Dedicated teachers are some of the world’s greatest heroes. We have the utmost respect for those who devote their lives to leading future generations in a positive direction. And Svetlana Winward is one teacher whose story tugged at our hearts. We knew that we needed to put a spotlight on the incredible work she does.
Svetlana embodies the Your Everyday Heroes philosophy. The world she came from was full of tragedy, but she hasn’t let the pain of her journey stop her from being a hero. In fact, it was this very journey that inspired her to become a teacher.
A Brief History of Svetlana
Born to an impoverished family in the Soviet Union, Svetlana’s father left when she was only 11 months old, leaving only her mother to take care of her and her sibling. Her mother’s caring nature was what initially inspired her to become a teacher.
“My mom raised the two of us during hungry times. She sewed clothes for us so we wouldn’t feel different from the others. She sacrificed whatever she had for us. She is my hero,” Svetlana tells us.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russians began opening businesses. Svetlana was quick to open a business of her own, one that reflected her desire to help others. She founded a kindergarten that taught foreign languages. Her reputation as a dedicated teacher soon became widespread. Via the international Hands Across the Sea educational program, she was given the opportunity to teach abroad in the US, something she had to jump on. She briefly taught in Connecticut.
The First Tragedy
Svetlana returned to Russia feeling optimistic about her future. Aside from her kindergarten, she was the owner of a cafe and two stores. For once in her life, she was not impoverished. She was also happily married, or so she thought. Upon entering her home, she found her husband with another woman.
Obviously devastated, Svetlana decided that she needed a vacation. She and her son Dionysus headed to Disneyland in California. However, she caught pneumonia on the plane. And in Salt Lake City, Utah, she was told that she needed to exit for the safety of the other passengers.
Having no health insurance in the US, her hospital bills exceeded $30,000, all the money she had left. To make matters worse, she learned that the Russian mafia had overtaken her businesses back home. She had no way of getting back to Russia, and her tourist Visa was soon to expire.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
A glimmer of hope presented itself: Svetlana had a pen pal who was currently living in Salt Lake City. He offered to marry her so that she and her son could obtain green cards. Sadly, however, as soon as they were married, it became apparent that he was not as generous as he seemed.
He was abusive and manipulative, treating Svetlana like a slave. She had to hide the fact that her green card had come in the mail, as she knew that if he found it, he would destroy it. As soon as she and her son had their green cards, they left his house, as even homelessness was better than living under his rule.
Svetlana and her son spent about a year living in Sugar House Park. Food was hard to come by. Still speaking little English and unfamiliar with local resources, she had no idea where to find things like shelters or food banks.
Things Get Better
“I thought that was the end of my life,” she tells Your Everyday Heroes. “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.”
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Feeling renewed, Svetlana went to the closest church and explained her situation. The church happened to have connections to Carden Memorial School. Within 30 days, she was employed by the school, and her son was enrolled.
“I started my life,” she says. “Maybe it was our heavenly father’s plan to put me through these things so I will understand my children better.”
It is not Svetlana’s tragic backstory that makes her a hero: it is how she reacted to the tragedies in her life, never using them as excuses to give up. In fact, she has turned the negativity of her upbringing into something positive. She is better able to empathize with her students, many of whom are from low-income neighborhoods.
When asked about her definition of heroism, she says, “In order to be a hero, you just need to be a good person. A good person who sees the needs of other people, who is eager to help, who is eager to give a shoulder… Heroes are normal people like you and me.”
We can’t think of a better embodiment of this idea than Svetlana Winward.