Every Summer, 120 Belarusian children with special needs leave their orphanages to enjoy three weeks of fun at a holiday camp in an uncontaminated part of the Belarussian countryside. And volunteers from Britain fly out to join the children and make sure they have a wonderful holiday.
What kind of disabilities do the children have?
The children who live in Zhuravichi orphanage all have learning difficulties. Many have Downs Syndrome or autism, and some also have physical disabilities. The children from Rechitsa School have Cerebral Palsy or similar physical problems and some also have learning difficulties.
Why is the holiday so important to them?
They look forward to it all year! The children at Zhuravichi, in particular, live quite limited lives in the orphanage. All through the winter they look back on the happy memories of their last holiday, and then in the Spring they start looking forward to the next one. It gives them the opportunity to try all sorts of activities which they never get the chance to do at home; spend lots of time in the fresh air; and to make friends with all the volunteers.
How long is the holiday and when does it take place?
The children spend just over three weeks at the camp, but volunteers generally go for about 12 days. Check the website to see dates for the coming year.
Who can volunteer?
Anyone who is energetic, hard working and loves children. Many of those who volunteer are students, but older volunteers are also welcome, particularly anyone who has experience in working with children with disabilities – nurses, teachers, carers, physiotherapists.
How do volunteers and children communicate with each other?
We will give you a tape with some useful Russian words and phrases you can practice before you go to Belarus. There will be two interpreters at the camp to help, and some of the volunteers also speak some Russian. Many of the children do not speak and not all have good understanding of Russian, so you will be able to communicate with them through smiles, gestures and a friendly voice.
What is the role of a volunteer?
You will help the children to enjoy all kinds of activities, such as painting; mask-making; nature walks; collages; football; parachute games; circle games; music making; face-painting; discos; going on the swings… Some children and teenagers need help with toileting and we have a rota to help with this. Most days you will work 9am-9pm, with a couple of hours off after lunch.
Who will organise the activities?
It is very important that everyone works as a team at the camp. Those who have been before will be happy to advise and support new people, but it is up to everyone to come up with activities, share ideas, work really hard and give everything you’ve got to make sure the kids have their best holiday yet. This is why for the last couple of years we have rotated the role of ‘Co-ordinator’, so that everyone gets a chance to take the lead for a day and all the responsibility doesn’t fall on the same people all the time. The meeting which takes place each day after lunch is a chance for you to discuss what went well or what didn’t work, and to plan for the afternoon and the next morning. Everyone should be at these meetings, and whoever is being co-ordinator that day runs it, sorts out the rota and makes sure everything is running smoothly.
How much money will I need to raise?
We ask all volunteers to raise £450 to cover the cost of their flight, other transport costs and their accommodation at the Holiday Camp. If you can raise any extra, or add gift aid to this, it will sponsor the holiday for a young disabled person living in an institution in Belarus, whose holiday is not funded by the state once they reach 18.
Will I get any training before the trip to Belarus?
We will have a get together in May or June where you will be able to learn a lot more about the children, hear about the experiences of those who have been before, ask lots of questions and start to learn a little Russian. It is essential that all volunteers attend one of these briefing days.
Will I need innoculations?
As soon as you have been accepted as a volunteer you should visit your GP to ask what s/he recommends (if they’ve never heard of Belarus, it’s a country between Russia and Poland, and the area where you will be staying contains a river and some woods, although you won’t have to walk in very long grass). It is a good idea to make sure you are up-to-date with your tetanus and polio, and perhaps have hepatitis vaccinations. Your doctor may suggest others.
How do I apply and when will I know if I have been accepted?
You can ask us to post or email you an application form, or see the previous page ‘Volunteer in Belarus‘ to download from the website. The deadline for receiving applications is Friday 15th March 2013. We will let all volunteers know if they have been successful or not by the end of March (subject to clearance by the Criminal Records Bureau). If you apply after this there may still be spaces for people with relevant experience. We plan to take an earlier group in May/June and two groups of 8 volunteers in July/August 2013. Please see provisional dates on Application Form. Training weekend will be in May, date to be confirmed.
Many of the volunteers who have taken part in recent years say it was one of the best experiences of their lives. And several have changed career direction as a result. It is hard work, but it’s also a very rewarding experience for the volunteers and a totally magical time for the children.