the Tula region is completed. “Currently, we are still waiting for electricity, and therefore we can not yet settle the first permanent residents,” commented Elena Volodina. “However, last summer we were able to use existing premises as a summer camp – Integration Summer Camp.”

The camp held its fi rst session July 21-28th, 2008. Seven families, including nine children with various disabilities ages from 3-22, stayed at the camp along with special teachers and three volunteers from the USA. “It was great fun for everyone!” continues Elena. “Kids get an experience of living in a community setting, learning to work with clay, learning new songs, dances, and other activities.”

All these great programs and initiatives could not have been carried out without a carefully planned and successfully implemented fundraising strategy. “Our main fundraising event of the year is the Dreams Auction held every year in Moscow,” said Evgenia Mendenhall, Development Director. “Over the last several years, we have held it in the famous GUM department store on Red Square. We have a number of sponsors who have been supporting us for the past ten years coming to this auction and bidding for paintings that are donated to us.”

The auction is held with the support of the London auction house, Christie’s. Last year the chairman of Christie’s Mr. Hugh Edmeades came to Russia. This auction will be held for the 8th time in summer 2010.

The Foundation strives to maintain the current sponsors’ base as well as to recruit new sponsors by building relationships with corporations and private donors.

“We have had quite a few private donations”, commented Evgenia. “Among the main Foundation sponsors are Coca-Cola Hellenic, Linklaters, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Credit Suisse, DeGloyer MacNaughton, Deloitte, KPMG, PBN, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Raiffeisen Bank, Stroytransgaz, TNK-BP, White & Case, UFG.”

There are various levels of sponsorship. To learn more about this you can visit the Foundation’s web-site:  

Another successful way of raising money has proved to be a ‘holiday brunch’ organized at the Ararat Park Hyatt Hotel on November 15th, 2009. The event was held in partnership with NB Gallery that donated paintings for sale. Thanks to the Ararat Park Hyatt Hotel, all the proceeds went directly for the benefit of disabled children.

“We try to organize such events at least once a year,” says Evgenia. “They provide a relaxed family atmosphere and people enjoy coming to these brunches to meet friends and also to help a good cause.

It was encouraging to meet the enthusiastic staff of “Diema’s Foundation.” Thanks to such organizations the lives of people with disabilities in Russia will be slightly easier and a lot happier. Nourishing such concepts as “giving back to the community”, “charity”, “volunteering”, and “helping others” will facilitate the necessary mind-set shift and provide tools to successfully integrate disabled people into the society. With the help of “Diema’s Dream Foundation” and other similar organizations that make a positive impact in this world, it will be possible to make the dream come true!

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