Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My Russian journey (part 3)

The garden at the hospital for children.

Day Four

Slept well – got up late and missed breakfast (must be getting used to the trams/trains)! Luckily I had some cereal bars to eat before we left for the hospital at 9.20am. We made bears today to add to the forest of owls. The proportions are a little wacky (the owls are bigger than the bears!), but apart from that it looks good! A had written his name on the example bear he had made to show and instead of writing their own names some of the children copied his onto their bears as well! That was funny and very sweet.  Felt better today at the hospital as I knew what to expect. It was hectic though as we had a lot of children take part.

I must mention that there is a very nice doctor here who is really great with the kids – she joins in with the activity we have planned and makes a real effort to communicate to us through the translators. Though she did tell me off for putting a bag in the wrong place! lol. I do like her though, she really seems to enjoy being with the kids.

There were some different kids there today. ‘Chatted’ to Svetla (Natalie Portman look-alike!) and another girl who was very sweet and talked to me none stop in Russian – she slowed down for me but I still didn’t know what she was saying. Though I did pick up ‘Ya lubloo (I love) A...’ quite a bit (the male volunteer!) – she was very taken with him!   Spent time with Lyuba - who is one of my favourites at the hosp. She speaks a little English and is very smiley. She made up a song though the only words I could understand were ‘emma’ and ‘banana’! I’m sure whatever she was singing was probably quite rude as all the other children were laughing!

Working on our craft project.

There is also a very small, animated little boy who is very smart and chats away to us. Shosha sat with me for a while today – she is hard to describe. She loves being hugged and holding hands. She is very affectionate. I’m able to chat with her a little in Russian. I ask her how she is and each day she replies with fine thank you! Out of all of them if I could I’d take her home with me. She has to have injections though I’m not sure what for. Some days she is more sleepy than others.

We went outside again as it was another beautiful, sunny day. Played terrible football for hours with a little boy who wasn’t too impressed with my ball skills and shouted at me a lot in Russian! Probably a good job I couldn’t understand him!

There seemed to be a lot of tears today as well. One new boy who was very upset and just sat and cried for most of the time. Another girl got almost hysterical as the van from the orphanage turned up and she thought they had come to take her back (she’s supposed to be going home soon). That’s hard to see – how distressed they are. How sad. Made me feel quite helpless…when there is really nothing I can do long-term to make their lives better.

Playing ball in the hospital garden.

Back for lunch which was…cheese and crab meat salad, mushroom soup, meatballs and rice and fruit. We met two more volunteers today R who came with us to the hospital and M – they have been in St Petersburg for the weekend and got back at 5am this morning! R has volunteered in South America and South Africa – she has some interesting stories to tell.

In the afternoon we were given the opportunity to take part in a trip Nadia had organised to the nearby Space Museum (dedicated to Valentina Tereshkova).

Entrance to the museum.

Tereshkova was the first woman in space and she was born in Yaroslavl. Most of the volunteers went and Nadia came along to translate for us. It was a  really nice, fun visit. I especially liked the reconstruction of the house Tereshkova had been born and brought up in.

Later in the afternoon myself and J went out for coffee which was nice. I can’t believe how warm it is here! I’m walking about in a t-shirt. Back to the hotel for dinner…lots of people had gone out to eat so there were only six of us. Really nice dinner of coleslaw, kebabs and salad - it was nicer than it sounds!

Spent evening preparing craft for tomorrow with A and J – snakes and butterflies to add to the other animals.

Can’t believe I’m already halfway through my time here!

Go to bed early but can’t sleep – practice my Russian instead.   

Day five

Feel tired today. Off to the hospital to make butterflies and snakes to add to the growing forest! We get driven there every morning in the CCS mini-bus (they now have two having purchased one the week I was there). Everyone is always kind of quiet...reflective on the way there. Just waking up and getting ready for our placements.

Loved going into the hosp today and seeing the kids. The children enjoyed the craft – I found out that a few of the children I thought were boys are actually girls! Because they have shaved heads or very short hair and all wear similar clothing it’s hard to tell! Not being familiar with Russian names doesn’t help either. Anyway, now I know!

I took my camera today and most of the children loved having their pics taken. The great thing with the digital camera is that I could show them their pictures straight away. Took lots of photos of our project as well. The nice doctor asked me to take pictures of them doing their exercises in the hall.

Took the children outside to play. Did lots of skipping today (actual skipping and not just holding the rope, was exhausted afterwards!)...with R another volunteer while the children counted in Russian and commented on how rubbish we were! Played ball for a while. Have my ‘set’ of children now who want to play and chat with me which is nice, although one little boy just wants me to play football with him for hours. He screams if any other child comes near while we are playing together. A lot of the children seemed sleepy today – or heavily medicated. Did lots of playing catch sitting down. They were all in need of lots of hugs.

It feels good to be here now. I’m going to miss the children when I go as I’m getting used to them and they to me. I know how to interact - who will need help with the crafts and who enjoys working independently. Which children like to be left alone and which to chat and play with. Which ones enjoy playing with me outside and which just like to sit in the sun and watch. All of them need lots of hugs.

Back for lunch – chicken and potato or fish and rice. In the afternoon we (all the volunteers) had a talk on Russian fairytales organised by the CCS staff in one of the downstairs offices. It was really nice, we were told some traditional stories and a bit about the morals behind them. I had studied fairytales as part of my English degree, and it brought back things I thought I’d forgotten! Lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Went to town later on and paid a visit to the internet café (60 roubles for 1 hour). We (me, B and J) then went out for dinner to a restaurant recommended to us by the other volunteers. The food was very nice, though it really is almost impossible to be a vegetarian here! I had chicken kiev, chips and salad. There was also live music - Two women with guitars, bells and a harmonica playing traditional Russian music. Quite an experience! :D

Got back quite late and went to the office to help prepare the craft for tomorrow. Found that R had prepared all the rabbits, so myself and J did some flowers as well.

Went to bed and slept really well – nice and warm!

Day six

 Decorating the hospital walls.

Didn’t want to get up today. Not feeling too well and as a couple of the volunteers have been sick I felt a bit worried. Skipped breakfast and made a decision on whether to go to the hospital or not. Really didn’t want to be ill there! Decided to go as I thought it might take my mind off it.

After all that I had a really good morning at the hospital. Love that the children call me by my name now. Made the flowers and rabbits we had prepared, went well and I stuck them up on the wall. Usually A does it but he had swapped placements with B today so wasn’t with us. We all missed him (volunteers and children), as he’s the best Russian speaker and great with the kids. I had to stick them high up as some of the children had been ripping the low down pictures off the wall when they got cross. So we now have flying rabbits and flowers! Went outside and played ‘pioneer ball’ – which is a variation of volley ball. I couldn’t follow the rules, but apparently we won! I had some competitive players on my team!

Felt better on way back to hotel, but after lunch I felt worse and went to bed for the afternoon. I was hoping to go on another placement to the children’s after-school club but slept for three hours instead!

 A street near the home-base.

Woke up about an hour before dinner feeling much better. Can’t remember what we had for supper but I ate some. Do remember that we had ice-cream for pudding! Yum.

We went to the office straight after dinner and designed the squirrels and snails for the hospital craft tomorrow. Sat in the craft room with the other volunteers for a while.

Back to our rooms, sat writing random thoughts in my journal.
- The grass here is brown, not green. Covered in dust - so much pollution.
- The kids at the hospital have nothing really except what we bring. How sad it is when we have to pack it all up and take it away when we leave. Some of them take stuff (scraps from the craft, a toy car, some jigsaw pieces) which is always punished, but they just want something to call their own.
- We’re doing something that no one else does. If we didn’t go into the hospital these children wouldn’t do crafts or go outside. They wouldn’t have hugs. It’s been very hard for CCS to get into these places and so we have to tread very carefully and stick to the rules. Sometimes that’s hard, but it’s better than not going at all.

I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day. Being here has made me appreciate what I have. How luck plays a huge part of your life. How fortunate or unfortunate we are to be born into the countries we are.
I wonder what will happen to these kids. What they will grow up to be. 

Day seven

Woke up very early. Wanted to make the most of my last full day here. Went out with J and B to get a coffee – first morning I’ve got up and gone out with them!

I took some pictures from my bedroom window; this is Yaroslavl at 6.30am!

Very cold walking through the streets at this time!

Back to the hotel and then off to the Children’s Hospital. We arrive to be told that it’s wash day! Hurray! Actually we could tell as there were sheets on the washing line for the first time that week! The downside is they won’t let us take the children out to play so we have to stay in the ‘school’ room with them the whole time. They’re about as happy as us with this arrangement.

The kids are queuing up to take their turn in the bath – the queues are long and I’m sure that the water isn’t emptied between each child. I feel sorry for the ones at the back. I also don’t get to see all the children to say goodbye. Lyuba isn’t around, but I see Shosha and Svetlana.

Here they are all clean(ish) from the bath. They had clean clothes on, but I noticed some of the children had been put back into their dirty clothes. Perhaps there aren’t enough clean ones to go round.

We make squirrels and snails to finish off our wall picture. It looks really good.

Some of the boys are really into the craft today and make several snails each! I played lots of card games and also did lots of colouring with various children. I spent a while with a little boy. I wrote my name (in Russian) on a piece of paper and he was watching – as I was decorating it he spelt out my name. I asked him his name and got him to write it on the reverse side and then we decorated it together. I noticed that he took it after we had finished and ran off somewhere with it. It was nice – one of those moments where I felt like I made a small but personal connection with one of the children.

Me with some of the girls.

It felt sad to leave. Sad because I won’t see these children again.


Friday lunchtime is spent in the CCS offices having pizza and a feedback session. This is followed by a session deciding on what activities to do the following week at each placement. All the volunteers and CCS staff members attend. There were 6 of us leaving this weekend which brings them down to 6 volunteers – that makes it a lot harder to visit all the places. Most days they are doing two visits a day. Wish I could stay and help! We have all filled in our evaluation forms and Nadia speaks to us all individually about the programme and our placements and experiences. As there are 6 of us this takes quite a while! I thank Nadia and tell her I’ve had a wonderful time. There is not one thing I would change about my time here. Nadia then reads out some interesting things that have been going on in local and world news, and discusses weekend plans (sometimes volunteers go off travelling) . Everyone is staying in Yaroslavl this weekend. 

Off to the craft room to come up with ideas for next week. Say goodbye to Nadia – I won’t see her tomorrow. Come up with lots of Easter and spring based ideas. Make a spring flower sample out of lolly-sticks!

 One of the many 'shops' where you ask for your goods through a window. 
We mostly bought bottled water! Notice the car parked nearby. So many cars we saw were very dirty, probably due to the dusty roads.. I was surprised anyone could see out.

Pop over to the supermarket (opposite hotel) to buy some snacks for P and A’s party tonight. They are having a going away/silly glasses party for the volunteers that are leaving. We all have to design and make our own pair of silly glasses or there's no entry! Luckily we have lots of spare pipe cleaners to work with!

Skip dinner at the hotel as P and A are ordering pizza (yes, more of it...!). Walk up to their room wearing my glasses, and Russian man standing by lift gives me a very strange look.  Have a very nice night with the other volunteers, plus 2 of the interpreters come. Pass on the vodka, but make a great discovery - choco-pies! Play some silly games and generally chat to the others. Exchange email address. Say goodbye to everyone at about 10.30 ish as I have to be ready to leave by 5.30am! I’ve booked a late return flight, but some of the others have much earlier flights which is why we have to leave the hotel at such an awful time!

One of the interpreters says some lovely things to me about how much I’ve accomplished in such a short time. Was very sweet of her. Feels very sad to leave people that I’ve only known for a week - feels like much longer!

Back to my room – didn’t have much left to pack but finish that off. In to bed for my last night in Yaroslavl and of course I can’t sleep! Finally drift off about midnight.

Last day - Home Again

The now familiar early morning view from my window.

Was up and ready to leave by 5.30am! Meet one of the interpreters downstairs. All pile into the van. Leave Yaroslavl as I arrived – in the dark! So tired I fall asleep after about 30 mins. When I wake up it’s 7ish and the world is much lighter. Stop for breakfast after about another hour. I have pancakes with honey. Lovely.

Back into the bus and I fall asleep again as do the other volunteers. Wake up on and off. The traffic going into Moscow is terrible. We have to drop J and B off at SVO and then me and V off at DME. The airports are about an hour away from each other.

We arrive at SVO with not much time to spare. J and B rush off. Me and V fall asleep again on the way to DME. Finally arrive about 1ish. Have to wait 4 hours until my flight. V’s flight isn’t until much later. Say a quick goodbye to our interpreter and then spend 20 mins trying to find the BA check in. Fail and decide on going to the toilets and having a sit down before trying again. Chat to V until it’s time for my check in. Finally locate BA and return to V to collect my rucksack and say goodbye.

Flight isn’t the best – but I survive. Spend 45 mins at Heathrow waiting for my baggage. Finally get it and get out! P and kids waiting for me. Good to see them.

Home again.

My Russian journey (part 2)

The Kotorosl river.

Day One – London to Moscow to Yaroslavl

My flight from Heathrow to Moscow was almost 4 hours. The flight wasn’t too bad I had checked in online which meant I had been able to chose a window seat. Brilliant blue sky the whole flight. Moscow was visible from 150 miles away – fantastic looking down over it as we descended. I had left London at 8.40am and arrived in Moscow at 3.35pm (local time). Where I was in Russia was 4 hours ahead of UK time but as Russia is so huge it varies from place to place. The clocks also went forward the night I arrived confusing my body clock even more! My boots had set off the alarms at Heathrow so I was a bit worried about trying to explain in Russian that I had steel toe-caps! Problem solved by removing boots before I was x-rayed!
After making it through the somewhat scary passport control I was met at Domodedovo (from now on know as DME!) airport by Olga one of the translators who works for Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) in Russia. CCS has about 7 members of staff from what I saw who are all Russians that live locally. Nadia runs the programme, Olga, Dasha and Julia are translators (though they also meet volunteers from the airport, give talks and Russian lessons as well as coming along to the placements with us), there was also another woman who I think helped with getting the volunteers to Russia and we had a couple of drivers.  
The two other girls from America who were also volunteering for a week were also at the airport having arrived earlier.

After a quick toilet break we started the long drive to Yaroslavl! I had already been warned that it was a 5 hour drive away however because of the traffic it took almost 8 hours. The traffic was very bad leaving Moscow, lots of people in Russia have summer houses they go to at the weekend and as it was freak warm weather (beautifully warm all week) instead of the usual snow expected at this time of year then people were going to them early. The roads leave us Brits with nothing to complain about, in fact a lot of what I experienced made me realise just how lucky we are in this country. Pollution is pretty bad in the parts of Russia I saw – cars would be so dirty it was impossible to read their number plates. In preparation for the upcoming week I decided to practice my Russian by trying to read every sign and advert we passed! My reading of Russian certainly improved during the week! In amongst all the dirt and new builds were the beautiful Russian churches and tiny wooden summer houses that became more and more frequent the further we got from Moscow.

Chatted to Olga and the other two volunteers. Olga told us a bit about herself and what she does for CCS. Stopped at a roadside café for our first Russian meal! It was about 9pm by now and I was very tired – chose to have mushroom soup (very nice) as it had ingredients I recognised and bottled water. We had been advised not to drink the water as it contains huge amounts of chlorine. Olga orders for us all in extremely fast Russian I listen to see if I can recognise a few words! The other 2 volunteers don’t know any Russian. 
Back into the van and drive in the dark (not many street lamps and very bumpy roads) for a couple more hours – begin to wonder what I’m doing here! We enter Yaroslavl – there are a lot of factories here and the smell of fumes lingers throughout my trip. Gradually the factories decrease and we enter the town and finally reach our hotel at midnight - Kotorosol where all CCS volunteers stay and where the offices are. CCS have two offices here – one is a room used for meetings, various talks and Russian lessons. The other is used as the office, and also the craft room where all the supplies/toys we take to our placements live.

There is a train station nearby and trams run past our windows all night. It was very noisy, but I soon got used to it. Myself and the other two volunteers are sharing rooms – I have my own room and the other 2 are sharing but our rooms connect and we share a bathroom.

Despite being exhausted I lay in bed my window open (the heating is never turned off and the rooms are very hot – the choice is to sweat to death or to be deafened by the trams/trains – most nights I choose the latter!) and spend an hour or so taking everything in before falling asleep.

Day Two – Yaroslavl

Woken at 8ish by alarm (I had set it so I wouldn’t miss breakfast). Woke up to a bright blue sky and the noise of the trams running just underneath my window. Very strange to finally be in Russia after the months of preparing.

View from my window.

Dressed and showered and went down to breakfast with the other two girls I had arrived with last night (J and B). We were the first ones into the dining room – thought we might meet the other volunteers there but it became apparent later that not all of the volunteers ever get up early enough to make it to breakfast...esp. at the weekend! 

Breakfast was...two fried eggs, a bread roll, yoghurt and coffee. Not the most appealing as I have trouble eating anything when I first get up anyway. Managed a bit of egg and bread and some coffee. 

We had been given a timetable the day before and we had scheduled for today an induction with Nadia (head of CCS in Russia) and a Russian lesson. As we had time before the meeting with Nadia we went out for a walk. Yaroslavl is an interesting mix of huge tower blocks and beautiful churches, the roads and pavements are not in good repair and everything is very dusty.

Back to the hotel to meet with Nadia for our orientation. She welcomed us to the programme and told us a bit about CCS in Russia, how it came to be and went over the rules and other things such as how to use the telephone and how to get laundry done! She also spoke about our placements (myself and J were to go to the hospital for kids and B to the shelter) and the orphanages. CCS also sends volunteers to work with the elderly, at after school clubs and at a boarding school. I’ll explain more about the differences in these places later.

At lunch (beetroot salad and sour cream, soup and sour cream, rice and ‘mystery meat’, fruit and tea which is always drunk black here! I have to get used to drinking it without milk or go without!) we finally get to meet the other volunteers except for M and R who had gone on a trip to St Petersburg. We’re all from the UK or the States and peoples time here ranges from a few weeks to a year. Everyone is very nice and friendly, most speak Russian from a little (like me) to a lot. It’s interesting to hear about the placements and what they think of Russia. Most are continuing to travel after they’ve finished here. One of the girls is going to Mongolia – a place on my top 5 list of countries to go to next! I want to go with her. She promises to email and tell me all about it as she’s going there with a different volunteer organisation.

After lunch we have a Russian lesson but as it’s very basic and I already know it so I’m allowed to have free time instead! :) Think about resting but instead go and chat to the other volunteers again who are in the craft room preparing for the next day. J and B finish and so we decide to go into town. Nadia takes us in her car and shows us the internet café. We all email home and I update my journal. It cost 60 roubles for 1 hour – that’s just over a pound. We go across the road to a café and attempt to order drinks – I learn that cappuccino is a universal word! The waitresses don’t speak English so all we have is my somewhat limited grasp of Russian to communicate. Manage least I have please and thank you sussed! Send silent praises of thank to my russian teacher back in the UK.

Back to the hotel for dinner – carrot salad (and yes...sour cream), chicken and potatoes, fruit salad and more black tea...enjoy talking to the other volunteers more than the food, but it’s ok. E tells me she was a vegetarian on first arriving but that it proved impossible so she had to start eating meat again.
Tomorrow we have our first day at the hospital. I’m going there with J, V and A. A is greatly loved by the kids as one of the few male volunteers. He already has a craft project planned for next week so we just need to familiarise ourselves with that. Get ready for bed, but too excited to sleep again. Lay in bed listening to the trams...

Day Three – the Hospital for Kids

Pancakes for breakfast! Yum. One of the things I noticed with all the volunteers is how much you appreciate things that you would normally take for granted when everything familiar is pancakes!
 I woke up early this morning, excited about finally getting to my placement. I want to explain first of all the differences between the orphanages, the shelter and the hospital for kids.

The Orphanage is self-explanatory – children who have no parents or whose parents are unable to look after them are placed here until they are adopted or reach 18. Foster care is very new to Russia, but is proving more successful than was first thought with mostly babies being fostered.

The Shelter is a kind of holding place for children whose parents are unable (hopefully temporarily) to look after them for one reason or another. There are many reasons but alcoholism is the biggest problem. I forget how long children can stay here for but it might be up to a year. Then a decision is made on whether the child will be returned to their parents or put into an orphanage. 

The Hospital for Kids is where I worked and therefore know the most about. It’s quite hard to describe – the word ‘hospital’ being very misleading!  It can have up to 50 children at a time who stay for a maximum of 3 months though the children can come out and be put in again (during my time there I met one boy of about 7 who was in the hospital for the 15th time)...the children at the hospital are a mix of orphans and children who have parents but for some reason or other have been brought to the hospital. The hospital is also where they put orphans who have run away from the orphanages as a punishment.

It’s the hardest placement for many reasons. The state of the hospital itself takes getting used to - it’s not very clean, in a poor state of repair and is quite smelly. The treatment of the children (aged 6-14ish) there is also hard to take in. It’s not always obvious why the kids are there, some were there for conditions like epilepsy or because they had learning difficulties...others were so heavily medicated it was impossible to know why they were there...others had nothing obvious wrong with them. The children do not go out except to a small yard and apart from that stay in to the hospital. They aren’t allowed any possessions of their own -  there were a handful of old toys at the hospital ( a couple of jigsaws, a few cars and some soft toys) which are shared between the children. They are bathed about once every 3/4 weeks and don’t often have clean clothes. In the week I was there the majority of the children wore the same clothes everyday even if they were soiled or dirty. A number of the children had their heads shaved because of lice.

My first day was a shock, I had an idea of what I was going to see but being really there in it was hard. I just took a deep breath and hugged all the kids that came up to me – they were all saying ‘privet’ (hi)and wanting cuddles. A (a volunteer who had been working at the hospital for a few weeks) had come up with a craft idea (making trees and owls to go in it – we would make a different animal each day with the kids), so we started with that. We also had a translator with us who explained to the children what we would be doing with them that day. We worked in one room with a few tables and chairs and had anything from 15-25 kids (some would lose interest and wander off while other would join in part way through).

A lot of the children seemed to understand that our Russian was pretty terrible and would purposely slow down for us or mime what they wanted. If all else failed we’d get the translator to help out! I was very grateful to my Russian teacher as I was able to ask the children their names, ages, how they were, etc. It made such a difference being able to talk with the kids if only a little.

After the craft activity we got out the games and puzzles and whatever else we might have packed. One little boy loved crocheting so we brought that for him to do everyday. All the boys loved ‘machinkas’ (toy cars) and there were lots of tears as we never had enough for everybody. I quickly learnt the word for share!
As it was so nice we took them outside to play – the space they have is mostly dirt  with a few trees...though the week after I’d been there they (the CCS volunteers) were planning on planting some flowers. There are some old climbing structures but really not that much to do. We had brought a bag of outdoor toys and there were lots of games going on...unstructured chaos! I played skipping with some of the children and also catch with two of the children who became my ‘regulars’...I played catch with them outside all week!

There were some children that I became attached to almost straight away and this continued through out the week. A beautiful girl with huge brown eyes who I secretly called Natalie (as she looked like Natalie Portman) for a while before she told me her name! A little boy of 9 who was very smiley and loved to play ball and two girls who I thought were boys until Thursday! It’s hard to tell as they mostly dress in boys’ clothes and have short hair – the names don’t mean much to me either! One of them was very quick and chatted away to us, singing – always happy. I guessed that she was one of the ones that kept running away from the orphanage. The other was a sweetheart who was heavily medicated, but I never found out what was wrong with her. Some things just weren’t told to us. She just liked to sit and be hugged and would stroke my hands and arms. They all liked having their hands held. The only affection that is given to them comes from the volunteers – none of the carers/nurses were very affectionate and we saw a child struck on more than one occasion. Very quickly I had to get used to the fact that I can’t change the system in Russia – there is prejudice against orphans and that isn’t going to change overnight.  All we as volunteers could do is show them that there are people who care and who will play with them and hug them.  Will it make a difference? Will they be able to take some of that into their adult lives? I don’t know. I hope so.

We returned to the hotel at 1ish – in time for lunch and to meet and chat with the other volunteers. Afterwards we had a Russian lesson – I knew most of it, but learnt a few new words/phrases to use with the children.

Entrance to the hospital.

We (me, J and B) then had a tour of the city with a Russian guide called Irina. We walked along the river(s) Volga and Kotorosl and saw some beautiful churches. Irina talked about the history of Yaroslavl and the buildings and monuments she took us to. Also chatted abit about Russian history in general – surprised myself by remembering quite a bit from GCSE history!

Yaroslavl is a strange mix of monasteries and tower blocks, war memorials and hockey stadiums, rivers, churches and orphanages.

Went for coffee and cake afterwards – I spoke in Russian to them and they spoke back in English – typical! Though their English was about the same standard as my Russian! So between us we created Ruslish and managed to communicate ok. ;)

Back to the hotel for dinner (there had been a special request for broccoli so we all had that along with chicken kievs!) – really enjoyed talking to the other Brit volunteers as we just laughed and found things funny that nobody else did! Talked about volunteering - it's an unheard of concept in Russia - most of the older people we spoke to thought that we were daft for spending money to come to Russia and then to work for free. Being here is certainly making me more grateful for what I have back in the UK.
Late to bed as busy in craft room preparing for tomorrow and then lying in bed thinking over the day...

My Russian journey (part 1)

These diary entries were originally posted on my livejournal 'RussianHope', during 2006/7. During this time I travelled to Yaroslavl, Russia to volunteer with Cross Cultural Solutions. Sadly they no longer offer Russia as one of their destinations, but I have wonderful memories of my time there.

I have reposted my writing here without most of the pictures (but with original spelling/grammatical errors!). I made that decision as some of the children I met will now be in their late teens/early twenties, and may not appreciate having their photos published on the internet.

These entries were made before I got to Russia, and so cover fund-raising, learning the language and the never ending paperwork...

5th August 2006

Welcome to my journal...which will hopefully be a record of how I (eventually!) get to Russia.

As some of you know working as a volunteer abroad has been something I've wanted to do for a long time...I was finding it harder and harder to sit back and wait...I wanted to do something now. So I started re-searching and I've found a way that I can...

Next summer I am hoping to work as a volunteer for a group called Cross-Cultural Solutions. I will be going on a one-week volunteer programme to Yaroslavl in Russia. I would love to go for longer, but for this time at least one week is all I can do.

I need to raise as close to £927 as possible to pay for my trip (which includes lodging, meals, travel medical insurance, ground transportation, in-country Perspectives Programming, language assistance, professional locally-based staff, informational documents, local phone calls, incoming international phone service). On top of that I'll need to pay for my flight. Any donations are welcome. If anyone reading this would like to help me by making a donation I would be extremely grateful.

So for the next few months I will be learning Russian and fund-raiser. I will let you know how I'm doing through this blog.

7th August 2006

Sponsored Walk!

In October the whole family are planning to cycle and/or walk along the canal from *** to *** in order to raise money for my trip to Russia. The walk is roughly 9.5miles.

The children are very excited about my trip and are being very helpful in raising money and coming up with fundraising ideas. My oldest is hoping to be a volunteer when she is older.

If you would like to sponsor us please write, email or phone!

Many thanks for your support!

28th August 2006

I have reached my first target of £150 - and have now enrolled with cross-cultural solutions! All things being well I will be heading to Russia at the end of March.

Thank you to everybody who has sponsored me so far. Also for all your encouraging words...the positive feedback has been amazing!

I'm also enrolled for my russian language course which starts on Oct 4th.

I still have a long way to go to raise the £927 needed so please think about sponsoring our walk in October (details in the post below) if you haven't already.

Thank you!

26th September 2006

Money raised is now up to £365 - thanks to everyone who has donated/sponsored us so far! :)

My shiny new passport arrived today complete with horrendous photo...

I have pages of paperwork to fill in before they'll let me anywhere near Russia which is exhausting...

9th October 2006

I started my Russian language course on Weds...good news is we're all as terrible as each other. There's about 12 in the group - though I think a few may drop out. As it's only a 10 week course it's pretty fast and furious. The teacher, Tatiana, is lovely though and very positive that we'll all master the basics (gulp)...

Also my totally amount has risen to nearly £600! So a huge thank you to everyone who has recently sent me a donation or sponsor.

22nd October 2006

Last Sunday we did our sponsored walk!

We walked along the canal from our home to the next town and back...just under 10 miles...we left home at 10.45am and returned at 5.45pm...we stopped for about an hour for a play in the park and lunch!

We had a lovely is a pretty walk with lots of wildlife and pretty cottages and houseboats to nose at! C was a star and loved every minute of it! E did about 5 miles and rode in the pushchair the rest of the time!

I have now raised £710 in sponsor money!

Thank you!

2nd December 2006

Thank you to everybody who has sponsored me - I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of friends and family...and also from those who I do not know. Several 'strangers' have sponsored me and the amount of money donated by one of these people was truly amazing!

My russian is also improving and I have decided to take the next course starting in January, complete with exam and (hopefully) qualification at the end.

До свидания!

10th March 2007

I haven't been great at keeping this updated, but as some of you know I haven't had internet access for a few this may not make the most sense! I'm very tired, but hopefully you'll muddle through it!

Two weeks to go and I'm still fighting my way through the paperwork. It is incredibly frustrating and time consuming having to explain to people (read receptionists at doctor's surgeries who you have to bribe to even let you see a doctor) over and over again where I'm going and why and what I need them to do...and then they do the whole thing wrong and we have to start from scratch. So after pointless tests and vaccinations which I don't agree with I'm still waiting on medical forms...

There's also the small matter of getting a russian visa as well...hopefully by this time Monday I will have one though!

With all the red tape to get through it's very easy to forget why I'm going...I've had several panic attacks during the past weeks about it all - the flight, how the children will cope, getting the forms all done in time...until I'm on the plane I don't think it will really sink in that I did it and I'm actually going.

I raided the early learning centre last week for lots of art and craft bits and pieces before remembering that I do have to fit some clothes into my luggage...whoops. Easy to get carried away there...

Still taking the russian lessons - very hard going. I can hardly understand english grammar so I really have no hope here, it's good fun though...mostly.

I was still receiving donations up to a few weeks ago and have made enough to cover my fees and plane fare. Thank you all so much. I also plan to offset my plane journey ( as this is one thing I feel very guilty about...if possible I wouldn't even fly (as some of you know!), but it can't be helped this time and offsetting is better than doing nothing...

I also have another volunteer job, nothing to do with russia but thought I'd mention it as it has been keeping me very busy. I was looking for something to do after I returned from Russia as I had the feeling that after it had all happened and I was home it would be easy to get down so I decided to apply for something completely different (no paperwork!)...

And that's about it for now - hopefully I'll be updating a few more times before I go and once in Russia I should be able to update as well!

спасибо за чтение!

Edit: A big thank you to Denise for her lovely hand knitted hats, mittens and gloves which I shall be taking to Russia for the children. :)

16th March 2007

Medical form has been signed by doctor! :)

Russian Visa has been given! :) Honestly I'm amazed anyone ever goes to Russia. After reading the various horror stories on the internet about the queues at the Russian consulate I got up at 6ish tuesday to make my way there asap. On arriving (about 45 mins before they opened) there was about 18 people in front of me. By the time they opened there was about 18 people behind me! I got in after 30 mins or so, not bad considering I'd heard that people had had to wait up to 3 hours. Once inside more queuing...however lots of ppl didn't have the right documents or cash (they'll only accept cash)...luckily I did. Then we're told to come back 6 hours later to collect our visas. It was a nice day so I spent most of it on a park bench reading with the odd visit to a cafe and/or toilets. Back to the consulate an hour early (I didn't want to queue for hours) and I was the second there. Talked to various ppl with various levels of sanity for an hour until they let us in. The lady spoke at me in very fast russian for a few minutes before realising I didn't understand anything (the only word I did pick up was please!), so she changed to english. I nodded in the right places and finally got my visa! Quite an experience.

So, hopefully that is the end of all the paperwork!

22nd/23rd March 2007

Quote I found on the internet.

"The first pitfall is the visa. Going to Russia is not as simple as going to England or Spain. In fact it’s only slightly less complicated than getting security clearance to visit a CIA weapons lab".

Sums it up! :)

The past few days have been very busy with packing and preparing!  Just a quick note to say goodbye and thank you :) ...I will hopefully be able to post from Russia to let you know what I'm up to!