“They Help Us Rise to Our Reet” – Testimonies From a Monastic Workshop

Novice Alexandra: God is love

For over two years, the workshop «Dobrodel» [do-gooder] has provided supported employment for people with disabilities who have difficulty finding and keeping jobs on the market. We have asked the workshop leader, Novice Alexandra and three other people working here to tell us how the workshop has changed their lives.

Novice Alexandra (Markova), workshop leader

It has been more than two months since I began my present obedience. When I came here, the workshop had been closed for more than five months because of the epidemic and quarantine restrictions. It was also in the process of moving into a new building. How could I cope with the magnitude of the task? This question was keeping me awake at night. I was praying to God that He would give me the strength.

As it is said in the Gospel of Luke (18:27), “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” God is love. The people I work with always sense it, so there is no need to look for a different approach towards them.

One of the people working here had a gaming dependency. I used to confront him a lot, but then I just showed some sympathy and discovered a different person. I would say that any obedience or job is an expression of love.

I am working to create an atmosphere filled with prayer and grace, and also with prayer. Prayer and love should permeate all our work. From the beginning, I made a point of having shared meals at the same table. Celebrating feasts and holidays together is also a great way to bond. We commemorate the great feasts of the church calendar and celebrate birthdays — we buy a cake and have it together, and we give presents which we make of the materials that we have at hand.

The people who are working here are special. There are twelve of them now, as many as the apostles (smiles). All have great potential for artistic performance. Look at Katya. See how good she is at painting the Сhristmas balls, and she has difficulty speaking. It takes great skill to paint an image on a spherical surface. Sister Elena has no specialist education, but she is a highly skilled artist. She makes beautiful works. Everyone here is a godsend.

A painter at work

We make a variety of beautiful things, such as Christmas balls, souvenirs and greeting cards. We are preparing to produce thematic artworks dedicated to religious and monastic life — angel figures, diaries with biblical commandments and quotes from the apostles and holy fathers. At present, we are working on an order from a printing house. They have finished printing a batch of paper bags for the new year gifts and asked us to fold them. This work has kept us busy with this for almost two days now.

The people are getting paid for their work, although the pay is still modest. We would like to be able to pay more and to see our products sell. We have reached an agreement with a large shopping centre in Minsk to run a dedicated stand with our products. This is a good first step, but we need more orders and more financial help to help more people. I am sure that the Lord sees our benevolence and will assist us. The people here need to know that their work is valued and needed.

Dmitry, 25:

Novice Alexandra introduces us to Dmitry: «Dmitry is autistic. He is living a pure and honest life. He is gentle and friendly. He is a pleasure to be around, and I always smile when I see him. He is such a joy!»

«I like it here,» says Dmitry, confidently. «I paint on ceramics, I work on bells and tabernacles. My mother learned to draw as a child. She taught me to draw and paint, too. I used to go to a painting studio and learned there. My drawing improved a lot at the studio. I believe in God. He is helping me. I visit churches. I like being at church. I enjoy attending the services, and I feel very comfortable there. I love watching the priests and the churchgoers. And a know quite a few prayers.

I am also fond of singing. I sing all the time. We are going to sing the hymn “Wishing you many years of life” on my birthday on 2 February. I love summer and the sun. I enjoy myself in summer very much, I go swimming and I sunbathe.”

Anna, 24

When my mother brought me here, I was in a very poor state. I had been hospitalised to the Novinki mental clinic ten times. I was trained as a painter, but it seemed to me that I had not only lost all my painting and drawing skills but that I was incapable of doing any work at all. I was having frequent episodes. I was feeling worthless, rejected, and also very lonely. I was losing my mind.

At the workshop, I spend most of my time making craft bags. The work is simple, but it is also exciting, and time passes quickly. Our products are attractive and unpretentious. I do not have to work more than I am able to. My work is what gets me out of bed in the morning and brings order to my life. If I had just stayed home, I would have ended up sleeping all the time.

I have tried other jobs, but I was very stressed. Working at the workshop is the most comfortable for my psyche. I like the friendly atmosphere and appreciate the chance to socialise in addition to doing some work. Everyone and everything is familiar, it is almost like home.

Working at the workshop also strengthens my faith. We pray and we learn to be positive and optimistic. It helps me keep my inner peace. I am happy to be here, they are helping me rise to my feet again.

Recently, I began to draw again. I draw for pleasure, and I have already put together a portfolio. I feel that my life is getting back to normal, and I am having more confidence in my future.

Some examples of the workshop’s products

Valentina, 50 (the name was changed to preserve anonymity)

I was trained as an engineer. I received my diploma from a university and was hospitalised to a mental clinic a year later. My condition is hereditary, my father had his first episode when he was 43. Mine was right after I gave birth to my son. But the doctors were confident then that I was going to recover fully.

When I became ill, all my friends at university turned away from me. They came to see me at home, they saw the condition I was in and said to my mother: “We are sorry, but could you tell her that we cannot keep seeing her any more. We love her, she is not bad, but there is no way we can keep in touch while she is ill.” I was feeling very lonely then, and I was longing to have friends.

Eventually, I was assigned a disability grade. Before that, I remained under medical observation, and I could work in many jobs, but not as an engineer. I tried many places. I worked at a school, at the botanical gardens planting flowers, and even as a foreman at a plastics factory. At work, nobody knew about my condition. But I could no longer hide it when I got a disability grade.

While my parents were alive, they were supporting me. I did not work a single day for six or seven years while I was staying with them. I just wanted to be left alone so I could sleep and rest. My mother used to write me reminders: “Sweep the floor, take a breath of air on the balcony, go outside for a while.”

Working process

When my mother died, I had to learn to live on my own, pay my rent, wash my clothes. I asked my sick father to live with me. When he died, I was twelve months behind with my rent. I still cannot read the water and gas meters. My son is paying my utility bills for me. He is twenty now, he has a job and he is healthy.

All the people with disabilities are willing to work and to contribute, nobody wants to stay at home. We are a burden for our families – we hear it often from our relatives. Our pensions are small, and supporting us is very expensive. A friend told me about this workshop at Saint Elisabeth Convent. For people like me, it is the only realistic possibility to work. This is my second year here. I am making craft bags. Three years ago, I met my husband and we came here together. We are both in remission now. Glory to God for all things. I am married, I have a job, and I like it.

The workshop continues to provide assisted employment to people with disabilities at a time when job opportunities for the disabled are becoming increasingly scarce. For the people working here, it offers a chance to gain a positive experience of employment, to overcome loneliness and isolation, to ease the plight of their families and to contribute to society according to their capabilities.

You can help us help more people by ordering one of our products. You can view some examples in the slide show below.

The workshop «Dobrodel» also welcomes donations. For further questions, please e-mail us at sv.elisaveta@gmail.com.

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