After several months of preparation, that involved the collection and loading of many tonnes of aid, four vehicles left our base at Thorpe Willoughby Selby on Friday March 23rd.
The team of eight included two members of the staff of Ikea, Roger Spalding from Ikea Peterborough and Antony Hesletine from Ikea/BLG Doncaster. We have worked for several years with Ikea in taking their surplus goods to Belarus as aid and Roger and Antony had been chosen to join the convoy team to view the use of the Ikea products in that country.
Michael Hunt from Blackburn, a LGV driver and regular on loading days was making his first convoy. The remaining members of the team were experienced with many previous journeys already completed.
Our first destination on leaving day was to the local Monk Fryston Primary School. We were given a tremendous send off by almost 200 children, each class presenting the team with presents for the pupils of Grabovka school, in the Gomel region, where one of the vehicles would be discharging its load. Then it was on to the huge Ikea distribution depot at Doncaster for photos and a farewell from the staff there before the journey to the Hull docks.
Crossing Holland and Germany and into Poland for our first nights stop was achieved on Saturday without any problems other than the fatigue that was a common factor among the team. Sunday was the big challenge as we crossed Poland, now with even more motorway driving and after a meal just short of the far border we set off for the crossing at Kukeriki Poland and Kozlevichi into Belarus.
The queue of heavy trucks waiting to get into the Polish customs was almost 15 kms. We stopped counting the trucks at 275. Fresh goods vehicles and Humanitarian deliveries can take the outside lane to overtake the queue however this lane was blocked some 500 yards from the customs point and we made entry into the compound just after 9pm to start the procedure.
Clearance in the Polish customs achieved we asked the official on the lorry park if we could leave but were told that we would have to wait among the hundreds of vehicles for two hours so it was heads down sat in the cab seats wrapped in blankets until they woke us at 4am and we joined the rush to the gate, through a series of check points on leaving Polish territory and across the bridge to enter the land of Belarus.
Similar procedures made slow progress but eventually we were in the main customs building and starting the procedure of gaining entry in Belarus. The customs hall, newly opened a couple of years ago resembles a post office but with many windows each side of the huge hall On the right as you enter are the windows for vehicle and goods registration and the agents who process your paperwork. On the left hand side are the bank windows, insurance, sanitation and the many customs windows. In the centre and suspended from the ceiling are screens that display vehicle numbers with times when the customs will expect you. The window number will appear and only then do you go to that window and usually four hours later than the original time displayed. To complete the picture are the several hundred drivers milling about waiting to have their paperwork processed.
No interpreter was on duty so it was all to be done in Russian and after some uncertainty window 25 provided some help and gave us preference over the queue however they disagreed with three of the codes used on our paperwork and sent it back to the agents who had prepared it. More delay!
Eventually and late in the afternoon we made progress with the customs sending two vehicles to the Xray and then the inspection dock. The other two vehicles continued with the process, were given clearance at about 6.30pm and made it out of the gate and into BY stopping for fuel, a shower and a meal before leaving at 8.30pm on route for Gomel. We drove until 2am slept while 6am and made it to Gomel at around 10am to be met by Natasha and our office team in Gomel.
After booking in the hotel we travelled to Zholbln, cleared local customs and unloaded at the Rogachev family association for disabled children before returning late to Gomel. We visited Rodni Kut, the project’s home for four seriously disabled children and having viewed the new extension spent a happy time with the children.
Back to the two vehicles on the dock: When the customs shift changed around 8pm they had been there for four hours. The new customs man broke the seal on each vehicle, opened the door closed it and fitted a new seal!! After four hours! Back to the windows in the main hall they were then told that there was a problem with the paperwork and that clearance would not be achieved until 9am the flowing morning. Bob Beech, from Stockton on Tees had hosted children from nearby Brest at his home so he rang the family who instantly agreed to collect them from the customs gate and, leaving Paul to stay with the vehicles, David, Roger and Bob spent a very pleasant night with the family.
It appeared that the customs had an issue with another Chernobyl Charity and confused CCP UK with that charity and that caused the delay. The vehicles were eventually cleared to leave around mid day and reached Gomel at 9.30pm to meet up with the others, a fast shower and out for a meal, a beer and vodka. The quantity of each is irrelevant – it was just good to be together and clear of all that chaos.
On Wednesday with Natasha, our Gomel director and Ira our interpreter, we visited the head of Gomel region Social Protection, Mr Savitsky, in his office. It is to one of his establishments that a vehicle is to unload. He was very friendly and greeted the Ikea team with lots of thanks and reports on where and how the Ikea products had been used. The meeting was over by 10am and we then travelled to Terukha Boarding home for the mentally handicapped adults where a building had been accepted by the customs to store the 12 tonnes of aid prior to distribution to many establishments. Parking the trailer some 30 mtrs from the store the helpers formed a chain, passing boxes from one to another and unloading was completed within 2 hours.
Lunch and a visit around this very well equipped centre now totally refurbished and very smart we travelled to unload 8 tonnes from a third vehicle into the SCT warehouse. A total of 20 tonnes in the day and a late finish – no pallets – all ‘handball -’ so a great team effort aided by some very helpful Belarusians.
On Thursday we had the final trailer to unload. We travelled to Grabovka School where the curtain sider trailer with a load of 16 tonnes had to park some 100 mtrs from the store and all aid had to be taken across a field well soak with recent rain. We had experience of this place from last March and had insisted on some mechanical help as well as more numbers and we got two tractor and trailers.
We could not even guess the make or age but they did the job and made it through the mud on numerous journeys laden with the aid.
We visited the school and saw plenty of the previously delivered aid, including Ikea products, presented the pupils with the gifts from each class at the Monk Fryston School and received gifts to return to them.
This aid was received by the Gomel Education department who had received similar in March 2011 and stated that 10 new village kindergartens had been equipped as a result of that delivery. We had asked as part of the convoy plan to view some of these establishments particularly to show our Ikea colleagues where and how their companies support to CCP was being used.
So on Friday we set off in two minibuses with our SCT team and the regional Director of the Education Dept to make these visits. I have to say that we did not expect to visit them all but that is what happened so a day that started at 9am finished at 10pm! The visits were excellent as we saw newly started kindergartens that had plenty of equipment, others that obviously needed aid and a new initiative where a school teacher is paid by the government to start a village kindergarten in her own house.
We understand that our aid will enable this initiative to be extended as it has low start up costs and provides villages with a local, much needed, facility.
Somehow the communication late in the day became confused as we travelled back into Gomel to make a short but very good visit to the Mayflower centre before travelling back out to the Davorovichi centre that takes up to 100 children for a period of intense activity of physical and personal development similar to our ‘outwood bound’ schemes. The children had been waiting to give us a show of singing and dancing. We toured this excellent centre, opened with CCP aid support, and saw that the major items of furniture were Ikea products delivered on the March 2011 convoy, then sat down to a sumptuous meal, vodka and introductions/speeches. It was a really good ending to a very long but good and informative day.
For the record we had visited on this day:
Zhyvitsa rehabilitation centre.
Klimovka family home and the next door Kindergarten.
Kravtsovka home and kindergarten
Brilevo home for disabled children
Another kindergarten with swimming pool ( not in use)
Krasnoe Kindergarten with ‘ex Soviet’ equipment
The Mayflower Centre
The Davorovichi Centre.
Saturday was a rest and relaxation day for private visits, shopping and sightseeing. On Sunday morning our SCT colleagues were at the hotel at 7am to take us to the vehicles and the journey home started at just after 8am. Crossing Belarus, Poland, Germany and Holland to make the Tuesday night Ferry from Rotterdam to Hull. Home safe Wednesday 4th April. Job Done! Mike Allison. April 2012