Saturday, August 11, 2007


Here is a post I wrote on Thursday. The delay is explained in the entry above.

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday as promised. It turned out to be a very long day with no breaks. Fortunately, my afternoon placement was an early one, so I have some time now to write about this work.

So. Placements. I think I’ll just describe the ones I’ve had the past few days to give you some idea of what, exactly, it is I am doing here.

The placement I’ve worked at the most is the deaf kindergarten. The kids here are between 2 and 5 years old, and are very, very cute. Ask me to see photos when you see me in person and I’ll prove it (it’s the only placement where photos are allowed). They are not orphans, but they are all deaf or extremely hearing impaired. The number of kids there varies day to day – as few as 3 and as many as 8. It’s apparently dwindled as the summer has gone on, and the government will be closing the program at the end of the month. Instead, the building will become a camp for kids with TB.

The building is enormous for a school of less than ten kids – larger than the hospital for kids. I haven’t been inside – instead, we set up the craft in one of the play areas outside. There are four of those, I think – sandboxes, metal structures (like one sided jungle gyms), and metal and wooden shacks where we do the crafts. These are all painted in shocking colors and interesting murals. It’s all a bit sloppy – I tore my pants on a nail sticking out from a cracked board the other day. The ground is covered with some grass, mostly weeds, and a bit of the sandy dirt that’s all over.

The crafts with these kids last maybe five minutes, ten if it’s a really good one. This week we made monster hands, last week they decorated bowls I made out of foam. Stickers were a big hit. After the craft, they go for the cars first. Also popular are balls, bubbles, the swing (a rope with a climbing clamp on either end we hang from a beam in the shack), and this set of magnetic tiles. We mostly play with the items with the kids, chase them about, and settle arguments.

I was at the hospital for kids again today. Next to the white building with bars across the windows is a play area fenced in by high iron poles. We hang our bags on those poles when we arrive, out of the kids reach to keep them from going through them. This play area is mostly dust, although there are weeds covering about a third of it. Again, there are some metal structures about to play on, and several large trees.

The kids here have a wider range of ages – the youngest is perhaps 4, the oldest 15 or 16. They are a mix of orphans and kids with families. They are there for anything from schizophrenia (which is apparently like the ADD of Russia – it’s the “in” diagnosis) to aggressiveness to bed wetting to running away too much. There are usually more boys than girls, and the play is a lot rougher. They like chasing each other about, playing soccer and basketball, smacking each other with the balls, and such. Allison does well there – she has a good rapport with the kids, chasing them and getting tickles by them.

I am not sure if it’s a general dislike of touch, or if it’s the result of teaching in public schools where it’s so taboo, but I just can’t get comfortable with the kids touching me. At the hospital, there’s one girl who frequently sneaks up behind me, then runs her hands repeatedly over my hair. Other kids try to hang off me or hug me, but I’m stiff and cold with it, I’m afraid. Some of it is germophobia – they only bath once a week (going to the banyas, so it’s a thorough bathing), and many of them have sores. At the summer camp, one boy who sat next to me had such terrible body odor that I could only breath when I turned my head as subtly as possible to the opposite side. That worked until another boy who reeked of cigarette smoke sat down on my other side.

This afternoon I went to the Kirovski City Camp. This is a day care-type program for kids in town (with parents). It’s the calmest of the placements, and in some ways the one where we feel the least useful. Today we made finger puppets (thanks, Mom!), then brought out the board games. While the kids enjoy the board games and got way into the crafts, they have five or six women there as staff who are very attentive to the kids. Today there were seven girls and two boys, between 9 and 14 years old, I’d guess. They are pretty creative – the more artsy crafts go over better with them. The adults were very curious about the felt I had brought, though. They had never seen it before.

The thing about the work here, I’ve decided, is this: we’re not here to make an individual difference as volunteers. Instead, the CCS work is making a difference with the kids and the programs, and I’m here as a clog in the machine, a drop in the ocean, pixel in the Pixar, as it were. So I have fun, I help where I can, and I enjoy Russia.

Yan asked if I would switch shifts with him tomorrow, which I gladly did. He wanted to go back to the summer camp, which worked out well since he was scheduled for one of the elderly groups and I wanted to do one of those before I left. I hear they do karaoke on Fridays, so whoo-hoo!

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