The year 2004 changed the lives of hundreds of children living in the small town of Beslan in Russia. The deadliest school shooting in history, the terrorist attack left 300 people dead and several others scarred for life. Reading about the terrible tragedy rattled the world and particularly a Russian model Natalia Vodianova. Doesn’t every child, irrespective of their abilities deserve a safe, secure and inclusive space to go, to play and just be? she thought and decided to take action.
The same year, Vodianova founded the Naked Heart Foundation. It has so far built 210 play facilities- colourful, well-equipped spaces in 157 towns across Russia. It also provides active interventions to the children as well as families of children with special abilities through programs such as Every Child Deserves a Family (having financed 18 projects since 2011).
In 2020 alone, the Foundation provided support to more than 2700 children and over 300 parents through various projects. The twin objectives of “Play with Purpose” and “Every Child Deserves a Family” are at the heart of the Foundation’s work but it is continually reaching more children, more cities- target being 500 play facilities in Russia alone.
Who is Natalia Vodianova?
Born in Gorky, Soviet Union, Natalia Mikhailovna Vodianova was abandoned by her father when she was little. She lived in impoverishment with her mother and half-sister who has cerebral palsy and autism. Later nicknamed as Supernova, she began modelling at the age of 15. Vodianova has walked in more than 200 runway shows for Europe and America-based designers. She has done campaigns for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands including Gucci, Nina Ricci, Versace, L’Oreal, Etam, Stella McCartney, Hugo Boss among others.
According to the Forbes List of the highest earning models in 2012, Vadianova was ranked third. A mother of five, Vodianova has been awarded Inspiration of the year by Harper’s Bazaar in 2010, and Woman of the year by Glamour magazine in 2014, calling her The Voice For Children.
Her impoverished childhood inspired her to do more
Prompted by the Beslan tragedy back in 2004, she set up a play park in Nizhny Novogorod, where she grew up. Eventually, children of Beslan too got their packet of happiness in 2009 with their own play park. Her own experience while growing up and what she saw on her visits to children’s homes, orphanages, hospitals and rehabilitation centres propelled Vodianova to do more.
Since Vodianova’s sister struggled with autism, one major goal of her organization is to spread awareness about and help children with autism. On 2nd April 2021 (World Autism Day), the foundation joined hands with Russian Public Opinion Research Centre and Viber messenger for spreading awareness about autism. Apart from conducting a survey, the campaign encouraged parents of autistic children to speak about their experiences for helping other parents. The campaign became instrumental in becoming the voice of the autistic children and their parents around the world.
As a woman and mother, Vodianova also participates actively in campaigns concerning women’s empowerment. An issue that’s closer to her heart is the social stigma surrounding menstruation. To normalize period talk in mainstream society, Vodianova founded a video series called “Let’s Talk About it. Period.” and joined forces with the United Nations Population Fund, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, as one of its Goodwill Ambassadors. On June 1st 2021, she participated in a campaign for destigmatising menstruation in her home country Russia.
Vodianova is currently working with UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) for distributing period kits to women and girls in conflict zones. In 2020, 59 countries received 1.4 million such kits – backpacks that include menstrual pads, a reusable menstrual pad set, washing powder, bath soap, dark underwear, a flashlight, a comb, a toothbrush, and a toothpaste.
You can lend a helping hand
As society, it’s a collective responsibility to ensure that a child’s world continues to be pure and uncomplicated. Trauma can be tackled and a child’s world can be made better- come be a part of Naked Heart Foundation.
For those of you interested in donating period kits for girls, you may just donate $15 to make all the difference.