- By Mike Allison on Sat, 06th May 2017
On the return ferry crossing from Rotterdam to Hull the team of ten sat at one of the large circular tables to enjoy what was our best meal in ten days and to reflect on the experiences we had enjoyed and endured during the convoy. We had just completed the 1500-mile journey from Belarus in the past three days. Holdups in the customs at both Brest and Kukuryki then a two-hour traffic standstill due to a major accident in Germany meant that it was a ‘bit of a chase’ to get to Europort before the doors closed on the ferry. We made it with minutes to spare.
Preparation for the aid delivery took several weeks during which a wide range of aid had been collected, prepared and loaded at Stockton on Tees, Buxton in Derbyshire and Selby in Yorkshire. Our major sponsor Campeys Haulage of Selby who provide ongoing support with warehouse space and maintenance on our vehicles also loaned an artic unit and trailer for the convoy to be driven by father and daughter team Andy and Emily Wardle.
This large trailer was loaded on a Saturday in early April at Selby (Thorpe Willoughby) on the Campeys estate by over thirty volunteers that included 17 staff colleagues of Aidan from the offices of Telefonica O2 in Leeds.
We have worked for several years with the International company IKEA taking surplus stock from their distribution depots at Doncaster and Peterborough. This stock that includes bedding, mattresses, furniture, crockery, kitchen units, refrigerators, microwaves etc. has made a massive difference to the organisations that cater for the needs of the disabled and poor families in Belarus.
As on a previous convoy four years ago IKEA provided funds to support the considerable cost of making this delivery and, after an internal competition, chose two of their co-workers to be part of the convoy team. So, Jo Lander-Brown and Maciej (Magic) Wroblewski joined the convoy team. Jo and Magic drove the pickup and trailer kindly loaned by Alan Wade who with Bob Beech made the team for their large 18 tonner and Aidan and Mike for the 7.5 truck.
A third first timer was Malcolm (Mallie) Earless from Hillam in Yorkshire. Mallie provided his own van that carried almost a ton of incontinent pads, with a value of over £5000, targeted for Vikov and Zuravichi both institutions for the physically and mentally challenged children and adults. Jen Allison was co-driver of the van and the social media co-ordinator for the convoy.
Leaving base in Selby on Monday 10th April we drove to the IKEA depot at Doncaster for a photoshoot and to collect Jo and Magic and then to the ferry at Hull docks. The journey across Holland, Germany and into Poland was uneventful apart from heavy traffic and we made our overnight stop at past 10pm. Similarly, the crossing of Poland was long in duration and meant another 10pm finish. On the third day (Thursday) we crossed the border through the customs exiting Poland and the EU and entering Belarus. As the time passed it was obvious that we would not be able to reach our onward destinations of Gomel and Rogachev that night so we stayed at the new hotel just outside the customs exit in Belarus. The food was chicken and chips, beer and a vodka, the rooms good with en-suite facilities and the price just £10.
Alan Wade and Bob Beech stayed with a family they knew in Brest just a few minutes from the border and set off on the following morning (Good Friday) for the local customs at Pinsk. Once cleared they drove south to make their delivery in the town of Stolin just a couple of miles from the border with Ukraine. Their delivery of 8 tons was for ‘The centre of young disabled people’s support.’ Half of this organisation’s committee of 16 are disabled adults and very active in the best interest of their young people.
Customs cleared and unloading completed during Friday enabled Alan and Bob to visit and view where a previous delivery was made last year. They held a meeting with eight organisations who separately support the disabled and from the ‘shopping list’ they were given we plan to make another delivery there later this year. Also in that area the local churchman, Papa Sergie, is building a hospice for sick children. The walls are completed, the roof partly finished but they are struggling with the finances to complete the whole building. Our job will be to provide items of furniture, fabrics, paint, beds and bedding, pots and pans etc. so we will hopefully be able to include these on our next delivery to that region. Alan and Bob had a positive visit and are keen that we continue to help in that area.
The other four vehicles travelled over seven hours in a North Easterly direction to the town of Rogachev where three of the vehicles were to unload at the ‘Rogachev Public Association of families with disabled children and adults’. A long title but it demonstrates that we are supporting organisations that are active in helping their own less fortunate people. It was another long journey of almost seven hours across the country.
The local customs procedure took the day late into the evening. After a meal, vodka and toasts with the association members we split up to spend the evening with families in their flats. A good experience for the new members and an opportunity to see the generous hospitality of their hosts first hand.
The Rogachev association had agreed to accept and pass on the aid for the institutions at Zhuravichi and Vikov. Despite the number of members increasing the organisation is struggling to meet the costs of their centre which has been reduced in size to just two rooms. State aid does not exist for them. They are keen to get a sponsor for the rent as without this help they will have no premises by the year end.
After unloading the three smaller vehicles the team made visits firstly to ‘Rodni Kut’ (translated as Cosy Corner) a home for four severely disabled young adults. They were ‘rescued’ from an institution when they were just young children by the charity Chernobyl Children’s Project UK based in Glossop. The charity converted the premises, extended them, trained the staff and continue to fund and manage the operation which provides 24/7 care for the young adults. One of our team seen here propping up a radiation sign in the forest, Harold Jackson, joined us in Rogachev having flown from UK to be part of the convoy. Harold, a qualified joiner, has been a long-time member of the CCP charity and spent several months in Belarus on the building of this centre. He also convoyed with me in 1999 to Belarus. Travelling with Harold by air was another aid team member, Bryan Selkirk from Catterick who went directly to the town of Gomel where we were to meet later.
We visited the institution at Vikov deep in the forest and the lady director toured the facility with us. The whole premise has had a big ‘face lift’ in recent times and is much smarter in terms of fabric and decor than a few years ago. It is an institute for physically and mentally handicapped adults – in UK we used to call them Asylums. Most of the population of Belarus will not be aware of the existence of this or similar places! The director explained that the smarter building was not important. What was important was that the people living there felt secure, were fed and their medical requirements attended to.
Back to the vehicles and Rogachev. We had a parcel from a lady living in UK called Valya. In 1941 when the Nazi troops were retreating from Russia they totally destroyed the town of Rogachev. Valya, as a young girl (now in her 90s) spent two years in the forests to escape and eventually came to live in England. We had an address and phone number and with the help of Alexie, our friend and interpreter in Rogachev we met her cousin and his wife and exchanged presents – all done in fifteen minutes but a nice experience.
We drove to the city of Gomel and Andy and Emily in the Campey vehicle went into the local customs for clearance.
The rest of the team met with Bryan at our Hotel and enjoyed a coffee, buns etc. We were summoned to Dobrush to where the Campey vehicle was to be unloaded with over 12 tons of aid for ‘Territorial centre of social services for the population of Dobrush’. Another long title but another organisation that supports the poorest and those in need.
It was early evening and we faced at the least three hours of unloading. The messages from the customs was that they would definitely clear the paperwork that evening and release the vehicle but when?! We got the message that the vehicle was cleared at 8.30pm and was making the forty-minute’s journey to the warehouse for unloading. By now we were ‘on our chin straps’ no food and another late night. Our morale was rescued by Bryan’s unsolicited demonstration of his Morris dancing in the darkening yard. Well done Bryan.
We were now a team of ten. The Belarusian’s team was about similar and we started the handling of 1500 boxes of all different sizes and weights. The teamwork was tremendous and the hard work by all, especially Emily, Jen and Jo attracted the comment on completion from the main Belarusian man “I think that the English men are tremendous but the English ladies are even better”! On two occasions during the unloading they provided slices of cheese and sliced sausage and one bottle of vodka. We finished the task at just past midnight. They had arranged a big meal for us but it was not now possible and we left the big vehicle in the compound and were taking back to the Hotel in cars arriving at 1am.
Easter Sunday: The one task for today was to collect the big truck from Dobrush and make the final delivery to the Diabetic Association in Gomel. We decided to transfer the delivery from the large trailer on to the 7.5 tonner as the DA is in the town and the smaller truck would be more suitable. Aidan, Harold and myself made the delivery to this association, had a quick unload then a really nice meal and meeting with their team including Riesa the chair person. Gomel, as a result of the Chernobyl explosion, has by far the greatest incidence of diabetes of any city in Belarus and the association has 700 members with 40 new additions this year. Care from the state is minimal and our aid really helps as they, the families, spend much of their income on medicines leaving little for the basics in life.
Jen took the rest of the team on a walking tour of Gomel that included the park and the church there which is spectacular and has a very splendid interior and well worth a visit. Prior to the cessation of the Soviet Union in 1989 such churches fell into disrepair as religion was oppressed by the government. It was Easter Sunday and a service was being held. The girls wore headscarves and mingled with the worshipers as all were standing with no chairs available. The team had coffee in the park and enjoyed the relaxation.
In the afternoon with the team together over a burger and coffee we met with Ludmilla Volkova who visited Hillam annually for 17 years as an interpreter when the Belarusian children came for a month’s respite holiday. She was in great form and her comments and information regarding the situation in Belarus, her own life and that of her family was interesting especially for those making their first visit to the country. Ludmilla has had Thyroid cancer and carries a ‘Chernobyl certificate’ which allows her a pension of just $150 per month! She sends her love and greetings to all who knew her in Hillam and local villages.
Liena Fedorchuk is our team member in Belarus and has always been very involved over the years in all our work supporting the preparation of visa information, manifests and the year around communication with the receivers of our aid. This convoy was no exception and much of our success in making the deliveries is down to the support of Liena. Carole Samuel of the Rotarians at Downham Market near Peterborough had completed work at a school at Rechitsa in the Gomel region where they had provided the funds to install new toilets etc. for the children. Liena was involved with all the various stages and the Rotarians asked me to deliver to Liena a plaque for the school wall and a certificate and personal gifts for her in recognition of her support to the project. It was a pleasure to do so.
In the evening, we had a meal of pizza and a couple of beers in the premises we call ‘Liena’s Bar’. Lots of laughs and more of Bryan’s Morris dancing which the Belarusians just did not understand – not sure we did but it was great entertainment.
Aidan and Mallie walked with Bryan and Harold to the nearby rail station to catch the overnight train to Minsk for their home bound flight to UK and we all made our rooms before 10pm. Up at 6am on Easter Monday morning and on the way home by 7.15am.
Leaving the Hotel for home just after 7am we met Alan and Bob on the border and with the convoy complete again we made the crossing into Poland.
On reflection, it was a hard 10 days with only the last day, Easter Sunday, with a work finish before 10pm. We could have stayed an extra day for R&R but some of the team had commitments at home and others had done it all before so we stuck to the original plan. Jo, Magic and Mallie were excellent team members. They worked hard throughout with lots of laughs. We enjoyed their company and participation.
Our grateful thanks go to all our wider team at home and our supporters without whose constant help we could not manage.
Our task was to deliver aid – to help people in organisations who were helping their less fortunate children and adults – it was not a ‘cooks tour’ – not a holiday – just a job. Job Done!
Mike Allison April 2017
- By Mike Allison on Fri, 03rd February 2017
Advanced Notice of this year’s Hills and Dales Walks.
Organised by Keith Bailey and based on Nab End Farm, by kind permission of Barbara and David Cox, this event is a fund raiser for our charity. firstname.lastname@example.org
Main details are:
Date: Saturday 26th August 2017
8, 14, and 26 Mile Walks in 10 Hours
Open to walkers and runners. 10 hour maximum time limit
Start and finish at NAB END FARM GR SK 077662.
WALKS & RUNS. Three distances to choose from.
Overnight accommodation if required on Friday 25th August at Nab End Farm cost £8.00 per person.
Contact: www.nabendfarm.co.uk Booking in advance essential.
Please check out the link below for full details
- By Mike Allison on Sat, 31st December 2016
2016 has been a productive year for the charity in which we made three convoy deliveries of aid to Belarus including vehicle loads sent to ‘new’ areas of Stolin and Yatsevichi both in the Pinsk area of the Brest region. Once again it has been very rewarding to help the helpers = organisations and individuals who cater for the needs of the sick and disabled many of whom live with their families is serious poverty.
With our contacts over the years we are able to deliver a wide range of items from furniture, bedding, clothing and footwear. Building materials such as boarding, paint and flooring etc. are in big demand to support the provision of respite homes and centres where mothers and their disabled children can have a well earned break from their often stressful situation at home.
In April 2017 with the support of IKEA we will be sending four or five vehicles to destinations across the Brest and Gomel regions.
To all our supporters the aid team wish you and yours a very happy and successful 2017.
Mike Allison 31. December 2016
- By Mike Allison on Sun, 06th November 2016
Convoy Report October 2016.
Our two vehicles left our Yorkshire base on Monday 17th October both heading for the village of Yaglevichi, near the town of Pinsk in the Brest region of Belarus. The village just off the M10 motorway in Belarus is rural with many small houses built with wood or at best with block construction. The village has a population of just over 200 and the main industry apart from agriculture was a factory producing material to repair the roads. The people ‘manage’ but like many areas in Belarus they do without much of the basic things we take for granted and to be sick or disabled in this environment increases the difficulty.
Aid had been requested to support a future project to build a ‘mission’ a building that would provide respite shelter for mothers and their children in a nearby village called Bobrovichi. The main organizer was Papa Vitali, a priest in the Orthodox Russian church. The aid requested was everything to do with building so tools, boards, doors and windows, flooring and paint etc. In fact, a very comprehensive list. Liena our team member in Gomel, Belarus and 250 miles from or delivery point provided the pre-convoy contacts with Vitali and it was agreed that we would deliver our usual wide range of ‘family aid’ this time to allow the team to view the project site in Bobrovichi. We would then plan to make the building aid delivery in April 2017.
Travelling across Holland and Germany proved to be no problem for us with very few holdups but we saw serious problems on the opposite carriageway in Germany where road works created long delays and we took note that on our return journey we could have a problem. Just half a mile from the border with Poland at Frankfurt Oder and in restricted lanes on a dual carriageway the traffic came to a standstill. It was almost 9pm and we were just 40 mins from our hotel stop in Poland. The driver in front of our vehicles. an artic and trailer, got out of his cap and after looking in his fuel tank asked Bob in our leading vehicle for 10 liters of fuel! After getting a negative response, he set off running down the line of vehicles asking for fuel. We managed to squeeze past but any larger vehicles would remain in the queue for hours until they cleared the obstruction.
Crossing Poland the following day we stopped 40 mins from the border with Belarus at the Hotel Dukat overnight and made the early run next day for the Polish customs. Traffic at the border was quiet but building fast and the element of luck was on our side for sure as five hours later we were clearing into Belarus. The sent both vehicles to be X-rayed but cleared both without the dreaded instruction “Go Dock”. (inspection dock that could delay us for several hours). So, we had made a record crossing.
Bob and Kevin decided, as planned, to stay overnight with family friend in Brest while Aidan and I drove to Yaglevichi following phoned instruction from Papa Vitali through Liena. The directions were correct but our reading of them left a bit to be desired and we missed a turn but soon corrected and entered the village. We spotted the church in the distance above the low houses but were surprised with the view we got of it as we parked outside. It is a recently built project, very impressive and funded by businesses in the local towns, I believe some grant funding, fund raising events and collections and donations from local people. You need to see the church in relation to the surrounding buildings and houses to fully appreciate how impressive it looks. There is no doubt that Papa Vitali has led a great team of dedicated followers to build this church and that whatever he plans for his new project he will be determined to succeed.
After a few minutes Papa Vitali arrived in full priest regalia accompanied by Alexander, a school teacher who spoke brilliant English. We parked our vehicle overnight in a ‘council warehouse which like the yard was full of equipment and were taken to our hotel which on the outside was smart and clean but our rooms were very basic with no shower or bath and plumbing from the dark ages. We were promised a better room the following night but as no one else appeared to be staying there it was hard to understand why we could not move earlier. No problem and we have suffered worse in the past and at £8 per room you get the picture! No restaurant and no bar meant that Aidan and I went out into the deserted street to find a bar where we were the only customers!
Alexander our interpreter collected by car at 0800 and took us to the ‘council warehouse’ to the Truck. Aidan remarked that the equipment in the yard had been cleared overnight. We entered through the shuttered door shouting “good morning” to the three startled local workers getting ready for their shift. Turning the corner to where the vehicle was parked we found empty space – wrong warehouse! We offered our apologies and went another 100 yards to the correct warehouse with a yard full of equipment!
As arranged Bob and Kevin met us on the P6 Junction and we travelled on to Baranavichi and the local customs there where Vitali, ‘now dressed down in black jeans and leather jacket’, with the help of a retired customs official, went through the paper clearance that took well into the afternoon before we travelled back to unload at their warehouse that was specially authorised by the customs.
A team of about 10 young guys arrived by minibus to assist and after a couple of hours and with darkness approaching fast both vehicles were unloaded.
We parked our vehicles in the timber yard of Vitali’s brother.
Bob had a problem on his vehicle in that the cab support had broken and the cab had a 10-degree list so it was a priority to get it fixed in the morning.
After a shower in our newly allocated and better rooms (£12 a night) we were collected for a meal at Papa Vitali’s home where we enjoyed a Belarusian meal, beer and ‘moonshine’ cherry Vodka produced by one of his cousins. The eldest son played classical music on the piano, then sang a duet with his dad on the guitar. A great evening and we did full justice to the moonshine.
Saturday morning, we were back at the timber yard showing Vitali the problem with Bob’s cab.. We needed a welder! The brother’s house was a log cabin, warm and very comfortable. We went inside for coffee, a phone call brought a welder and by the time we had finished our coffee the cab support was fixed.
Later we travelled by cars to Bobrovichi to view the proposed project. Firstly, we drove across tracks in the forests to the edge of a huge lake it was massive and a place for summer camps and then to a cemetery with an oak tree that the locals claimed was over 500 years old. It was certainly the largest tree I have ever seen and we collected acorns to plant at home. Vitali pointed to the near distance to indicate the site of just one of the villages of that area that was destroyed by fire in 1944 and where over 1200 villagers of all ages were burnt to death in the buildings by the retreating Nazis.
On reaching the site of the proposed ‘mission’ we found old dilapidated wooden buildings typical of most of the area and a brick building that was to be the centre of the project. The potential is there and Vitali is sure that this project will be just as successful as his competed church in Yaglevichi. He has his plans already with computer designs and is to forward copies to us shortly.
The population of the village is just 40 and the small church there had just one room, 5 yds x 5 yds, so I would guess that in good weather the services would be outside. A museum housed in a similarly small dilapidated building displayed all the tools used by villages in years gone by and items from an archaeological dig dated 200 BC that suggested that people of this area were probably the first inhabitants of what is now Belarus. Several artifacts from an ancient Jewish settlement were among the display. Before travelling back to base we visited what was the Eastern front of the 1914/18 world war. The pillboxes and trenches are now protected with explanatory notices displayed recording the events.
Back to Vitali’s project. The main building will be totally renovated to house mothers and children for respite holidays, four very small detached houses will be erected nearby to cater for additional parents and children and the whole area will support large summer camps for children from the area villages.
Our convoy team are experience, each with many previous such trips to Belarus. One of our tasks this time was to judge the credibility of the project and those that were to manage it. After another most interesting day and in fact three days of contact both socially and on the business side with Vitali we considered that this project is well worth supporting as it will provide much needed respite for the sick and disabled and their families. Additionally, the planned summer camps will provide activities for area village children when they will learn crafts and self-respect and have fun.
Already groups of villagers have been clearing the site and one can see that once the winter months are over the work will gather pace. This project will happen. With help from ‘outsiders’ it will happen sooner!
Sunday morning, we drove for home leaving the timber yard at 0720 and made the journey to the port at Rotterdam in three days without any major problem.
It is planned that the aid delivered will be ‘cleared’ shortly and that the local and not so local families will be allocated the clothing, bedding, footwear, household goods, furniture, walking aids, incontinent items and pampers etc. in good time for Christmas. As in most areas of Belarus these families have a sick and disabled member and all live very basic and impoverished lives. Our aid will make a positive difference to their lives.
The aid, as always, was donated by our supporters, our knit and natter groups and the companies who supply their surplus goods. Our aid team at home in Stockton on Tees, Longnor in Derbyshire and in Yorkshire make the collections, pack the aid and load the vehicles. It is a terrific achievement by our wider aid team and in this instance Papa Vitali was generous in his thanks and sends his very best wishes to you all.
We need all types of tools and building materials, beds, bedding, general furniture, tents, sports goods etc. and the delivery will leave for Bobrovichi, Belarus on April 11th 2017.
Mike Allison October 2016.
- By Mike Allison on Mon, 08th August 2016
On July 20th two vehicles departed Hillam on route for Belarus and the town of Stolin situated in the south west and just a few miles from the border with Ukraine. This was a new destination for the charity and aimed at a public association that supports young people with disabilities. Our vehicles carried a wide range of aid including wheelchairs, walking aids and some very expensive mobility stretchers designed for the severely handicapped. Incontinent pads, prams and pushchairs, fridges, beds, bedding, toys, clothing and footwear and many other items made up the ten tonne total delivery.
Within the team of four was Alan, Bob and Ian from Stockton on Tees and myself from Hillam. Alan is a colleague Trustee of our charity and a Rotarian having been the recent president of the Stockton Rotarians.
The Rotarians in Stockton linked with Rotary International had asked Alan to source a project in Belarus that they could and would support if it met their stringent criteria. So we had two targets – the delivery of aid and the sourcing, or not, of a new project.
On the outward journey almost across Poland we had a major breakdown of the large truck from Stockton – Friday night and the part required in Sweden and not due until 9am on the Monday. So Alan and I travelled on to cross into Belarus leaving our colleagues to spend the weekend in Poland.
The customs procedure was followed by the unloading of the truck in Stolin into a customs registered warehouse. The receiver was called Mikhail. He was the chairperson of the committee of 12. That day he was opening a summer camp for ten children from different schools and villages and all with some problem either of behaviour or medical.
We travelled in the minibus with these kids most of whom just did not want to be there and as we travelled south towards the Ukraine border we tried to communicate. We had some success with Rooney, Messe and Beckham. Arriving at the camp site we watched as Mikhail briefed the kids then organised the tent pitching. We were very impressed with his attitude and he soon has the kids active and participating in setting- up the camp and then into pottery making.
After food, prepared by his helpers, we travelled to the village of Luca where Mikhail intends to build a home for six disabled young adults and provide shelter for the old people, all from the local villages.
The wooden buildings situated in several acres of scrub land were totally dilapidated with no power or water but Mikhail had been given permission by the authorities to use the area and the local villagers had promised to help. Mikhail was not aware of Alan’s search for a project and still isn’t but he asked for help. I mentioned to our interpreter, Elena, that this was his dream and she told him which sponsored a reply “it is not a dream – it will happen” Full marks to him. Elena informed Alan and I that we were now going to see a project that Mikhail had completed and that the original building was in a poorer state than those that we had just viewed.
Travelling back into Stolin to the new centre we were surprised to see that the roof of the building was covered with solar panels.
The lighting inside was LED, the walls were timber clad and the floors tiled with all the facilities modern and functional. The current activity is for disabled young adults to make pottery items for sale and to give them an income from the proceeds. In the larger room they hope to educate disabled youngsters in computing and so we are wanting second hand laptops that we can clean and take out there in October. Can you help? We need 20!
The following day Bob and Ian arrived from Poland, their vehicle repaired and after unloading we all retraced our steps from the previous day. Travelling to within 1km of the border with Ukraine we were stopped by the Belarusian border guards but after a brief discussion we were allowed to drive on for the short journey to the camp site.
Then to Mikhail’s ‘dream’ project and the completed centre for a second viewing. We met with Nicholai the chair of the local Red Cross and Viktor the director of a company in Agriculture both supporters of Mikhail’s projects.
Alan will consider with Rotary colleagues if Mikhail’s project warrants their support and we, Chernobyl Aid UK will deliver aid including paint, building material, beds and furniture and, of course laptops, on a future convoy.
Many thanks to our sponsors and suppliers of aid – Lowes Financial Management, Ikea, SCA, Whittles Paint, APC Clothing and all our many regular suppliers of knitted garments, footwear, clothing and bedding etc.
We are grateful for the help of our interpreter Elena from Pinsk in Belarus whose services we were using for the first time on convoy and, as always, Liena Fedorchuk our resident team member in Gomel who co-ordinates all our convoy activities in Belarus.
As usual our aid team, all volunteers, were readily available in the preparation, loading and delivery of the aid. No time to rest though as our next convoys already in the planning stage for October this year and April 2017.
Mike Allison. August 7th 2016
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