The emotional final day with the orphans had arrived. We all knew this day would come but we knew we were not prepared for what was to occur today. With an early afternoon bus to Kirov, our time with the kids and staff was limited. After a quick breakfast, we had a final chance for family time with the kids. The kids were engaged but you could sense some of the tiredness from the previous day and the anxiety about the pending departure.
We were then ushered into the gym for a special presentation. First, we were treated to a slide show of “Life at Slobodskoy” prepared by the staff. The PowerPoint showed pictures of the kids and their activities throughout the year. It was so neat to see their day-to-day lives outside of our visit. We were presented with a copy of the presentation so that we could show others what life is like in this small Russian school.
We then presented our slide show for the kids and staff. Robert did an incredible job in producing the slide show from pictures that we had taken over the course of our trip. As of right now, we have over 2,000 pictures from our collective cameras and Robert had spent the week culling through those, finding the right number to fit our 30 minute show. We even included a few pictures of our home, our church and those folks from Chapel Hill who had hoped to make the trip but could not this year.
The kids loved seeing the pictures, especially those with their faces on them. Lots of laughter and applause – and many chants of “NORMA” when she appeared on the screen! Overall, the show was a huge success and a tangible reminder of our time with our friends. We will be providing a copy of the slide show for them to have as a keepsake from our visit.
Galena then gathered us in a classroom for a “press conference” – some final words of thanks from her and her staff. Katya, one of the cutest and most talented kids you will ever meet, welcomed us to the meeting with a final Russian folk song. She has a beautiful voice, an endearing smile and the spirit of an angel. The videos of Katya’s singing will soon find their way to YouTube. The press conference was thoughtful and appreciated. Galena offered words of genuine appreciation and presented us with gifts, including a copy of the front page article from the local paper with pictures of our visit (we were also interviewed for local TV and we hope to post that on You Tube at some point). When the press conference was over, we headed to the final lunch, all the kids gathered in the hallway to greet us as we entered the cafeteria.
The bus was waiting, so immediately after lunch, we packed up and prepared for leave. As we exited the building, the sight was beyond words. Lining the sidewalk from the orphanage to our bus was every single child from the orphanage. Each child was prepared for one final hug, waiting anxiously, many with tears in their eyes and gifts in their hands. It was gut wrenching. It was difficult to keep one’s emotions in check. Tears were openly flowing as we boarded the bus.
As we pulled out, the kids stayed on both sides of the bus – some waving, some crying. These kids know that we have promised to come back and visit. Unfortunately, the bonds of trust have long been severed for these orphans and for many of them, they won’t believe we are coming back until we pull onto the property again. Wiping away our tears, we turned back one final time to see the entire group waving in the distance as we turned the corner to begin the final leg of our journey back home. There is no doubt that we will return to Slobodskoy for we have no choice…we left a part of our hearts and our lives in a small orphanage in this provincial Russian village.