We’re in a rhythm now – routines have been set, we know what rooms to go to and which keys unlock which doors. We’re still welcomed as guests each day, but it feels more like we’re walking into our own kids’ school and dormitory…which we are.
Today started like the others: quick breakfast at the hotel, arriving at the orphanage in time to teach our first class of the day. After two classes, we gather in an empty classroom where we find Russian black tea, cookies, pastries and milk from Galina’s cow (who must be very tired by now!). Two more classes bring us to lunch, where we dine with Galina and our interpreters and chat about the morning’s activities and Russian culture.
For the last three days, a small group of our team has broken off from the group to take the upcoming graduates out to lunch. On Tuesday, our three female team members (Patti, Christi and Laura) took the six graduating girls out for lunch, while the boys were broken into two groups of six each on Wednesday (escorted by BJ and Tom) and Thursday (led by Doug and Tony). These lunches were quickly the talk of the orphanage as the kids were asking Galina when they got to go out to lunch with their American friends. Galina is a master motivator and educator and she used the teachable moment to talk to the kids about the benefits of growing up, maturing and doing well in school.
The purpose of the lunch is multilayered. At one level, the lunch was about recognizing the upcoming grads as leaders of the school and examples to the underclassmen. The lunchtime talk was full of discussions about making good life decisions, transition from the orphanage to tech school and the need for these kids to begin to prepare themselves for their eventual departure from their orphanage home. We talked about the realities of smoking and drinking and the long-term ramifications of the decisions they are making today. And yes, there was the typical teen conversation around things like boyfriends and girlfriends, ice cream (multiple servings I am told!) and questions about life in America.
The lunches served a very practical purpose as well. For many of these kids, they don’t get the chance to go out on their own at all outside of school field trips. The practical considerations of things like handling a knife (of which there are none in the orphanage) were discussed and guidance provided. Imagine never having handled a knife in your 15 years of life?!?!? The deepness of helping a teen learn a valuable (yet rudimentary) life skill is just another awesome and humbling blessing bestowed upon us on this trip.
I’ll let those who attended the lunches share more details as appropriate, but all agreed that the vision and outcomes of the lunches were achieved and I expect this tradition will continue on future trips.
After lunch, we all (the travelers and a select group of students from all grades) boarded the school’s bus and headed over to a local music school named after Tchaikovsky. As a matter of fact, we were told that the small museum in the school was the only museum in the world dedicated to Tchaikovsky. It appeared to be a special play where the children of Slobodskoy are trained as classical musicians in instruments, vocals and dance. The children were adorable and very talented.
On the heels of the lunches with the graduates, I was particular struck by the similarities between these talented kids at the music school and our children in the orphanage – the kids looked the same, acted the same and we know that some of our children (like Katya and Masha) could be as talented with the right training and attention.
And yet our kids were dealt a terrible opening hand in life – and will face the consequence of that unfortunate reality for the rest of their lives. The kids at this music school will likely go on to University to study music, a gift they will enjoy the rest of their lives. Our kids will be lucky to find a job based on their limited education and lack of familial support. Such a sad truth facing these kids – and yet such an opportunity for us to make an important difference in the lives of the community and individuals.
What a stunning contrast we witnessed today – watching a group of highly talented kids share their unique musical talents…right after a group of grown men tried to teach 15-year-old boys how to hold a knife. Yet there’s one similarity that can’t be ignored: both groups of kids are unique children of God, beloved and cherished. And no unfortunate life circumstance can take that away from these kids…or from us. Thanks be to God!!