Ten Russian volunteers’ stories
As the year of the volunteer comes to an end, the Agency of Social Information (ASI) has produced a compilation of news about the selfless acts performed by ordinary citizens during 2018.
A story that began with a photo
Galina Kovaleva from Rostov-on-Don found out that people in Moldova were taking pictures of children in orphanages and thought this would be a good thing to do in her own town. She started by visiting a Rostov orphanage and taking photos of the children before meeting local volunteers.
“I remember one woman who fell in love with a child whose photo I’d taken and posted on the Territoriya bez Sirot website. She ended up taking both him and his brother home with her. Hers is an excellent family with the mother playing an active role in the children’s upbringing. She is also being supported by a trained psychologist who is on hand to offer advice if necessary. I’m so pleased that I’ve been able to give a happy start to the lives of these two children”, said Galina.
Graffiti on hospital walls
Volunteers based in Chelyabinsk have painted the walls of a children’s hospital which is part of a charity project driven by local residents. Cartoon heroes were depicted by local graffiti artists, Timur Abdullayev and Yevgeny Guglich. “Sketches of the drawings were suggested by Timur who went off one day to do the work. We decided to get involved because it was such a worthwhile project”, Yevgeny told the ASI.
Using sign language to communicate
Volunteers ought to be able to establish a dialogue with a variety of people. To this end, volunteers in Yaroslavl are being taught sign language organised by the Medved volunteer centre. Twelve people have enrolled on the initial sign language course which will comprise eight sessions in all. Classes will be held once a week, each lasting for an hour and a half.
The Medved centre is also actively involved in training volunteers, enabling them to work with disabled people. Sign language courses are an important part of this training.
Through the eyes of the abandoned
The plight of abandoned animals is one of the main areas of activities that involve volunteers who try their upmost to raise public awareness of the problem of homeless pets.
As a result, volunteers based in Kaliningrad have produced a short social film about stray dogs which is the brainchild of Maria Rumyantseva and Anastasia Fedorova. The hero of this three-minute video “Through the eyes of the abandoned” is a dog who’s been thrown out by its owner. There are plans to show the film on regional television channels and the Internet. Local animal rights activists from the Right to Live NGO helped volunteers in the making of the video.
“Some female volunteers came to us offering their help in producing a social video. We had the idea of making it a very personal story so we attached a miniature camera to a dog set to record. We found the animal called Hasya who had helped us in shooting the film on a beach in the resort town of Zelenogradsk. As a result, the dog now has new owners and has settled into his new home”, said Ekaterina Ublinskaya, Deputy Chair of Right to Live.
Schoolchildren in Perm have been sewing waistcoats with the words “I’m looking for a home” to be worn by stray dogs. Brightly-coloured clothing often attracts the attention of passers-by and could be used to find new owners for homeless dogs lodging in kennels.
The “bow-wow” project has been launched by pupils from Gymnasium School No. 31 with support from the help for homeless animals’ group, “Home”. The volunteers are hoping that the words “I’m looking for a home” sewn in large letters into the dogs’ waistcoats when they’re taken out for a walk will encourage passers-by to give them a new home.
Orders for waistcoats are being taken and distributed free of charge. So far, 30 requests have been received: 20 waistcoats have been stitched, with six of them given to those looking after dogs in kennels.
Giving books a new life
There’s a lot going on in the world of culture at the moment. For example, volunteers working in Tambov are creating a free public library.
The New Life initiative launched by volunteers from the Olde-worlde urban group began on 1 November and will continue until the end of the year. As the project leader, Fedor Firsov, explained to ASI, the plan is to establish the library within two months which anyone will be able to visit. There’s just one condition – all books must be returned.
“The aim of the initiative is to collect old books that are often thrown away. People get rid of them, hide them away in a damp attic or worse still, burn them! Instead, we want people to contact us so that we can collect any unwanted material. The books will then be restored and catalogued so they can have a new life on the bookshelves of a publicly accessible facility”, said Firsov.
VKontakte reaching out to people
Egor Gashkov, a 26-year old from Moscow, is trying to preserve the Kuban dialect. To this end, he has set up a group within VKontakte dedicated to balachka, a dialect of the inhabitants of Kuban. Most of those living in present-day Krasnodar don’t speak it, despite attempts to promote the dialect in schools. Nevertheless, more than 3,000 people have already signed up to the group. In addition to publications on the history of the Cossacks and Kuban, the group also collects films and audio recordings of songs and conversations in the Cossack dialect.
Anton Uvarov, a third-year student at Samara Energy College and captain of the volunteers’ World Cup 2018 team with the help of a friend came up with the idea of a Samara Music Guide project.
It talks about various important city landmarks in rap music style. Anton and his accomplice wrote the lyrics to songs about Kuybyshev Square, the largest of its kind in Europe; the Samara Area stadium which hosted World Cup matches last summer; Leningrad Street and the Volga Embankment. After that, the guys recorded a video of each song in which they performed the rap themselves.
“I think of volunteering not so much in terms of helping people in your free time, but as something which is good for the soul. You’re not just existing in this world, you’re doing something that’s incredibly worthwhile”, says Anton.
Let there be no wasteland
Volunteers working in Petrozavodsk have shown how to create a common area at no great expense.
The experiment took place on 6 October on Frunze Street. Volunteers and local residents joined forces to clean up part of Train Station Square. During the course of one day, a team of 35 people collected litter, swept up broken glass, pieces of asphalt and twigs, broke up blocks of bricks, painted concrete blocks and installed public seating. Three playground benches were made out of pallets and a spruce tree was planted.
“There are special State programmes for improving urban areas. Competitions are held and funds allocated. This is all well and good but no more than three renovation plans for urban areas can be supported in any one year, which means that people may have to live for years looking out onto a horrible wasteland. We believe that with a little bit of imagination, the input of modest resources and mutual help, people can transform their environment and make it a positive place for everyone to enjoy”, said Elena Manyukova, a volunteer with the regional NGO In the City, speaking to the ASI.
Sometimes, volunteering finds its way again into the business of life. So, having experienced two years of independent separate waste collections, a St Petersburg resident introduced eco-taxis for transporting recyclable material. This young man had become fed up with the sheer volume of rubbish lying around everywhere instead of it being recycled.
Mountains of rubbish littered the site of abandoned garages in Sosnovka Park. Here the young man, initially on his own but later with the help of neighbours, began collecting bottles and plastic, arranged neighbourhood clean-up activities, as well as taking all the collected waste to recycling points. To begin with, the volunteer did all this in his spare time but such was the demand that he decided to quit his main job. Today, eco-taxis accept assorted and clean glass, aluminium, waste paper, plastic and used batteries.
“I believe people will become increasingly responsible in their behaviour and that these rubbish dumps will stop growing. I want this eco-taxi project to grow. As well as environmentally aware residents, I am working with like-minded café owners, business centre, company and club employees. I am prepared to run workshops on the most appropriate organisation of waste collection. Of course, what I’d really like is a truck as you’re restricted in the amount you can take away in a car”, he said.