The Art of Friendship

Daniil Safonov, 10
Pervomaisk, Ukraine

There are not many passersby on the narrow lane where Daniil Safonov lives with his mother, cat and dog. The rare wanderer will surely see a scrawny young boy throwing a stick to a dog who looks as skinny as its owner. There is a cat curled around the boy’s feet, as if seeking comfort. This is Dainik’s safe space, with his two best friends, friends that don’t laugh at him or call him names, friends that accept him for who he is.

Today Danik has a sore on his gums, caused by an infection in his tooth. The pain throbs and Danik grabs a handful of snow and presses it to his mouth, hoping to still the pain. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t want to upset his mother.

The house is cold, they have run out of coal and his mother is stoking the puny fire back to life by feeding it discarded walnut shells. There is a small pot simmering on the gas stove, filled with the usual fare; some sort of potatoes. Danik eats but remains hungry, then he spends the rest of his evening drawing, a self-soothing technique that allows him to escape the challenges of life and enter the world of imagination.

Danik’s mother worries about her boy, “He has no friends, he is socially awkward, stammering and moving in funny ways when he is forced into a social interaction. His classmates find his behavior funny and tease him ceaselessly.”

A representative from LifeChanger FSU stopped by for an initial assessment at the Safonov home. She could barely inhale because of the combination of mold and filth that emitted a nauseating, musty smell. She saw how the dishes used for the cat and dog food were dirty and mixed together with the dishes that Danik and his mother used. The home was a mess which is a telltale sign of someone who has given up on themselves. That feeling was reflected in the eyes of Danik’s mother who forced a strained smile, accompanied by a sigh, “I can’t muster the energy to clean. I feel alone and sad, there is no one that cares about me.”

The representative looked over at Danik and saw a skinny boy with obvious nutrition deficiencies. He had a swollen cheek that indicated a bad tooth infection.

LifeChanger FSU lost no time in getting the Safonov’s the help they need. Danik began seeing a psychologist and art therapist who helped him let go of his fears and learn how to interact socially.

He loves drawing and the therapist guides him in using this skill to express himself when words are difficult to find. He is receiving medical and dental care after being diagnosed with malnutrition and serious dental issues. The family is receiving food packages and clothing coupons and the mother is seeing a psychologist as well, to help her overcome her depression and to give her tools so that she can be there for her son.

“Now that I have food to cook and wood for the stove, the motivation to take better care of myself, my home and my son have returned,” said Daniil’s mother. “I am able to process my feelings and emotions with the help of the psychologist and feel cared for and supported. Seeing my son improve by leaps and bounds has brought me endless joy. There are no words with which to describe the gratitude that I feel towards LifeChanger FSU. You gave us our lives back, you gave us support and friendship and hope for a better future.”