Being an only child I decided that as I had toys, clothes and space in my room I could be confident in having someone to stay for a month and when my Mum asked me, it sounded like a good idea. But
I didn't understand how hard it can be having someone to come and live with you who doesn't speak English. I had just started secondary school, so I was occupied with my own new adventure, but
surprisingly, I always had time to go to the park or play football, or even just sit and watch Tom & Jerry with him.
The boy who came over to stay was called Matvei. 7 years old and he was very hyper. Obviously he was a calm, quite shy boy to begin with, he'd never been out of his country before in his life! Let alone come and stay with strangers for a month! We collected him from Pyrford Church, which would be their pick up/drop off place for the next 4 weeks. It was exciting yet nerve racking waiting to be introduced to my new "room mate."
On the way home I realised how little he had; the only bag he brought with him was the spider man bag we sent over a few months before, but their was a huge pile of donated clothes at the Church so he did have enough for the month. The first meal with him was quite quiet since he couldn't speak any English or I Russian, but my mum and I did have a translate app on all the household devices so we did make progress that evening.
Of course we didn't have to keep him during weekdays, they went off doing the fun stuff, well, when I say fun I mean things we take for granted like buying new shoes, only 1 of the 12 who came to stay had bought brand new shoes before. But at the weekends, it was our turn. Only 3 out of the 12 who came over were boys, so we decided one weekend to do a group trip to Woking football club, and there, we realised we had the most hyper of the lot! He probably took after me!
Over the next couple of weeks they went everywhere, making pizzas at pizza express to going to the beach and a chocolate factory! Wisley, farms, fire stations and many more exciting trips. On the last Friday they even went to Legoland!!Unfortunately one week I was on a Scout camp so my Mum took him down to the beach, before they went down as a group and he was ecstatic!
On the last weekend we decided to go down to Portsmouth with him. We took him on a speedboat to the Isle of Wight, even I found it amazing! Next to top it we went up the Spinnaker Tower. He was slightly nervous but after he got over his fright he was overwhelmed.
The next morning he left, it was all simply done and we said our goodbyes. I felt rather sad to see him go, it all went really fast but I also felt really really tired after one of the most special, different and challenging months of my life. But after he went, it was all back to normal, I went to play my football match and all was so much easier and simpler, but I definitely agreed, I definitely wanted him to return next year. And looking back half a year later, I am now looking forward to his return.
Blow Your Mind
I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect when we invited an 8-year-old Belarusian girl to stay with us for a month. We thought about the usual things like beds, food etc but we did not really understand the scale of the cultural differences. Yes we worried a bit about the language barrier. None of us spoke Russian and Tonya had very special dietary needs due to a minor medical condition.
In reality, any cultural differences were not an issue. On arrival, Tonya threw her arms around all of us – me included (which put us all at our ease instantly). She was lovely, very well behaved and clearly extremely well brought up. At first, she did not appear to want to learn English but as time went by she picked up many words (“Barbie” being one of her first). We learnt some Russian words too. Sign language was both embarrassing and hilarious – and a great icebreaker! Our three children and Tonya made a great effort and they all got on very well, helped enormously by our eldest daughter’s very generous nature.
We threw a “Play Date” party for all the kids and their families in the first week. It was lovely to see the children playing in the sunshine. We got to know everyone better and we were extremely grateful for all the help the other families gave us.
Tonya’s diet was essentially fat free, which quickly made us all very healthy, with porridge for breakfast, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and a banished biscuit tin. Fish and chicken were all very popular staples and the simplicity of the meals reminded me of old English fare. We got it wrong a few times but nothing that baked beans on toast couldn’t put right.
Friends of Chernobyl’s Children had put together a wonderful programme of activities for the children in the week. Going out with Tonya at weekends was great fun. Although Chessington, and the London Eye were all very enjoyable, it was the London Aquarium that captivated Tonya. She adored seeing the fish and other sea life and was fascinated by them. This was only surpassed by Tonya’s discovery of ice cubes in her drink at a restaurant – obviously the first time she had ever seen this. Her face lit up the entire room as she popped them in her mouth and played with them in the glass. Other things she really enjoyed were trips to our local swimming pool, long showers and flushing the toilet. How much we take for granted.
I don’t think we will ever really understand the scale of the hardship so many families in Belarus are facing right now. And if I’m honest part of me is not sure we could handle it but what can we do? Yes we can give money. Very important for Friends of Chernobyl’s Children – and it is good to know ALL of it goes to the Children, NOT on administration. But if you really want to make a difference – invite one of the children to stay. It will blow their minds and yours. An experience you and your family will never forget.
Thank you Tonya and FOCC.
Duncan and Beverley