- Did your personal story bring you to charity?
- When I was pregnant, doctors made disappointing diagnoses for me and for my future child. They suggested to interrupt pregnancy. I was only 26 years old. I was terrified. I started to read various forums of special moms. In such a way I plunged into this environment.
I did not listen to the doctors. My loved ones, my mother supported me. I decided that I would give birth in the United States. And, fortunately, it turned out that the diagnoses were false.
After the birth, the doctors offered to take 40 genetic tests, but I, apparently, because of fear, refused.
But I couldn't forget any more the stories that I plunged into those forums where mothers of special children shared their problems, sorrows and joys with each other. So I entered the community Gift to an Angel, and then the Foundation was established. But at the same time, it turns out, this is a spontaneous story. Life brought me to charity
My son Andrey is now 4 and a half years old. He knows what I'm doing, but I think there is no point in talking with children specially and tell them how to help and why.
For example, Andrey often sees children with disabilities - in those places that we visit with him. But he does not see the difference between a healthy child and a special child. The difference is seen by adults.
For us, the staff of the Foundation, the boundaries have already disappeared too: we treat all our wards just like ordinary children. Most likely, my position influenced Andrey, but he grows up as an independent person and will make a choice himself in favor of "blurring the lines."
- Philipp Kirkorov and Modern Talking were among the wizards of your Foundation - did you need to make special efforts for this?
- I would say that such help stories are the most memorable. For the girl from Tambov, we organized a meeting with Dima Bilan. At that time we did not know anyone in the sphere of show business, and it was very difficult. But our ward dreamed of talking and singing with Dima. And we did it. Later we organized the same meetings for the children with Philipp Kirkorov, with the group Modern Talking.
But in general, every ward for us is special. Everyone has different stories, but the only goal is to introduce the Wizards to our Angels. They are all our Angels - each one is interesting in his own way, and each in his own way needs help.
From recent stories, I remember "The hedgehog in the fog" - that's how we call Yelizarov Yaroslav. The boy loves this cartoon, which he watched at the tablet several times on his way to the next rehabilitation course, which helped him to get over a long road more easily. But recently the tablet was broken. Mom brings up the boy alone, all money in the family are spent to pay the expensive treatment. Now we are very actively collecting money for a gift for Yaroslav in social networks, I hope that soon the boy will be able to watch his favorite cartoon again!
Or another story that touches me to the depths of my soul, not only with the heroism of children, but also of their mother, who brings up twins with developmental features. Babies were born on the 28th week, but the parents did not give up and did everything to make the boys not only survive, but also breathe deeply. Unfortunately, not everything turned out, but no one is going to give up.
Mother of Mikhail and Maxim wants them to go to school, and does everything possible for this! Such stories are make us live, and their heroes amaze with their character and faith. The gift that Mikhail and Maxim wanted to receive was very important for the whole family - a special orthopedic highchair for training and development. The chair allows to keep balance and posture - and we made this dream come true! Now Misha and Maxim are getting ready for school together.
Someone from our young dreamers flew by plane, someone drove on a super-high-speed racing car ... It's not always possible to attend personally when the dream comes true, we send gifts also by mail - then we do not see the reaction, but then we read the letters. I'm already used to it, but my colleagues, when they read these letters, sometimes barely restrain themselves from crying.
- Your work began with the idea to make gifts to children, to make their dreams come true. Do people take this help and you Foundation seriously?
- Every day we get up to 30 letters with requests for help, put them on the list. Parents ask to help their children to make their dreams come true. For some it will seem "silly." Now imagine that this child is disabled. It is very difficult to tell your child: "We can not buy a LEGO, because we spent all the money for rehabilitation." But the child continues to dream. Therefore, I believe that such work is also needed. Also, we see the reaction of moms and our wards - and we know how important it is for them.
At first we helped only children with cerebral palsy because the Foundation was born from the community of moms of such children. But now we help other children - with autism, for example, with Down syndrome.
This year, our video "The main thing is to dream!", where we fulfilled the most unusual dreams of children, won first place at the Film Forum "Charity in the Lens".
I do not agree with the opinion that charity is a sphere of tears. On the contrary, you can help joyfully, brightly! And I think that everyone just has to do their own job. Someone is engaged in orphans, someone in palliative, someone in children with developmental features. We are doing joint projects with other Foundations.
In addition to helping children, we make programs for the socialization of "special" moms. It's not so easy to be chained to a child with features. And often these mothers are also lonely. Not all dads endure this situation. So, they need support.
These can be free tickets to the theater or beauty days, for example, trainings with psychologists and so on. Someone will think that this is nonsense. In fact, people need this kind of help. Especially when they can't pay and they have absolutely no time for themselves.
We pay for the treatment of children and do not lose hope of building our own rehabilitation center. Now we are negotiating with Hungary, we want to bring strong experts from there. I agree with most of the Foundations that we need to move from targeted aid to project, extensive aids. Some experience has already been gained, and it could be implemented in practice.
We do not think much about how we are perceived by others; we will still continue to do what we do, regardless of subjective assessments from outside, because we simply love our work, if objectively.
- There is another myth in the perception of the charitable sector that "goodness is caused" by altruistic people, and more often than not they are exhausted, tired, burnt out ladies. Do you also refute this stereotype too? You are a beautiful successful woman. But is it a problem you?
- You said that this is a myth yourself; there are a lot of beautiful women in the sector with burning eyes, and this image, as a rule, affects everything else, including appearance.
Regarding success, it is now believed that a personal brand is also needed, that the image of a successful Foundation manager is important, a sort of Timur and His Squad. But I'm an introvert who "breaks" himself on a daily basis. I have about six meetings in a day, a lot of communication to make our business public and popular. Then I come home and turn into a sociopath for a short period, and then it's not the time for beauty.
But in general there are a lot of wonderful people in charity. I really like the work of “Arithmetic of Goodness” Foundation and its Foundationraising director, Anastasia Lozhkina. I like her approach, strategy and tactics of the Foundation. I think that this Foundation will soon be one of the leaders.
I like the Foundation "Give the life" and its director, Ekaterina Chistyakova. “Sheredar” Foundation under the leadership of Mikhail Bondarev has been doing a great project work, “Galchonok” Foundation helped us a lot at the stage of our establishment, we are thankful for that (by the way, there is the largest number of beautiful women gathered there, since we had already talked about them). And of course, “Faith” Foundation, they are doing a great job.
- "A gift to an Angel" Foundation is three years old, and it is already quite successful and recognizable. How did you manage to develop it so quickly?
- The Foundation has grown out of the group in Facebook, that’s how it was called. It was created by my friend, Galina Tikhonova, the mother of a child with the ICP. The mothers of children having health peculiarities united and tried to make their children's lives better and brighter.
I joined this group later. We were some year-round Santas and fulfilled the cherished dreams of particular children. We had a motto-idea: "Everyone can become a wizard," and we called children the Angels (the so-called children with cerebral palsy).
After a short time there were thousands of people in the group, everyone wanted to become a wizard. People have got to like this actable form of charity: you’ve fulfilled an Angel's dream becoming a magician, and moreover a report was sent to you that you were given such a title!
Then we mushroomed into a Foundation. Now our job is not just gifts. We help severely ill children through several programs: rehabilitation, aid to families, monthly aid, and we have not left our well-loved charitable program on fulfillment of the desires of special children, now called "The main thing is to dream!"
Since the Foundation of our movement, we have helped more than 4 thousand children.
- What did you know about charity before you plunged into this work?
- For me it was a new topic. I watched the Foundations developing in the US, kept watching over the Russian charity as an interested person, but become engrossed in it only upon returning to Russia.
At the same time, my family has always helped people, and the very idea of helping was not new for me. The new task was to trace this aid to a system and put it on the rails.
- Was it difficult to raise the Foundation almost from scratch?
- We were unknown girls without any media or business component, we did not know anybody particularly and do not understand ourselves until now how we managed to do something.
I began to notice some mystical coincidence. For example, we had been thinking long about meeting someone who could help us with certain projects of the Foundation. And thus we came at the cafe and he was sitting at a nearby table. There were some fateful things happening to us. A couple of times when nothing worked out and I already wanted to quit everything, I was literally seized by the scruff of the neck and carried back. Something was keeping us in the Foundation, and we continued to work.
It is very difficult for charitable Foundations to develop, not everyone has protectorship and Foundationing. Our people at first worked voluntarily. And I was worried that I was a bad manager and could not motivate people and feed my team. I started to feel depressed.
At some point, I even started posting resume, wrote there that I had a Foundation manager experience... And suddenly there was a holding company that took our Foundation under its care. It was a matter of one month. I believe that it’s not for nothing, my resume was for the post of PR-director, and just little by little the conversation at the interview came about "A gift to an Angel." The people found us themselves, and before that I've been knocking on all the doors for a year. I am very grateful to these people.
After a succession of all these coincidences in my life, I believe in my beacon, the guardian angel very much, everyone has it.
- Is it possible to teach charity, is it necessary to somehow specifically educate a person for that?
- Family forms a wish to share and help, not necessarily even financially. It’s about getting the necessary medicines for someone, or elementary buying bread for a neighboring grandmother. If not to prevent these impulses and this openness in a child, then he will grow up with such a form of thinking. It’s about when you will not go to the other side of the street, when seeing an incapacitated person, or if someone has felt ill, you will approach and help. When the understanding of that you need to share is not an empty sound for you.
My parents are doctors. My father id a surgeon, he was one of the leading surgeons in Ukraine, the chief doctor of the regional multi-specialty hospital. It was always very interesting for me at his work, I ran along the corridors, I poked my nose into everything; I was pulled by the ears. I've always asked him one question: "How have you not burnt out emotionally, Daddy?" To which he always answers that it is impossible.
And I believe him. I saw my father before the operations, or when the sick were brought: once there was a child who fell out of the window, other time there was a miner injured in the mine. He always felt stressed, became apathetic, depressed if he could not help, if it was impossible to save a patient after the accident.
But at the same time surgeons are very tough people, they protect themselves with an excellent sense of humor.
My mom is a pharmacist, and she was in charge of everything related to the need to get someone the right medicines urgently, to hand them. She always helped.
Analyzing now, I understand that no one talked to me about help specifically, but when you see the examples in front of your eyes, you are brought up in this way yourself. Even in spite of that I have almost not lived with my parents.
- Is it hard to accept the knowledge that so many children suffer from diseases? Do you also have to take it all hard, as your father does?
- Of course, you internalize lots of stories. Every day you hear cries for help and understand their seriousness and scale, and then you have the tap leaking, or you're late for a meeting, or someone squashed your leg in public transport, and you are walking irritated; and then you have recalled that your problems are broadly speaking not the problems as to whether what and whom you work with. This is of course exaggerated, but returns to the ground very well. I am telling that to myself all the time: "Enough complaining, Miss Commander."
It produces immunity, resistance, at least behavioral. We communicate with persons under our care on an equal basis, and I like that the colleagues have picked up this idea. As more often a person is not psychologically ready for such work and close communication with "other" people, or simply never had such experience.
In addition, all my colleagues are from other areas like banks, business but apparently at the same time they came to charity not for nothing. I did not teach them the "right" attitude to our patients they discovered this approach themselves.
Sometimes it happens that you go to bed and cannot fall asleep, because you remember what you were told or written. Many parents call on the phone if they are in the regions, for example, and simply do not have a computer to send us an application via mail, and tell their stories, the stories about their children.
And, listening to those moms, especially single ones, you feel that they do not even want to let you off the line, they feel very hard and lonely, they do not have enough communication. They call to ask a specific question, and the conversation continues for an hour, because they are sitting now within four walls with their children and this conversation for them is already at least some kind of thread, connection with society. They are grateful already for that their call was answered; they admit that many people simply do not communicate with them.
I have never had heart to end the conversation, put the phone down, even if I'm running down the street and I have 10 minutes to reach somewhere in time, and I know that our family manager, Ella, faces that also very often.
Galya Tikhonova, the founder of our charity movement, also managed to change my state of mind and is often a powerful motivator for me. This is a person who has experienced great difficulties in her life and still experiences them. Galya's son was born healthy, but because of the negligence of doctors he now has cerebral palsy. However, he is a very cute and interesting boy with a great sense of humor.
They are strong emotionally and by the way physically too. They have bruises on their hands and feet, because even in an accessible environment, and it is more inaccessible, they have to struggle with the outside world. They carry wheelchairs through stairs, carry their children up the stairs in the hands, they catnap, and they are on guard around the clock at any age of their child.
- And what do you feel when you find out that the child, to whom you and your Foundation helped, passed away? How did the work in charity change your attitude to life and death?
- There is a saying that surgeons have their own cemetery. My father was terribly worried when patients died on the table. And in charity you cannot get away from it as well.
We had one story when we were preparing for handing a wheelchair, and the boy sank into a coma. There were also cases when children died. But we experience this rarely, as we do not deal with palliative medicine, oncology and serious illnesses.
But in my family there were cancer case, I know what it is. And I take off my hat in front of people like Katya Chistyakova, who deals with these problems. It’s huge and hard work. We face other experiences, we have positive more often, although there were also severe cases.
There was a boy with oncology in the group, and he had a dream to see a salute, he had never seen it and dreamed about it very much. He was very little. We managed to organize a salute for this boy in the group. A few weeks later he passed away. I remember the film with Nicolas Cage "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". Unfortunately, very similar scenarios in life occur.
I recover when my business is doing really well
- It is believed that people working in charity gain gradually a savior complex, they cannot refuse to help people. Have you avoided that?
- This is really a big problem. This is my scourge, and this complex really extrapolates on all the life around you. I can urgently get into the car at 3 a.m. and go somewhere or fly off to the other end of the world, if I understand that I can do something and help somehow.
With this complicated complex, people spoil their psychological health very quickly, as soon after you "get sick" with this complex, you learn a lot of new things for yourself.
For example, that the initiative is punishable, that not all are ready to accept your help, that often in a couple of days, people forget your help at best, and forget you at worst. But people-rescuers have a resistance for this too, so they will never stop helping anyway.
They will come home, maybe they will get some sleep, and then they will lift themselves up by the scruff of the neck and again go somewhere to save someone.
- What helps you to recover?
- Lazy rest does not save me. I recover through my work and people. I am nourished by people who give me positive energy. I recover when my affairs are doing great. Because I do not know how to switch, and the rest itself does not feed me. But when you have inspirational motivational meetings, when there is an excellent result in work, it gives me a powerful charge of energy.
In general, I reflect and feel the mood of others strongly. It not easy to live for such sensitive people, but it has its advantages, because there are more positive people around me anyway!
When the team burns with enthusiasm, it motivates everyone
- Does business become more active in philanthropy? What will you say taking into account your practice?
- The situation has shifted a lot. Business began to perceive the charity as a whole differently. This sphere is now becoming a truly separate, independent sector, with which it is necessary and possible to cooperate. And business is already interested in long-term cooperation with NPOs, not single projects.
When I lived in the USA, I noticed how actively business abroad is involved in charity. Here NPOs just become high-grade partners, whereas it has been a common practice in the USA for a long time.
All was different here 6 years ago. The Foundations were not taken with such a respect and confidence as it has been happening now. Many people used to argue this way: what’s the point in a Foundation, if you can go and help by yourself, bring money to an orphanage, for example, pay a child’s operation... Now they understand that the charitable Foundation is a reliable partner in the third sector. And it is even more convenient to cooperate with Foundations than to do charity on your own.
There is one problem: young charitable organizations often do not have an understanding of how to organize the work further. Well, the Foundation is registered, there is a desire to make the world better, but what is next, especially in the regions?
There is no consistency yet, and motivation of people suffers from this who see their development in the sector.
When things are shaky, people cannot not cope with that. Many people talk about burnout in the sector, but I do not meet such people in my environment, frankly speaking. But any young Foundation is always a startup, it's a risk, and if you add that we do not have specialized education for NGO managers in the country, then the picture is sad.
And people want to build a career in this area. Many people come to the sector from business, where they have already realized their potential and now they want to apply their skills to charity, and this is good news, but when they come they do not always understand the specifics, since there is very little introductory information about the sector as a whole in the information field.
Charitable Foundations are not a hobby
- Nastya, does journalistic education help you in your charitable activities?
- Journalists are creators of a new reality, new semantic constructions, and, as a rule, the reality is what the journalists are. Much depends on the competence and awareness of these people, at least in our country. So let there be at least a few journalists in the charitable sector!
Is there any desire to go further? I think you can combine different spheres. Charity should be treated as a business, but it’s not a problem for developing oneself in other areas too. At the same time, charity is a value, it’s a life project. And it's indeed impossible to give up the meaning of your life. It’s easier to leave a job in a certain area of business. These are different values ...
- What do you think, what kind of people should come to charity?
- They should have a steel rod. People who just want to save the world being uninformed how to do it systematically are not ready for the fact that charity is also a matter of work. You will have to spend a lot of effort, your time and human resources, emotions, and often do it all without any payback, with a minimum of money and maybe even with no results at the beginning. You need a serious understanding of why, for what and for whom you do this.
There is a big lack of education for working in the field of NPOs in Russia. Why does the USA have NGO manager education at any university, but we do not? This is a real utopia: the third sector has actively been developing in Russia, and there is almost no information about it at the educational level. People come to the Foundations with bright ideas that charity is the organization of events. Funds have to teach a person at place.
In general, we have to speak about it. Education in the sector should not be limited to the course of lectures or seminars. There must be a real education at the university level. We have been preparing now a series of lectures for universities, perhaps our lectures will be useful to NGO young specialists.
There is an opinion among people in the charitable sphere that in 5-10 years the third sector will develop into a real professional market. We believe in these predictions, and we also believe that the goodness brought into a system will overcome everything! The most important thing is not to give up, but to go further to break through the walls of poor awareness and indifference.