One of the largest neighborhoods in Saint Petersburg, Krasnoselskiy, with over 383 thousand residents, there is a branch for social support for families and children based at the state Comprehensive Center for Social Services for Citizens. The Close Circle Club meets here, which has a support group for people living with HIV. The idea for starting the group was the brainchild from back in 2010 of Anna Viktorovna Shpilevskaya, Deputy Director of the Social Institute. Now the group is supported by the manager of the department for care of women in difficult situations, Yulia Anatolevna Levitskaya.
For people living with HIV, such groups are important: they help to resolve issues of self stigma, accepting oneself, and give the opportunity for people to share about their experience living with HIV. Recently the support group in Krasnoselskiy region developed with the idea for the Mother to Mother project.
Margarita Vysotskaya, peer counselor at EVA shares about how mothers with HIV banded together to help one another:
“The first time I went to a support group, I was a client of the EVA Association and I was being provided support by the department of care for women. I barely understood what was happening, I was afraid, and I didn’t understand why I had even come but I was sold on the fact that I could talk about my status openly. At that very group meeting, a peer counselor from EVA offered mothers with HIV to stay with children one at a time while she traveled to the AIDS Center. It’s no secret that the wellbeing of the child is directly dependent on the health of the mother. However, mothers with children often are focused on taking care of their children and only think about themselves after everyone and everything else. If there are two of more children, or if the child is an infant, and if there is no one to leave the children with, then the trip to the AIDS Center to visit doctors and pick up medicine or have tests done becomes problematic.
Of course, in our city there is the possibility to leave children in the children’s room at the AIDS Center, but, first of all, it is not ‘limitless’ and secondly, getting to the AIDS Center with children is tough. But we can have each other’s back, and while one mother babysits, the other can relax from care duties on her way to the doctor. Everyone who has children can understand what I mean very well. It all started on its own: first one mother asked for help, then another. Such requests are one of the ways that visiting the mutual support group brought us closer to one another – we have the same problems and we solve them together. Upon becoming a peer counselor for the EVA Association myself, I, as before, visit the support group at the women’s care department. They are led by the department’s psychologists Tatiana Belova and Olga Gorbushina. I would really like for as many mothers as possible to begin interacting, as I believe it is interaction specifically, which allows problems to be solved. Therefore I am a great proponent of the Mother to Mother project idea.
The Krasnoselskiy regional department of Social Support for Families and Children and the EVA Association have been working together since 2014. At that time a pilot project for peer counselors to work on the premises of family centers was launched and it became a significant part of the joint activities to support people affected by HIV infection. In the time since then, peer counselors took part in celebrations, conducted support groups for people living with HIV and as part of the Family Album project, took pictures of families for free. 12 women at the department were able to meet the Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in the Eastern European and Central Asian region, Vera Brezhneva. 45 people took part in the work of the round table on Providing Social, Medical, and Counseling Support for Women with HIV and their Family Members in Saint Petersburg, including participants representing social and medical institutions in the Krasnoselskiy, Kirovskiy, and Admiralteyskiy regions who provide support for drug dependant people and representative from socially-oriented nonprofit organizations.
The EVA Association thanks the staff of the Department for Social Support for Families and Children in the Krasnoselskiy region for the fruitful work and effective collaboration. The team at the department is a close-knit group of positive individuals who make it a place where you want to return. You are always listened to and not left unattended for any problem. You can have peer counseling at the department.
Contact information for the Department of Social Support for Families and Children in Krasnoselskiy region
Address: Saint Petersburg, 2-ya Komsomolskaya St, 3 building 2
Phone: 242-35-64, office 205, 206
Phone of Peer Counselor Margarita Vysotsky: +7(981)8238-13-17.
You can write questions to Margarita on VKontakte.