Echoes of Russia

In the space available discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.

Towards the end of my trip to Russia this past summer I volunteered for over one hundred hours at a summer camp for partially deaf and partially sighted, most of whom are also mentally imbalanced. Though I have volunteered with disabled children back home, this new experience with so many children, so much poverty, so much need not only tested my Russian, it endowed me with unparalleled knowledge. From each day I enriched more than my vocabulary; I gathered the only wealth that can truly be defined as human an acceptance of the ineffable interdependence between hope, hardship, joy, pain, and survival and harbored it in my heart as more than just memories.The children’s willingness to share, to welcome so honestly, the courage with which they prepare to face a world that may not be ready to welcome them as equals, and the power of their faith in human goodness, made the weeks I coordinated their activities campfire performances, games, competitions and spent time with them emotionally engaging and memorable. Aside from eating with them, playing their games, participating in their classes, and answering their questions about life outside of Russia’s boarder, I endeavored to plan activities on my own, which included a farewell campfire and an excursion into the woods. I was the Cuban-Russian sister who had spent most of her live immigrating, the mentor from abroad, and I am grateful for the role they allowed me to play in their summer.At some point, I also realized that the camp, which provides multiple activities ranging from drawing to music classes to meetings with a psychologist, is truly an island amid a Russian reality that offers little hope for the future and presently encompasses one million orphan children and almost three million homeless ones, a reality in which the population’s death rate in recent years has almost doubled the birth rate. And yet, these poor, and at times orphaned, children are not defined by their illnesses and remain unhindered by their speech impediments or thick glasses; instead, they learn daily the value of diversity and the power of communal optimism. To feel the juxtaposition between the world within and the world without the year-round institution (school and camp) struck me with the universal need for hope and the urgency of help. Renewed by their enthusiasm, their acceptance that the bad must come with the good, humbled by their dignity, and awed by their warmth, I returned home full of admiration and satiated with a simple, quiet joy. Further, decided to not just leave this time behind in the labyrinths of my mind under the reference name “summer experiences and the like,” I have begun corresponding with the older girls I met there. Likewise, in an attempt to offer concrete support and help, I have written an article for Broward County’s leading newspaper, “The Sun-Sentinel,” about my experience at the camp and approached several organizations about becoming possible sponsors for the program.

Leave a Comment