The field trips were quite successful – both the planetarium and puppet show were big hits. The bus trip to Kirov took about an hour with five buses mixed with Americans and Russian kids. Kirov is a town of 500,000, about ten times the size of Slobodskoy (about 40,000 residents – a small provincial town). The theater was new and absolutely beautiful, something on par with what you would find in a similar-sized American city. The older kids went to planetarium and learned a lot about the phases of the moon and constellations.
Next came more family time. During this period, a group of new American friends would rotate from room to room to interact with small groups of children. The sessions were free from and wide open: some groups would just want to ask questions about American life, some groups would want to answer questions about Russian life and many kids just wanted to sit on our laps, play with our cameras and look at our pictures.
These interactions helped us send some important messages to these kids. We let them know how much they were loved. We were able to express how beautiful the kids were, both on the outside and on the inside. We had the opportunity to talk with them about their dreams and desires. You could see and feel the barriers breaking down, especially as the week wore on. We got more comfortable with them and their tough veneers (especially with the older boys) began to wear off. This time was so special for us and for the kids. When asked about their favorite part of the week, many children mentioned family time – just interacting with us in a very personal and intimate way.
Next came our big event of the day – a competition between mixed teams of Americans and Russians. We playfully called the event the “Galympics” named after Galena, the fantastic director of the orphanage. She absolutely LOVED the name of the event and has committed to future Galympics in every subsequent visit.
The decathlon included a variety of events, ranging from all kids of relays to individual feats of strength and dexterity…in other words, generally having fun and making some of us look silly. The teams included Russian adults teamed with American children against American children and Russian adults. The best part of the event was the cheering and enthusiasm of the fans. Everyone has a great time and after a monumental struggle, the event ended in a tie J We are very proud to be bringing home a series of gold medals from the first inaugural Galympics. We have committed to improving our training so that we can arrive in better shape for next year’s event!
The dinner time came with an emotional time with the kids. As a gift to our new friends, we presented each kid with a gift bag that included:
- Handmade fleece scarf which were created by community volunteers on MLK day
- Toothbrush and toothpaste donated by Lenise Clifton
- Beanie baby donated through a collection drive at the church
- Penlight key ring inscribed with “From your friends at Christ Church”
In addition to these gifts (as well as the socks from the sock hop and the crafts made by the kids), each child received a letter from their sponsor or a new friend in American. All week, our translators had been spending their evenings translating the 130+ letters that we carried with us from home – along with some that we wrote while with the kids this week. These letters are sure to be the highlight of the week for the children, cherished a prized possession in a world of so little material objects.
You could tell how delighted each kid was based on the smiles on their faces. After receiving their gift, the kids came through what amounted to a reception line of Americans and translators so that they could say “spaseeba” and give us a hug. Needless to say, the short hugs quickly turned into longer hugs, tear-filled eyes and long goodbyes. Some of these kids are graduating and we may never see them again. I won’t even try to describe the emotions we were feeling. Yet none of us will forget the moment. Just days ago, we arrived as strangers walking into the lives of some special needs children in Russia. Days later, we were leaving as dear friends and new family – something desperately needed by everyone in the room.
On the heels of such an emotional evening, we gathered back at the hotel for some final reflections and a time of celebration. Not only did our group of travelers gather, but our new interpreter friends joined in the fun. These eleven individual were each special in their own way, providing skills and perspective that added to our experience. We even helped them create a list of American colloquialisms to help them in future in conversations. So when these phrases catch on, we will feel responsible for the universal Russian use of “Oopsy Daisy,” “Bring it on” and “Show me the money” to name a few.
After a week of being side by side with our interpreters, we had built another new friendship that would last a lifetime. We enjoyed some snacks and beverages together, played a little Russian pocket billiards and engaged in some spirited (and often deep) conversation. It was a perfect ending to an extraordinary day.