Diana Pallardy 2018-02-19
A Priceless Feeling of Helping Without Money

Most students of Russian universities are very immersed in their studies, spending almost all their time studying and preparing for exams. When a student charity organization was created in 2007, its original purpose was not only to help children in the community but also to involve students in volunteering, and raise their awareness about their environs and their community.

To this end, ‘Icef Otreach’ has several initiatives. At a Bake Sale students, staff and teachers of economics organize a sale of homemade cakes, which they bake at home. The revenue earned is donated to charities. Regular visits to children's orphanages (Elatomsky orphanage in Ryazan region, Mstersky orphanage in Vladimir region and a boarding school for visually impaired children in Gavrilov-Yam) are organized to help children with studying and their social life. From this activity another organization Tutor Outreach tutors children from a orphanage at Pervomayskaya station, Moscow evolved. They help children pass the GIA exam, and help them enroll in universities and technical schools. Although this initiative is more recent (a little over six months old), it has seen active interest and participation. Icef Outreach organizes two-day trips for children to Moscow for broadening their horizons. The annual charity event to which we invite community leaders, philanthropists, artists has taken a new format in the form of a festival.

The last but not the least activity “Help the homeless pet” is a recent initiative that involves volunteers who want to help dogs, cats. As of yet, they are still looking for a student who would like to lead and to coordinate this initiative.

After spending many hours sitting at my desk, preparing for exams, we need to sooth the body and mind doing physical activity that would give brains a rest. I was looking for a new experience that would also let me speak Russian! Volunteering seems to be a sector where, whatever one’s skills are, they can always come handy. Indeed, whilst exploring the “vacancies” on various charity organizations’ websites, one realizes that almost anyone can help: from students and babushki to photographs and web designers!

I volunteered at the state refuge for dogs near Ostankino tower. On my first day, one of administrators showed around and introduced me to a very cheerful and welcoming team of volunteers. After explaining how the refuge is functioning, a lady gave me a dog and sent me on a walk with another young volunteer who had joined the team 2 months before. During the next 4 hours, whilst walking different dogs, my new teammate told me more about the dogs’ characters and habits. It seemed to me the ideal way to free your mind from the stress of studies (or work) whilst acting for a good cause and communicate with Russians, therefore getting to know them better.

I anticipated Russians to be welcoming, but when it comes to volunteering, they really give you the impression to welcome you in their inner circle, in their family. I discovered a very active community, which seemed truly concerned about the sake of animals, but with this happy discovery came another, much less happy one: swindlers. I found out about their activity whilst trying to get help for a starving dog I had found on the street. I was told not to specify the exact location of the dog because of dog hunters. A volunteer of the organization explained to me the scope of such activity, referring to it as a black “business”. Dog hunters are paid to spread poisoned dog delicacies in public parks to reduce their population.  

Being a student does not mean you cannot help. In Russia, for the first time, people showed me the ways to help someone than just give the money. Numerous volunteers got back to posts in social networks within minutes after publication, sending advices and contacts of people living in the district and who could help.

“One day they asked me to walk a huge dog, similar to a Rottweiler, with unevenly cut ears and a rather dissuasive look. I cannot say that I was cheerful nor that I was not a bit hesitant. But this huge guy turned out to be absolutely adorable, careful and obedient. It was clear that he had been a domestic dog before. When I was in the refuge, he would not leave me a minute as if to guard me from other dogs. One day he even brought me a mouse as a present! I started to write posts to find him a home and received very strange calls. Given the dog’s scares, it was pretty clear that he had been used for dog fighting, and so I did not want to hand him to questionable/uncertain/dubious people. And then it hit me: why looking for a home if this dog had already chosen me?! After four months of convincing my husband and promising that only I would take care of him etc., we took him home. This date remains a special day in our family and we recently celebrated one year!” Elena, volunteer at the refuge on Dubovaya Rosha since 2013.

I met a girl distributing flyers to raise awareness for charity projects and one of their volunteers came to see a dog the next day. She confirmed the dog had been poisoned by dog hunters and explained the usual treatment. Medicine and appointments at the veterinarian would not be free but a charity organization enables people to raise funds for their “project” on a protected website where thousands of other animal helpers and careers are registered and can make donations. That night I created my project, posted pictures of my dog, explained his problem and described the treatment costs etc. In the following days I could follow up my project on the website and publish updates on the dog’s mood and the progression of the treatment. I quickly managed to raise all the necessary funds. Unfortunately, the dog had been in this state for too long and the poison had spread to vital organs and he passed away before the end of the treatment. During a week, a woman that had decided to take him at her place and transport him to the veterinarian stopped updating me and 5 days after the dog had passed away she eventually wrote. She didn’t answer my previous messages with inquires about the dog’s mood. She just told me to sign the document that would enable the funds I had raised to be transferred to her account. At this point she still refused to tell me how the dog was, never mind that he was dead. Two days later, she finally told me that the dog had died a week ago. It’s confusing, isn’t it?

Having seen their willingness to help and the number of other projects waiting for donations, I decided to give the funds I had raised to the common fund of the organization. A charity organization agreed and having showed great professionalism they took into account that funds could not be transferred to any account without my official consent on paper. I met again with a volunteer and signed the official document. This experience reminds us that charity involves different sorts of individuals: those truly dedicated to help others and those ungrateful and money-interested.

The volunteers’ initiative and their desire to make a difference have replaced the need for funds to a large extent. Maximization of profit is not their goal, although the money from sponsors plays a crucial role, especially in making travel feasible. Additional funds help ‘Icef Outreach’ to conduct workshops and organize interesting activities during a trip to the orphanage. In Moscow, this has become easier as there are more resources for children available. However, sponsors are still the main source to keep volunteering organizations feel alive.