"At night, these volunteers would come and kiss us before we went to sleep. No one had ever done that to me before, it was the first time such a nice thing ever happened. At first, I ran away, I didn't know what hugs or kisses were and I was scared. But when I understood and got used to it, it was lovely."
Extract from Sasha Tzukanov from the book To Russia With Love - The Children's Stories
"Debbie is a very driven woman. She ended up in this place, she saw the broken windows, smelled the stench in the corridors, saw the broken waifs and she realised its up to me to do something about it or not. If I don't no one else will..."
Mary Kennedy about Debbie Deegan
"She knows that rivers of tears are not enough. She knows you have to do the politics as well. She knows that, we are all only human beings with egos at the end of the day and that, unlike her, we can easily forget. And then she reminds you. Because she can never forget, whatever it is she sees every time she looks in their eyes."
Brendan O'Connor about Debbie Deegan
Hi my name is Ustya, and I am 9 years of age. I came to Hortolova orphanage 2 years ago by bus with my elder brother, Misha. I was scared arriving at the orphanage and I remember everything feeling very strange. Misha told me not to worry and said he would always be there to protect me. Misha lied to me, because he left me forever and now I have nobody. I loved Misha so much and always felt safe just knowing he was there. I think of him everyday. He fell on the electric wires at the railway station and went to hospital and never came back to me. Misha was 11 years old and the only family I have ever known. I like Hortolova orphanage much better than the last one I was in. I have some friends here and I am not scared of the carers, they are friendly and sometimes if I am upset they will give me a hug.
We have a new playground now which I like very much, I spend as much time as I can playing on the swings and slides with my friends. I love the bright colours and would stay there all day if I could.
Ustya – Aged 9
Hi my name is Nadia, and I am 7 years of age. I live in Hortolova orphanage with my sister Masha. I used to live at home with my mum and three other sisters, but police came and took her away. I do not have a daddy. My grandmother took us to live with her in a strange village for a while, but she said we were too much for her and we got separated and sent to different orphanages. I am so happy they put myself and Masha in the same orphanage because I love her.
My mum was not always nice to us but Granny was. She comes to visit us sometimes in Hortolova and gives us lots of hugs and kisses and sometimes sweets. I have been living here for one year now. I like it here and there are lots of different things to do. I love the new playroom, which has lots of new toys and games and now the sun has come and brought a new playground. I love it. Myself and Masha and our friends have great fun playing there. My Granny says she will take myself and Masha home to her house for a visit soon, I am waiting for this everyday.
When I grow up I want Masha to be my mammy, she takes good care of me. We can mind Granny when she gets too old to mind herself.
Hi my name is Lena, and I am 8 years of age. I have been living in Hortolova orphanage for the last year and a half and I am very happy here. It is the best place I have lived in. I have already lived in six different orphanages. I was moved from one orphanage to another because they kept telling me I was troublesome. They wanted me to move from Hortolova but Debbie would not let them. I did not want to leave, this is the only place I have ever liked. In my old orphanages the teachers told me I was stupid, Debbie said she would get a special teacher for me. Her name is Valentina and I have now got much better at mathematics and reading.
I do not remember my mother, but they tell me that when I was 3 she tried to sell me at the market, but nobody wanted me and that’s why I was sent to the orphanage. I wish I had a Mum or a brother or sister to love. I have a teddy bear now called Pasha and I love him. Debbie is like a mum to me and I love her. I ran away from the last orphanage I was sent to, the teachers were mean to me and some of the older boys and girls were sometimes nasty to me, calling me names, this used to make me cry. Debbie wont let anybody hurt me again. I love Debbie like a mum …my mum.
My name is Marina, and I am 11. I live in Hortolova orphanage with lots of other children. My older brother and sister live here in Hortolova and they look after me, especially my older sister Olya. I share a bedroom with Olya and four other girls. Next year Olya will leave the orphanage, as she is now 18. I don’t know what I will do without her, my life here will be very difficult when she goes.
Sometimes she brings me home to visit my parents who live a long train journey away from here. I like going home but we only ever stay a short time as sometimes there can be trouble with my father. My mum is always very nice to us though, and I love her. I have three older brothers and two sisters and they live in different orphanages. When the snow disappears after winter we go on the orphanage bus and visit them from time to time. I love to see them but because we live in different places I feel they are strangers to me sometimes and we have nothing to say.
If I had a fairy godmother I would wish that we could live like a real family, like the ones you see on television, where Mum and Dad and the children live together and love each other… that is my dream.
When I grow up I want to be a teacher, so I can help other children and one day have a family of my own. But, I will mind my family, love and care for my babies and keep them safe… when I grow up.
The first time I met Debbie was in 1998 and it was something completely new and unusual as I had never met foreigners before but only seen them in TV programmes. She was always smiling which was very pleasant and made children trust her, come up and touch her and hug. Later the Irish volunteers Mairtin, Ailish, Yvonne and Lavigna came to our orphanage. They were the most cheerful and kind people in the world. They played with us, took us to school, put us to bed. Those were very happy days.
I was 9 years old and like the majority of children in our orphanage I did sport, helped our carers and sometimes misbehaved.
At that time our life in the orphanage was gloomy, we were all dressed in identical clothes, the food was not tasty, we were always hungry. We had one small telly for 150 children. The shoes were of a very poor quality and were out of order very quickly so we had to walk barefoot.
When Debbie and her friends came, everything in our life changed. We used to get different presents, we were given toothpaste and a tooth brush which we didn’t know how to use before, we were bought ice-cream. The volunteers went to sports competitions with us, supported us, we felt needed and did our best to win everything. When they hugged me I felt their warmth and care and I wanted to be better. They took a lot of photos of our smiling faces and we got our own albums. I got an Irish family who took care of me, I got letters from them, parcels, clothes which were very beautiful and of a very good quality. Our bedrooms were renovated and they became light, cosy and it was pleasant to be there. Our food became tasty and nutritious. We first tried peanut butter, which was brought from Ireland. We were happy that finally there were people in our lives who cared for us, loved us, gave us their warmth and smiles.
Ambitions appeared in the 7th class, with the help of To Children With Love we got different programmes, one of which was Education. We had extra classes on subjects we were not very good at. Older children had extra lessons to be able to pass their exams successfully. We got a lot of new clubs where we were taught to cook, do the washing up along with music and dance classes, which made our life better and more cheerful.
I entered my college in 2005. Before I chose a college, staff of To Children With Love talked to me a lot and gave advice on what to choose. I’m very grateful for the attention and time they gave me. It was a Construction College. To be able to enter it I studied a lot at the courses paid for by the charity. Their help with entering my college was immense.
To leave the orphanage was really difficult and scary. For the time I spent there it became my real home. Outside its walls everything was new and I didn’t know what to expect. We had to start living independently and I didn’t know how to do it. I was really scared and wished time could stop to be able to stay in the orphanage a bit longer.
Now I study at the University, work with children in the orphanage, organize sports programmes, do sport athletics and run marathons.
There are not enough words to describe my gratitude to the Irish people. Just to say thank you is not to say anything, as their love and care were proved by actions and good deeds. Thank you for every smile you gave us, thank you for the hope you gave me, thank you that you are in my life!
With your support we have become the part of this world.
Hello, my name is Olya Kurilenko.
I would like to tell you about my life a little. It happened that my parents were deprived of parental rights in 1997 and my elder sister, my elder brother and I found ourselves in the Seltso orphanage. At that moment the living conditions in the orphanage were not very comfortable. About 15 children were sleeping in one room and there was not enough space in this room and there were no conveniences. Our food was also not good. The toilet and shower rooms were clean but everything was very old there! The situation started changing in 2001. Everything was changing very quickly because a kind, beautiful and wonderful woman and a lot of her Irish friends appeared in the orphanage. They worked hard to improve our living conditions. New living blocks were built where 4 or 2 children could live. We had new and comfortable furniture, excellent bed-linen which was very pleasant to sleep on. Now we had playing rooms in the living blocks where we could play and watch TV, listen to music and have a rest. We felt the care of our Irish friends who surrounded us with warmth and were giving us their love demanding nothing instead. Now we also had sport grounds where we spent a lot of time. Irish basketball players visited us (ED and Jerome) who taught us a lot.
It was a pleasure to spend time with them. The organization “To Children With Love” built us a new dining room where we could eat tasty food. A new medical block was also built where it was pleasant to go or to be ill sometimes. A new block was also built where we could cook to become prepared for independent life after school. There were also extra activities there – embroidery, knitting and sewing. I can tell you a lot about the organization “To Children With Love” and about those people who gave us their warmth, care and love during many years while their own children were waiting for them in Ireland. I lived in the orphanage 8 years. And these were the best, most memorable and happiest years in my life. I had what the children who lived with their parents did not have. I finished school in 2003 and entered a vocational school and finished it with good marks. It is very difficult to find a well-paid job in Russia. Higher education is necessary to do that. Thanks to TCWL I graduated from the University in 2012 where I studied 5.5 years. Now I have got one more profession which gives me many possibilities in future. During these 5.5 years of studies the organization “To Children With Love” was supporting me financially and morally. Education in Russia is expensive. I could not afford it by myself because it is very expensive. The people who help orphans are the people with big hearts. Thanks to the charity many orphans have a full-fledged and happy life.
I would like to say thanks to you on behalf of myself and all those children in whose destiny you took part.
A special thanks to Stepanov Igor, his wife Olga, Evgeniy Chervonenko, Oxana, Debbie, Patricia, Dermot and many other Russian and Irish friends. I also want to say thanks to those who don’t work in the organization now but had done a lot while working there.
I miss you very much! With Love and Respect to you!
My name is Slava. I first came to Hortalova orphanage when I was 7 years old. I was never comfortable around people and always chose to be on my own. I was bullied regularly and I bullied smaller children regularly. This is a normal part of life in institutions, I wish it wasn’t but it is.
Life before the Irish was grey to me, lifeless, and lonely. When they arrived in 1998, our world changed to colour. They all wore bright clothes, they were always smiling, they all wanted to hug us and seemed to really want to be our friends. In the beginning I did not trust them, I trusted no one. My own mother did not want me and I found it extremely hard to build relationships as a result. I was the ‘bold’ child in class, I acted out, I was rude, and kept to myself – this behavior kept people away from me.
Eventually we all realised the Irish were coming back and fulfilling all their promises. We got sports equipmentt, toys, new rooms, clean toilets, a bus, birthday parties. We started to realize they meant what they said, and very slowly, I made friends with their volunteers and the ones who kept coming back.
My grades improved in school and as I got older one of the Irish set up a ‘Leavers Programme’. I didn’t think I would be able for it, but with hard work and lots of encouragement and support I made it on to the programme. I was coaxed, pushed, mentored, coerced to go to University to do Law. I resisted it at first as I knew I would fail, but the Irish convinced me I could do it. When I left the orphanage I moved into a flat in Bryansk, all the boys on the Leaver’s Programme did. A young Irish guy came called Peter Gannon, bought this big flat for us – this changed my life. It taught me manners! Living there taught me how to cope with real life. The Irish and Russian staff made me study, they went to all parent teacher meetings, met with the Director of my University at times, they really did apply pressure, I resisted a bit, we had many arguments but it was worth it.
Today I am a qualified Lawyer. I work for a Russian Bank, I am married to a beautiful Russian girl and we have a very special little girl called Lily.
Sometime now I go back to the orphanage to help To Children With Love and sometimes I go just to help the children. I was a difficult boy, I know that now, but they never gave up on me, no matter what I did. What can I say now to them but ‘thank you’, you gave me back my dignity and my life. I never thought I could be a father, a husband or a lawyer, thank you to all that helped me.