My Time at Savva

Last Monday (22 June) when I arrived at Savva orphanage, I almost couldn’t get out of Beth’s car. Obviously I’m not a celebrity, but each of the children wanted to give me a hug and let me know how happy they were that I had finally arrived. Sometimes the lack of language doesn’t matter because there was no mistaking our happiness at finally being together – the children and me! I cannot begin to put into words the rush of joy that filled my heart as I held each one in my arms. I am so happy to finally be here in Kazakhstan for good.

Picture taken on the steps of Interlink Resources Taraz office (American team and translators)

The rest of the American delegation had been at Savva since the 17th of June doing an English camp for the kids. There were classes in the morning, sports and other activities in the afternoon and a program each evening for the children. I was coming into the mix mid-stream. This group of Americans was amazing. They were from three different states (Virginia, Indiana and Oregon)and I felt honored to be able to join the team for the last half of the camp. Most of the team members had traveled together for this camp in previous years. The three new team members jumped right in and the whole team worked together like a well-oiled machine – encouraging, helping and laughing together. This trip isn’t an easy trip logistically or physically. Having your team members be there to encourage you when you are overwhelmed and/or not feeling well makes all the difference in the world. I think each American should take at least one trip out of the United States and do something for someone else. Being like a little child in a new situation is a golden opportunity to step back and see life through a different perspective.

Interlink gets local and mostly university students to be translators. It is great experience for them to practice their English skills and it makes it possible for the Americans to communicate with the children and staff. Being a translator is a difficult and tiring experience under regular circumstances. When you add together all the work and the 180 kids, it is an overwhelming, exhausting job, but this group of translators worked incredibly hard and made the experience great for the Americans. The full-time Interlink team also went above and beyond as they cared for so many details, including providing everything each American needed. Thank you Ken, Olya, Moldir, Beth and the entire office staff at Interlink.

My part of the camp was a three day Art Seminar for older students and two days of craft time with the youngest group. I love being with these children and they love all the activities that are provided for them by the American team. One morning the youngest group put their hand prints on tote bags and then used various stamps to add designs on the bag. Then we wrote each camper’s name and the date on each of the bags. Can you believe we had 28 children with paint on their hands and then paint on rubber stamps, yet not getting one drop of paint on anything besides the tote bags? The children are eager to please and to listen. Then we played games and sang songs.

I divided the older students I had into two groups. The Savva staff had picked the students they thought had talent or interest in art. On Monday 10 students came. Using pastels on paper each did a still life. The second group of 10 came on Tuesday afternoon and did the same assignment. I taught some techniques but was more interested in seeing what talent was here among the students and what they understood about art in general. They did very well and were eager to learn. I encouraged them to enjoy the process and not just focus on the product. Enjoying the creative experience of playing with the colors was far more important than whether or not they created a master piece.

My “Birthday” Hat! Of course I would never be caught dead in something like this at home, but I couldn’t refuse the children!

I celebrated my first birthday in Kazakhstan at Savva orphanage. It was a fabulous, fun day celebrating with friends and some of the children that had brought me half way around the world. Beth orchestrated a huge surprised for me which touched my heart and brought me great joy. Without letting me know she had asked Lois and Chip to get my family and friends to send Birthday wishes which Beth printed and gave to Sharyll to give to me Tuesday morning as she announced to the team that it was my birthday. I was so surprised and so touched by the amount of birthday wishes. Thank you all for your love and friendship. Thank you for taking the time to let me know with such kind words. My heart overflowed with gratitude and love. Thank you Beth for taking the time, effort and thought to bless me.

This youngest group put together a photo collage of themselves for me as a birthday gift. Oh, how it touched my heart. The entire day was a wonderful delightful day. I was given flowers, home made cards, hand made gifts, kisses, hugs and so much more. I am blessed beyond measure.

The second craft day with the youngest kids we did t-shirts with handprints, stamps and their names. Again it was a fun activity for the children. I told them nobody else in the world has their hand print. They are uniquely and wonderfully made.

Wednesday was the final day of the art seminar and 10 student were chosen to participate. Ken made me easels and I bought canvas and paint. Each student was able to create a painting of their choice. Many of the students had never had the opportunity to use paints before, much less paint on canvas. Some were nervous and even afraid to start for fear of messing up. I encouraged them to enjoy the experience and again not focus on what the outcome was but to enjoy the process. Again, I worked on some basic concepts, which I will expand on in future classes with these kids.

I find the Kazakh people to be a very creative, gifted people and the children show so much talent. It was such a joy to encourage the shy ones as well as the couple of students that were advanced in their skills. One young man, whom I’ve know for several years now, has an incredible talent. He graduated this year and in August has a chance to go to a college in Taraz to study art. These kids have the cards stacked against them. Even at an orphanage like Savva where the staff and director have a real heart for the children, it is difficult for these kids to actually make it in the world. They have very few life skills and even less self confidence. I’m hoping to be able to stay in touch with this student and hopefully he’ll desire to participate in Interlink’s Youth Impact program. The program gives the graduates from the local orphanage life skills and a place to help them navigate their path towards being productive citizens in their community.

The top 5 students were allowed to keep their easels and I left paints, paper, and pastels for these students in hopes that they will practice until the next seminar. Below is a picture with Stas and the “master piece” he finished in class. He is an amazing young man with lots of talent. It is my great privilege to be a small part of his life.

When I wasn’t doing my art classes, I participated with the rest of the team’s activities for the children. Each evening was a different activity including an American dance night and a Carnival night. The Americans enjoy this time as much as the children. During the day there is time to have quiet moments with individual children and that is what I look forward to. I love all the fun activities, but treasure the time to sit and get to know a child better, to hear their story, encourage them or just sit beside them in a comfortable silence.

A front moved through right before Carnival Night. Rain seemed to fall all around but not on Savva, which was wonderful since there wasn’t a place to hold the carnival inside. As we were setting up, a beautiful rainbow spread across the sky right over Savva. A promise that they are not forgotten and neither am I.

The above picture is one I took on the way back from Savva orphanage to Taraz. Kazakhstan is at a crossroads in many ways. Many are going from cooking on an open fire to microwave technology overnight. This fact never became more evident to me than when we pulled into the office of Interlink. There sitting in the front drive was a HUMMER! In Kazakhstan! A film crew had been using our building to film some scene for a Kazakh movie. The HUMMER was a prop for a scene. A local business man actually owns this monster of a vehicle. I wanted to send a picture home to my son and tell him this was my new car in Kazakhstan. But I don’t believe he would fall for that because I think he knows me too well. I would rather drive an old junker and give the rest of the money it would cost to own a Hummer to help children. It did bring into focus the huge contrast here in Kazakhstan.

Last week was bursting with so many activities, thoughts, joys, some heartaches, and life in general. I can’t begin to put down in a short blog all that happened last week. But a couple things I know for sure: I have amazing friends who love and care for me and I am exactly where I’m suppose to be. I am blessed beyond measure. My life has lots of bumps and unexpected events, but I am not alone. This next chapter of my life already has many sweet memories that I will treasure. Thank you, dear friends, for joining me in the adventure.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.