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Friends of Kondopoga

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Friends of Kondopoga
a Saint Gregory's Foundation
support group

The Friends of Kondopoga is a support group with a special interest in the socially active parish of the Assumption in Kondopoga, Karelia (North West Russia).

Kondopoga is around 400 miles north of St Petersburg. This area was sparsely inhabited until Stalin's Gulag system was established, so the inhabitants of Kondopoga are mostly descendants either of prison guards, or of people who were relocated to work on the various labour schemes. The last priest in Kondopoga was shot in the 1930's when religion was declared eradicated from Karelia. In 1991, twenty locals succeeded in their petitions for a priest and were sent Father Lev Bolshakov and his wife Mother Julia. Since then an extraordinary community has been created in this rootless and deprived town. With support from St Gregory's Foundation and the Order of St Lazarus, the parish has built up:

* a thriving youth programme with activities ranging from carpentry to archaeology;
* a soup kitchen which serves up to a hundred people every day including destitute adults and street children;
* a farm to help supply vegetables, fresh milk and meat for the soup kitchen;
* a sawmill, carpentry workshop, icon workshop and sewing workshop, which provide employment;
* expertise in rehabilitation for ex-prisoners, recovering alcoholics and others in need of social support.
* service making disabled living aids and furniture in the carpentry workshop, which is supplied to kindergartens and schools for the disabled at low prices.

Friends of Kondopoga

Parish house

Parish house is the hub of community life and social work. It is the largest wooden house in Kondopoga, and used to be the headquarters of the logging industry, which relied on prison labour. It was donated to the parish and they have rebuilt it twice: once because of the dilapidated state it was given to them in, and once with substantial help from SGF following a fire in 2005.

Children are absolutely central to the work of the parish, and the house is full of them on Saturdays when up to 70 children take part in a wide range of activities which are offered to all regardless of whether they come to church. In fact most don't come from church families, a few are even from muslim families. Many are from families with significant problems and they become so attached to the parish house because their families are unable to provide the secure atmosphere, friendship and fun that they find here. Some will come from families whose gas and water have been cut off because of bills not being paid, so this is also somewhere where they can get a hot meal.

Friends of Kondopoga

The children's choir practising around a new piano bought with a generous donation from a British Friend of Kondopoga

Friends of Kondopoga

Friends of Kondopoga

The new playroom

Everyday around 40 homeless adults and children are given a hot meal at parish house. In the coldest winter weather they are given fatty pork to help them keep warm.

Friends of Kondopoga

The homeless queue up for a hot meal

Friends of Kondopoga

The cook, housekeeper and cleaner who keep Parish House running

This top floor is where the icon painters work. The icon-workshop provides the only income for Father Lev and his family, and also helps to finance the social work of the parish. Kondopoga icons hang in a number of churches in Britain now including Anglican and Episcopalian churches, as well as in private homes. The workshop also provides employment and training to a number of people.

Friends of Kondopoga

The new icon-painting workshop

Friends of Kondopoga

an icon-painter at work

Next to parish house is the carpentry workshop. This is where the boards for the icons are prepared. The workshop also makes furniture to order, all designed by Mother Julia, who is a trained furniture designer. On Saturdays the young boys are taught carpentry.

Friends of Kondopoga

Friends of Kondopoga

The cows and sawmill at Novinka

Novinka is a tiny village not far from Kondopoga. The parish have established a small saw mill here which provides employment. The strict no-drinking policy on site has also helped the workers to control their drinking and maintain regular working patterns. The parish also keeps a small group of cows here, which provide milk for the parish workers, the street children and homeless. They sell the excess to people with allergies, who find that this untreated milk drinkable. The cows are looked after by a family of Kalmyk refugees who set an excellent example of animal husbandry to the local people: the parish cows yield significantly more milk than the local average. SGF has recently helped the parish improve the hygene and conditions in the cow shed by installing a milking machine and a pump to bring water up from the nearby stream. In March 2008 two calves were born to add to the herd. The parish links also benefit the village’s children. Several stay with Kondopoga parishioners during the week, which enables them to go to school. Otherwise they would have no way of getting there, there is limited public transport and families do not as a rule have a car.

News from Kondopoga

Holiday house assures the future of the parish camps

Summer and winter holidays are an excellent way of reinforcing all the good work that goes on with the children through the year. Previously, the parish would hire suitable premises, but in recent years this has become more difficult and now impossible. So it was decided to build their own holiday house or "dacha" by a beautiful lake in the countryside for their own children's camps, and for use by other youth groups.

The first summer camps were held at the dacha in 2007 with children and teenagers working to help complete the building and clear the area surounding it. Conditions are still very basic, but the children enjoyed ballroom dancing on the veranda, diving off the jetties, which they made themselves, and exploring a small island in the middle of the lake.

Sadly, it wasn't possible to hold the usual winter camp at the dacha because the heating hasn't yet been installed. While the dacha was being built health and safety regulations changed and a wood-burning stove, which is the cheapest option, is no longer possible. Upgrading the electrics and installing electric heating is more expensive. We hope very much to be able to help the parish complete this vital work, and also to sink a borehole to ensure a reliable water supply.

In the meantime, parish house was used as the base for an improvised camp. Every day for four days day trips were organized to a local nature reserve, the village of Novinka, where the parish have many friends due to their sawmill and the church which they built for the villagers, and to the regional capital, Petrozavodsk. The children also decorated parish house ready for Christmas and had a visit from Father Frost.

Friends of Kondopoga

Friends of Kondopoga

Friends of Kondopoga

Friends of Kondopoga

The dacha is also already being used by other youth groups from as far away as St Petersburg. This summer will see a new venture: a summer camp for teenagers aimed at beginning to break down barriers between different cultures. The camp is a joint venture with the St Basil's Centre in St Petersburg, which has been organising events to combat racism amongst young people in the city. A group of Ghanaian students and Buryat musicians from St Petersburg (this is an ethnic group from the far east of Russia) will take part, together with teenagers from Kondopoga.

The hospital

In November 2006, during a trip to Karelia, Irina von Schlippe, the Foundation's main field worker, broke her knee and spent several nights in Kondopoga's hospital. The stay highlighted to us how the staff and patients have to cope with the lack of the most basic equipment (bedding, proper hospital beds, commodes, crutches etc). Staff are also very strectched which means that patients can only be washed once every ten days. Without friends or family to visit and carry out some basic care, life in hospital is very grim.

For some time young men from the parish have been visiting the hospital and washing the old, homeless men. Now, the hospital staff have given permission for Mother Julia and other women from the parish to visit the children who have recently been taken into care and are living at the hospital until they can be placed in an orphanage.

Doctors have also made a list of the most vital equipment for the trauma ward. We donated £1,000 which was used to buy three special mattrasses to prevent bed sores, a lamp for the operating theatre, and an x-ray viewing box. We are currently raising funds to buy two tables for the dressing station at £240 each, curtain rails for the ward at a cost of £80 for nine, and zimmer frames at £20 each.

The church
Friends of Kondopoga

The Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in August 2007 and inside in March 2008

St Gregory's Foundation is not a religious organisation and we don't raise money for church-building. However, some Friends of Kondopoga were so moved to hear that the parishioners were not all able to worship together because they were bursting out of their church, that they gave private donations to help the parish build a new larger church. This photo shows the progress so far. As with the dacha and the parish house, logs were supplied from the parish's saw-mill, and the church is built using traditional designs and techniques, all planned by architect Irina Soboleva. The shell of the church is now complete, but much costly work remains to install electrics and running water and construct the internal walls and staircases.

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