Add a comment
Foto: Sergey Kiselyov/ Kommersant
There is a phrase – “you can’t help everyone”. As a rule, it is used to explain the inertness to help at least someone. You help most of people, but you can’t help everyone indeed. How do you select “Maria’s children” – those, whom you help?
Quite naturally – how do children appear in the family at all? As a result of love, i.e. in fact – accidentally. At the beginning of the 1990 my wife (future wife at that time) lived near the boarding school #103. And she communicated with very good guys – American clowns from Patch Adams’s team, who came to Russian clinics and orphanages for children. That time, as you remember, charity came into Russia in many different and extraordinary ways. Maria came to the boarding school and said that this clowns had brought charity and the director let us in. It was the beginning. Generally Maria has been engaged in this activity for all her life. She began to visit children and soon I and most of my friends were involved in this. Afterwards she opened an art studio for orphans. My first wife also took part in charity, as we call it now. She took the lead of Komsomol (Young Communist League) committee, so at that first moment I was familiar with this system (see also a book “White on black” by Gallego). And it is still the same way – there is no system of selection. We simply take children from boarding schools we CAN and those children, who want to come and learn. We also work with orphanages for children with physical disabilities – just because they are in the majority. Then we began to work with the group, consisting of 12 children, took them to classes every week. Once we even rented the place on Paveletskaya Street, and then we moved to Dmitrovskaya alley in the building belonging to Tverskaya council…Also we were taking turns to spend weekends with children.
But they get used to you! And finally they should go away, leaving their places to other children. It’s difficult.
Yes, it was a rash decision to spend weekends with children, but we have never felt sorry about it. Very soon it became a part of our life.
All children we took to spend weekends with us, had equal chances at the beginning. But some of them were stealing our money, but others took part in our life with great pleasure and made friends with our own children.
Five orphans have lived in our family officially till their adulthood for 18 years of the studio existing. And five more - without any paperwork done. When did we have orphans the last time? Three years ago a girl lived with us. And even now some graduate students from boarding schools constantly live in our house.
And at the beginning and in the mid of the 1990s our family consisted of three children of my wife, our common child and two girls from the boarding school. We lived in Kuchino, without telephone communication. There were 8 persons in one bedroom apartment.
Sometimes someone of foreign volunteers slept on the floor…And I drove them in our car. The smallest children were sitting on the knees of the older ones. By the way, we did not violate the road rules because children till 12 (according to the old rules) were not considered passengers. We travelled a lot – trips helped us to chum up with the children. Older children (from boarding schools) helped the smallest not as educators but as friends. I still remember the trip to Adler in 1996 – the boarding school moved there for summer. We worked with this school and went there too, thus this was the first time we took children with us for so long. It was a very good summer, after that children began to perceive us as relatives.
“Maria’s children” is your wife’s initiative. It’s obvious not only from its history but from the title too. Now she is a leader of the project, isn’t she?
Yes, of course. She has a talent – she never misses an opportunity and immediately reacts to the situation. The talent – not to miss an opportunity – is necessary in any business, it is the most important. I react not so fast but I try “to get to the roots”. I think I’m very useful both for Yandex and the studio.
What is the studio?
It’s impossible to describe it in one sentence; it is easier to take a look at mariaschildren.ru. website. Maria is a professional artist, and she has been also engaged in this project for many years. “Maria’s children” is not just an art school. Painting is just one of the ways to involve children into creative communication. The studio has been surrounded by wonderful people, who teach children music, foreign languages and theatre art … We teach children different things, even to juggle because it’s necessary when we visit little patients in hospitals or boarding schools. In the studio many pupils like juggling. I remember a year when everyone was getting crazy about it, they were encouraged by each other and learned the juggling.
We are trying to wake up the creative interest – but it’s only the half of the deal. The second half – is to give friends to a child. Some day they will leave their school, but their friends will stay with them. And the elders – our volunteers, and fellows – who were at the studio with us. Most of them come to us after some time and help with the next generation
When Patch Adams’s clowns come, you put on the clown’s nose, paint your face and perform with them.
My interest in amateur theater is from the family, from my mother and granny. I have been playing since childhood. I create my own plays, and I also like to join performance of others. If someone played Shakespeare and they accepted me, I would play Shakespeare too. But here we have met clowns and it’s very good – I enjoy it, and children are interested in it.
How do you evaluate your charity in terms of your opportunities?
The opportunities have appeared recently. Just ten years ago we lived in the suburb. In a small apartment. And I bought my first clothes in 2001. Before I had worn the clothes from parcels, charity from our friends. The family was big and I earned as much as any programmer. Believe me, I had not had a desire to buy something for myself.
But at the same time I felt rich, because a person is as rich as he feels rich. For example, I had an opportunity to buy a chocolate paste for a child, who had never eaten it before. And this made me rich. In this sense all of us are already rich, if we can let ourselves this feeling of richness. It doesn’t matter how much you give, if you share something, you are rich. I don’t feel that I have become wealthier though I have good clothes and fly business class. However I don’t need other attributes of richness, for example my car is rather simple and I drive it myself. I’m sure – if I have a car with a driver, I will not be richer. And if I give children something, I will feel better. In this sense I have become a little poorer because now I don’t have enough time for children. Although, recently the guys from Yandex and I went to a boarding school in the Kaluzhskaya oblast’. We arranged a real holiday, there we spent 2 days and everyone was happy - both children and we.
Money does not convert into the charity. You can’t just stand in the corner and give money away to everyone. It does not make any sense. If you do not create effective working mechanism or strategy, you will not achieve anything. It requires a working structure, strategy, technology. All this is work. Something we can do. For the last 3-4 years we have had several large-scale projects where I took part and helped to implement them. We travelled to Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain and visited the White House in the USA with exhibitions and theater performances. We have also had educational programs for boarding school teachers in Israel and the USA. Of course there were summer camps and trips to Beslan.
The charity has always been near by the religiousness, anyway it’s a tradition.
It’s a very deep thing…I feel it at “right-wrong” level, and criteria….I think it comes from your mother. There is a feeling that your actions are right. I’m not a religious man, but - to my mind – if you do something right, you will get an award. What is “right”? It is not so difficult to act rightly – you just need to put yourself in another person’s position, to feel what he feels. You have to do it quickly, immediately, instantly. If you feel it, you will act rightly.
Ilya Valentinovich Segalovich
Technical Director of Yandex.
47 years old. A graduate of RSGPU - Russian State Geological Prospecting University. One of the founders of Yandex, Director of Technology and Business Development. In 1993 he together with his wife – an artist Maria Eliseeva – founded “Maria’s Children Art Centre” public charity organization.