Svetlana Winward is a Russian-born teacher currently located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Teaching at a Title I school, Winward educates children from low-income families. Svetlana has first-hand knowledge of the hardships her students endure. In fact, her life’s journey up to this point is one filled with tribulations. However, she uses these experiences as motivation to help others.
Svetlana’s Humble Beginnings
Svetlana Winward was born in Nizhny Tagil, a city in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia. Her father left her family when she was only 11 months old, leaving her impoverished mother to take care of her and her sibling. She describes her childhood as “hungry times,” as her family often only had cabbage to eat.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, people started forming businesses in Russia. Now an adult and hoping to escape poverty, Svetlana started a business of her own: a kindergarten that specialized in teaching foreign languages.
She wrote to Hands Across the Sea, an educational program that hired American teachers to come to foreign schools and demonstrate American methods of teaching. The teachers that came to Svetlana’s school were so impressed with her that they invited her to join the program herself. She then traveled to Connecticut to share with American teachers her methods of teaching.
The Top of a Downward Spiral
Svetlana came home in good spirits. However, it wasn’t long before her optimism was devastated. Her husband had apparently moved on to another woman.
She decided to take a vacation to California with her son. However, she developed pneumonia while on the plane. After paying her hospital bills with all the money she had left, she learned that her business had been overtaken by the Russian mafia. She had no money, and no way of getting home.
Svetlana had a pen pal from Lebanon who now lived in Salt Lake City. He agreed to marry her so that she could obtain a green card. However, it wasn’t long before he revealed his true colors. He was abusive, treating his wife as a slave and constantly threatening to leave her and her child in the dust.
When Svetlana and her son finally received their green cards, they fled her now ex-husband, living in Sugar House Park, as even homelessness was better than a life of abuse.
“I thought that was the end of my life,” she explains. “I saw a truck on the road, and I was thinking that if I just took one step onto the road, it would take care of all my troubles… And then I looked at my son Dionysus. My son was smiling in his dream. The smile of my child brought me back. I woke him up. We were playing with snowballs, and all of a sudden I saw a $10 bill lying in the snow… we waited for the Wendy’s to open and went to buy hot chocolate and donuts.”
Svetlana Restarts Her Life
Feeling renewed, Svetlana went to the closest church and explained in broken English her situation. This church happened to have connections to Carden Memorial School. Within 30 days, Svetlana was teaching at this school, and her son was enrolled.
Teaching was something ingrained within Svetlana. As soon as the Berlin Wall fell, she jumped on the chance to start a school of her own. Between then and now, there were a lot of hurdles, but she is finally back where she was destined to be. She is a positive influence on a generation of future everyday heroes. We hope that you have come away from her story feeling inspired.