Before reading this post, scroll down to read Week 1 update Part 1.
The CCS program
Cross-Cultural Solutions Russia has been operating for 8 years in Yaroslavl. Our director is Nadia, who announced on Friday much to everyone’s surprise that she will be leaving at the end of October to move to Atlanta with her fiancée. We have 3 Russian translators, Olga, Katya and Asya, who come with us to our different volunteer placements and 2 drivers, Vladimir and Nikolai who take us to our placements and cultural activities.
We wake up on weekdays to shower and eat breakfast by 9:30. At 9:30 we leave for our first volunteer placements, and we are typically there for 2 hours. We come back for lunch at the hotel at 1, and go out to our second placements at either 2:45 or 3:45. We come back and unpack our bags for dinner, also in the hotel, at 7. The schedule changes for our Russian lessons twice a week, Monday’s cultural lecture and Wednesday’s cultural excursion. Last Wednesday we went to Rostov, another city in the Golden Ring that is famous for its enamel artwork. On Monday we’ll get to hear a lecture about Russian fairy tales. Weekends and nights are free for us to travel and go out into the city, respectively.
Volunteer stays in Yaroslavl can range from 3 weeks to 11. There were 3 volunteers who were here when Jaime, the two other new volunteers and I got here last Sunday. The 2 Australian sisters in their mid-twenties, Mish and Vera, had been traveling around Europe for 6 months. They left on Friday for home, but Jaime and I plan to see them when we head to Australia in January. The other old volunteer is Meg from Seattle. She is doing a study-abroad program here through her small college and will be with CCS for 11 weeks, leaving the same day as Jaime and me.
Liz from Kentucky and Christine the schoolteacher grandmother from the UK, both started the same day as Jaime and I. Liz will be here for 6 weeks, and Christine will be leaving this weekend at the end of her second week.
The people I volunteer with
CCS tries to make an effort to keep you at the same volunteer placements so that you can form a bond with the people you work with. They partner with somewhere around 13 organizations so it takes some effort to make that happen. This past week I went to the Hospital for Kids four times and Boarding School #1 once. Last week there was no working with the elderly because of a holiday, so with those placements back in play and the sisters gone, we’ll be spreading out a little bit more.
This week I will go to the Hospital for Kids four times, and once each to Boarding School #1, Leninski Elderly, Frunzenski City Camp and the botanical garden. At each placement save the garden, we bring art projects (always “crafts” here) that we pre-prepare and have made examples of for the kids and elderly to make. Russia is unique in that the psychologists and doctors here believe that focused, task-oriented playing is better for the kids, so there is less mindless playing and more jobs to be done. This past week the crafts we made included a braided bracelet out of lanyard wire, a button bracelet, ironed pegboard bead designs and animals out of lanyard string and beads.
The Hospital for Kids is really not a hospital at all. The children who live there range from the abused, like one boy who had to be taken out of his home because his abusive parents poured gasoline on his arm and burned the skin off of it, to the petty thiefs, like another boy who stole 1500 rubles off a woman (around $60) and used it to buy food.
The kids there are all really fun to play with. When we get there and the kids see us, one little boy named Sasha shouts “Americanse!” The kid who stole the money from the old woman spent a half hour crying in a corner earlier this week because somebody stole his balloon, and continued crying after it was returned to him.
One of my favorite kids is an older boy also named Sasha, who I call “No Smoking Sasha,” because “no smoking” was the only thing in English he knew how to say besides “my name is,” “hello” and “what is your name?.” Now No Smoking Sasha and I spend some time when I go to the Hospital teaching each other English and Russian. I’ll point to something and say the word for it in English telling him “pa Angleeski” (In English) first. And then I’ll ask him “pa Russki” and he’ll tell me and we’ll correct each other’s pronunciations.
All in all it’s been a great first week. We got to go to a hockey game one night between the Yaroslavl Locomotive and a team from Moscow. Yaroslavl won 5-2. Last night we were kicked out of the hotel because of a wedding, so we went to a Soviet-themed restaurant. Jaime and I are getting along great. We are able to go from being cordial roommates to best friends pretty seamlessly. It was a little sad to miss Rosh Hashanah, but I plan on fasting for Yom Kippur. Shanah Tovah. I’m still at the stage of learning Russian where it’s still exciting to go out into the city and attempt to sound out and read everything I see. I only understand the words that sound like English and the few Russian words and phrases we’ve been taught, but it’s still fun.
Well now, I’m off to lunch! Goodbye.