Every time I get down to writing a new blog I start by looking back at the previous one and every time I am astonished at how much has happened in such a short period.
The last time I wrote to you was in February and I was telling you how some people from a major bank had visited the hospice to find out more about us. Today I can say with pride that PriorBank, which is a Belarusian member of the RZB Group (Raiffeisen International) has decided to support the Belarusian Children’s Hospice! To begin with they will be financing our mobile hospice programme to the tune of £10,000 per year. In addition to this, the bank is buying us a new Volkswagen Crafter minibus with an adapted interior and hydraulic lift for wheelchairs. The minibus, which has cost £32,913, has already been purchased and we are waiting for delivery from Germany.
On 25th February we held a press conference at one of the largest Belarusian newspapers, called Arguments and Facts, and we presented our Annual Report for 2009. This was the first public presentation of an NGO Annual Report in Belarus. Following the presentation the director of the hospice, Anna Garchakova, and I spent a whole hour answering questions put to us by the press. The result of this event was articles in several newspapers and electronic news services and, we very much hope, increased public trust towards our organisation.
In early March the names of the winners of the second all-Belarus competition ‘Woman of the Year’ were announced. Anna Garchakova, our director, was awarded the title ‘Woman of the Year-2009’. Tthe official nomination read ‘For charity and outreach care’. As one of her colleagues, I would like to warmly congratulate Anna and as a fundraiser I am hugely pleased by the wave of publicity this has brought the hospice. The interest was enormous. I think that every single paper in the country carried something about us and it was shown on television several times. Yet another step towards a raised profile and status!
In addition to raising money in Belarus we continue to spend a lot of time writing grant applications. I have just worked out that in the last six weeks we submitted 7 applications of which 2 have been rejected and one has been successful so far. This was the International Children’s fund which is going to contribute USD7,000 towards our Respite Care project. We are still waiting to hear from the others…
Analysing our 2009 results, I can see that we suffered a great blow to our financing early on in the year when the government implemented a one-off exchange devaluation of the Belarusian rouble. This meant that the Belarusian rouble fell by 20% against other currencies, for example, £1 went up from BelRub3,239 to BelRub3,892. Throughout the year the rouble continued to fall and today, at 30th March 2010, every pound sterling we buy costs BelRub4,485. This means that between January 2009 to April 2010 the rouble has fallen by 38.5%! On the other hand, the average salary in Belarus over the last year has reduced from £237 per month to £223, whereas the price index has risen by about 15-17%. None of this, of course, encourages people to give to charity. Nonetheless, we are gratified to note that public donations to the hospice last year actually increased more than two and a half times (rouble donations) and euro donations increased one and half times over the same period.
Yet again I find myself thinking that I may be being a bit boring here. So let’s change the subject. I’d like to tell you about something which I found both surprising and interesting. Many people who contact the Belarusian Children’s Hospice assume that we are a state supported organisation. This could be because we work closely with state funded hospitals which refer children to us. Another reason, which seems to me to also very likely, is the amount of attention paid to us by the press. As a general rule, the press in Belarus has not been too kind to non-governmental organisations. On the one hand we find this public misapprehension quite flattering as the sub-text to being a state funded organisation is stability, professionalism, significance. On the other hand, if people think we are state funded they will be less likely to think about making donations to us. As always, we have to choose between a rock and a hard place and try to work things out as best we can for the hospice. However, this is not a terrible problem in the grand scheme of things. As I am writing these lines we have a 14-year old boy dying of cancer in our in-patient rooms. He cannot speak or walk anymore, his parents are sitting with one of our psychologists. If it were possible to save him, I am sure that no one would begrudge the money. Unfortunately, it is not possible to save him. Even so, it seems to me that his time here in the hospice was positive; he was visited by volunteers and made new friends, he was able to go outside into our garden and he was pain free. Sometimes we cannot change something, all we can do is to carry on trying to do our best within our capabilities. Thank you very much for supporting us in these efforts.