Dear Family, Friends and Loved Ones,
Hello! We are back safe and sound in St. Petersburg and are currently starting to get ready to come back home on Sunday. We know that you guys are as excited to see us as we are to see you, but to be honest we’re definitely going to miss Russia. But we know that we are here for the amount of time that God wanted us to be and we are looking forward to sharing our experiences and stories when we get home.
Yesterday was the last day of camp with the disabled youth. There were many tears and it was hard to say goodbye. Although nervous at first, we all ended up loving our time there and really connected well with both our teens and the other volunteers from Russia, Germany and Poland.
The Gulf of Finland was beautiful, and although it stormed a few times (epically the last night); we all got really tan and “weathered”. Especially Jessica – to all of her family and friends, be prepared, she might be hard to recognize. We enjoyed gathering our own water from a natural spring, bathing in the Gulf, sunbathing on the sand, taking the kids for walks, doing crafts with them (like body paint and balloon animals). As well as eating lots of yummy Borsch and Manna, and bonding with the fellow workers by playing volleyball after the kids went to bed. Ten days is a long time and there is too much to cover, but in a brief summary here is a bit about what we each did individually:
Jessica: Besides tanning and becoming a few shades darker, she got to work with a young girl with Downs Syndrome. Although working with one of the more challenging teens (it was her first time away from home), Jessica has impressed us all by her amazing patience and grace (particularly when dealing with poop) and was able to share some special moments with her girl – especially when swimming and splashing in the waves.
Natalya: Natalya was paired with a quiet, wheel-chair bound girl of 16, who loved being read too and enjoyed the many walks Natalya would take her on along the beach (wheelchairs work in the sand, surprisingly). After learning about the teen’s tragic past, Natalya has found more confirmation about her path as a nurse and is excited to see what God is preparing in her heart. The swimmer in her also came out and she loved spending mornings (or rather, every free moment) swimming as far as she could!
Deanna: Deanna is a natural with Special Needs kids and fell head over heels for her teen, an older boy also wheel-chair bound. Although short, she is surprisingly strong and was able to hold him upright and help him walk around. She also spent a lot of time splashing in the waves with him and playing peek-a-boo. He was quite upset without her around.
Shannon: While working with a 14-year-old boy who loved to stop and ponder things while walking, Shannon really connected with the various workers at the camp and forged many friendships while either playing late-night volleyball or talking about faith and life around the campfire. This experience has made her even more passionate about physical therapy and she is looking forward to working at similar camps in the future. We practically had to physically drag her out of there.
Emily: Emily got paired with a very outgoing older girl with Downs Syndrome, who was quite independent and saw herself as another volunteer and loved to “steal” our noses. Although suffering from a stomach bug at the end (she’s ok now ) , she also connected well with the staff and was able to talk “art” with many of them. One volunteer even worked with her and built a life-size sculptor! She was also teasingly referred to as “Snow White” by some of the girls because of all the singing that she did, but no one complained – both we and the teens loved it.
Elizabeth: Elizabeth worked with a young boy with Cerebral Palsy, who completely stole her heart. Elizabeth could be often found in the hammock with him in her arms, singing lullabies to him….that or on the beach playing “Beached Whale” in the waves. When he got a small fever she was by him day and night until he was better. She’s going to be an amazing nurse.
Vanessa: Like Shannon, Vanessa really got along well with the staff and was able to witness to many of them and engage with them and share life perspectives. She loved working on duty with the cook and was very good at it, keeping the fire going and helping prepare meals. Unlike the rest of us, Vanessa got to work with many of the kids when their normal team had a day off. Her proudest moment came when she put one of the more difficult teens to sleep all by herself (no easy task!!).
Rachel: Rachel worked with a young autistic girl who was quite energetic and kept her on her toes. Although challenging at times, since her teen wasn’t able to communicate with words, she was able to build a good relationship with her and even received an unexpected kiss one day. She also got considerably tanner and after a hesitant start, loved swimming in the water on her breaks.