onsdag 18 september 2013

Miracles take place around the Christmas Angel Tree

It´s the tenth anniversary of the charity project called Christmas Angel Tree. We celebrate ten years of many healed family bonds between convicted parents and their children. Thanks to the project thousands of imprisoned Russians have found a hope for a better future, broken family bonds have been recovered and many children has received news from their mothers or fathers in prison.

Thanks to the Christmas Angel Tree project over 14,000 children has received a Christmas gift and a greeting from their imprisoned parents. The project has been very effective in restoring family bonds between prisoners and their children. The project started in 2003 and during its relatively short lifetime it has spread to prisons in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Vologda, Arkhangelsk, Stavropol, Krasnoyarsk, Bashkortostan. Many volunteer coordinators works with the project and they improves the project, they arrange meetings between parents and their children, visit the families of the prisoners, organize special events in prison colonies in order to inform people about the importance of having a good contact with their families, and they inform the prisoners and their families about the importance of forgiveness.

Our volunteer coordinators are sure that the Christmas Angel Tree project helps to recover broken family bonds between prisoners and their families. It also allows some of the children to remember their parents. In some case they have not seen them since they were toddlers. And although they haven't heard anything from their parents in years they are often looking forward to meet them. Our coordinator Larisa Dubrovkina told us that she recently found a photo on the internet of a little girl who hold a toy that she had received thanks to the project. She wrote a message to the little girl and found out that after her mother was released from prison, she took her daughter home from the orphanage were she had lived during her mothers time in prison. They live as a ordinary family today. A teddy bear that she received from one of our coordinators on behalf of her mother is her personal favorite and is the toy that she values most.

Even if many of the stories have a happy ending, there are also some more complicated stories. A couple of years ago our coordinator Larisa Dubrovkina met a imprisoned mother of a daughter during the project. We tried to give a Christmas gift to her daughter on her behalf. But the girl refused to receive the gift due to her mother's earlier betrayal. But her mother refused to give up and she took part in the project the following year eager to restore the lost family bonds with her daughter. Larisa brought another Christmas gift to the girl from her mother. This time Larisa had some time to talk with the girl and she tried to explain to her that everybody can make a mistake, but we shouldn't be to soon to judge them, we shall always give them a extra chance. Finally the girl accepted the gift. When our coordinators gathered questionnaires from the prisoners, the girl’s mother came up to Larisa and thanked her for the help. She had started to communicate with her daughter and now she had hope for a happy future for her and her daughter and that they would be able to live together after she spent her time in prison.

Igor Polyakov who is our coordinator in Yaroslavl reported that this year five colonies from prison number six has been taking part in the project. 
- It´s the third time that we organize the project this year and the number of participants are increasing for every year. The increasement of the project makes us very glad especially when people who initially were very suspicious towards the project joined it one ore two years later. This time we arranged special concerts for the prisoners. Our intention was to inform them about the importance of the family in a more creative way. Over the years we have seen that people have a tendency to come to such performances not only for having a good time but they also come for the reason to learn something important that can put them in the right direction in life, said Igor Polyakov.

Andrey Mitroshin who is our coordinator in Nizhniy Novgorod noted that the project gives the prisoners an opportunity to understand how much a family really means. It gives them a reason to comprehend their life in a new way and to start it all over again while they still are in prison. So that they are better prepared for a life outside the prison walls.

Our coordinators think that the Christmas Angel Tree project should be spread to other countries. The project has no geographical limits and it would be interesting to involve other countries in it. 
- A gift can be sent by mail but it’s very important that a coordinator visit the families of the prisoners, meet their children and encourage them, said Igor Polyakov.
The prison administrations of various Russian prisons give their approval to the project because it has a very positive influence on the prisoners. They are also very helpful when we start up the project and they help us with the organization of the project.
The Christmas Angel Tree project is not only a very interesting project it´s also a heart-touching project. Some Christmas Angel Tree stories has been published in Russian media and they have received a very positive response from the viewers or readers. In Christmas time the hearts of people are wide open, people are willing to donate their kindness to others, to bring joy to they neighbor's house and some of them willingly join the project.

There are no other projects like the Christmas Angel Tree project in Russia at this time. Our coordinators receive thankful letters from prisoners and their children for Christmas gifts and messages. Many of them are thankful to the project for providing aid to heal family bonds that has been broken. Imprisoned parents regains faith in that their children are waiting for their release. Their children get confidence and faith that they are remembered and loved thanks to the letters and gifts from their imprisoned mothers and fathers.

The time for the project was chosen with a greater purpose. It was chosen with a very special purpose. In Russia people believe that miracles happens on Christmas. For some families such Christmas miracles can become a reality with the help of a Christmas Tree Angel.

If you are a EU citizen you can support Christmas Angel Tree project by donating money to the Swedish NGO Heart to Heart who sends the donated money to the Russian organization, so that they can continue with their important work among prisoners and their children.

Text: Maria Shipilova and Mikael Good. Photo: Mikael Good & Various Russian photographers

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