Visit to a Belarusian child's home
“I was invited to dinner at Yulia's house on a Monday evening. Yulia lives with her family by the river in a ‘private house’. This was the first private house I had visited and I was looking forward to going to a house instead of a hostel or apartment block with their communally shared entrances, no lifts, leaky roofs and cramped living spaces.
Our driver had difficulty finding the property, which was at the back of the meat-processing factory. Eventually a little old lady gestured the way for us. It turned out that this was Yulia’s Grandma, coming out to greet us! She took us up a path into what looked like a wooden shack. We walked straight into the only proper room in the house. It was full of beds, bunk beds, camp beds and a settee that also doubled as, yes you have guessed, a bed! Apart from the beds there was an ironing board, a television set and a chair. We were invited to sit down; of course everyone sat on the beds.
Yulia shares her house with her grandparents, her great grandmother, her mother, father, her brother and two sisters and they all sleep in this room. At the time of our visit, the grandfather and great-grandmother were staying in an apartment in the town. They had been on the waiting list for an apartment for the family but were only given a very small one-bedroom apartment, not big enough for Yulia and her mum, dad and siblings. So it was decided that as the great-grandmother was ill she would stay in the new apartment as it was heated, with granddad to look after her. Grandma would then be free to look after the children whilst mum and dad worked and also tend to the smallholding that went with the house.
The house has no heating apart from a wood-burning stove in the kitchen/bathroom. This is also used to heat water, as there is only cold water in the house. When they need to wash clothes they have to heat the water in pans and pour it into a wooden washtub. The bath is very conveniently placed in the kitchen, so they do not need to carry the water far!
We ate in the kitchen, the only other room in the house. They made us so welcome, they gave us all that they had with a table groaning with the best of Belarusian food and drink, and we were treated like royalty. The grandmother did most of the talking; she looks after the cow and grows vegetables for the family. Grandma told us that they are lucky living near the river, as it was lovely in the summer, though the house had been flooded twice during the winter! I have never met a more positive lady in my life. She spends as much time as she can helping the children with their studies, and is very keen on them speaking English, encouraging Yulia to teach the younger two the songs and words she had picked up whilst in England. The youngest girl, aged six, sang two of these songs for us, much to the delight of her proud parents.
All went well until I needed to visit the bathroom. Of course there wasn’t one. Mum took a torch and gestured for me to follow her outside, and we went to some wasteland at the side of the house where she left me in front of a hut. I opened the door, but could not see a toilet; unfortunately I then shone the torch down to the floor, and there was a hole over flowing with raw sewage. With my
shoes covered I quickly left the hut and took deep breaths until I felt able to return to the house, deciding that perhaps I did not need the loo after all.
I was brought to tears as I left this home. The love and genuine compassion of these people, despite their atrocious living conditions, had been greatly uplifting. A co-ordinator from another group was looking for a little boy to host this year so I told them about the family. She visited the next day to find grandmother, unaware that she was going to have visitors, coming down from some ladders carrying a bale of hay.
At 8.15am on the morning of my departure from Mogilev, there was a knock on my door. I opened it to find Yulia’s grandma standing there in tears holding a beautiful tablecloth, a present because of the help the family had received from us. She had walked three miles to deliver this gift! We hugged and cried and I will never forget that amazing lady whom I was so privileged to meet.”
The FOCC has now found placements for both Yulia’s siblings and the family is continuing to receive our support.