It is always nice to come home. I spent three weeks in the USA on a volunteer management programme run by the State Department. It was extremely interesting and useful because volunteering in the USA is very well developed and takes many different forms. How nice it would be to put everything I saw into action back in Belarus!
Only two days after I flew to America, there was a terrible explosion in the Minsk underground that killed 15 people and injured more than 100. At the same time, the country descended into the grip of a terrible economic crisis: literally within the space of 2 months the Belarusian rouble had devalued by 200% against the US dollar and still continues to fall. In the first four months of the year, the average level of inflation in the country was 10.9% and on staple products such as potatoes, buckwheat, tomatoes and so on prices rose by more than 50%.
Of course medical consumables have also become dearer, as have nappies, drugs and children’s food. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The government does not seem to have a plan for dealing with the situation so we live on supposition and rumours which only serve to create panic and panic buying among a people who recall the time when the Soviet Union broke apart and who fear that they could, once again, lose all their savings.
The fact that we receive assistance from Friends of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice means that, to some extent, we are cushioned from the effects of the falling rouble. However the conditions for local fundraising are becoming very difficult as the local currency loses value faster than the Hospice can spend it.
The whole situation has created a feeling of helplessness and panic. It is impossible to buy foreign currency: people stand in queues for days on end in order to change money. The only hard currency that either state-owned or private banks have to sell is the same hard currency that the public have brought in to sell.
Coming back from indebted but apparently flourishing America, I was immediately plunged into all sorts of problems. One of them is caused by a fantastic piece of news – the Hospice has been given 1.6 acres of land on which to build a new modern hospice building. This should be enough to implement our grandest of plans. The immediate problem it creates is one of finding the money to pay for them! The first thing to do is to get plans drawn up. We are already working on a strategy for raising the funds.
Luckily, I now have an opportunity to practise “live” fundraising. On 18 June we are holding a joint event with the Embassy of the United Kingdom at the Belarusian Children Hospice’s summer project outside Minsk. The barbecue will be attended by Belarusian business people and diplomats serving in Belarus. The primary aim is to raise money to rebuild one of the houses at our summer project.
Another important piece of news is that the Hospice now has a major new sponsor, the Olivaria brewery. Olivaria is part of the Carslberg group. They have pledged 60 million Belarusian roubles to the Hospice’s Day Centre programme. We are extremely grateful to Olivaria. However, their grant provides a perfect illustration of the current economic difficulties because whereas at the beginning of the year those 60 million were worth £12,765, today they are worth less than half of that amount, £6,141. All due to the catastrophic fall of the Belarusian rouble. So far there is no sign of an end to the downward slide…
I’m rather aware that this blog is not as upbeat as my previous offerings. It must be the effect of the general depression in the country. However, I remain optimistic. Our Hospice has friends, there are people who support our work and now we also have 1.6 acres of land on which to make our dreams come true. When one is working towards achieving a goal, difficulties encountered on the way only serve to make one stronger.