Three vehicles carrying a total weight of 22 Tonnes of humanitarian aid left Yorkshire by the Hull Ferry to Europort, Rotterdam on Tuesday 22nd March to travel across Europe to Belarus.
The demand for places on this convoy was such that we added a support estate car with three occupants so with two in each on the trucks we had a team of nine. This vehicle became very useful as we will explain later. Paul and David Campey, son and father in that order, drove the articulated vehicle, Bob Beech and Andy Wardle in the large box van from Stockton on Tees, Alan Miles and Mike Allison in the 7.5 tonner. The estate car was driven by Aidan Siney accompanied by Jen Allison who handled the photography and internet communications and Emily Wardle making her first convoy. Emily, 21, and a fully qualified HGV class one driver gained valuable experience driving the large vehicles in Europe causing many other drivers to take a second look as they could not believe their eyes at a girl in charge of such a large vehicle.
The journey across Europe was uneventful apart from the usual long delays in the customs. We are never sure of the real reason for the delays but it doesn’t seem to get any better!
Crossing into Belarus at Kozlevichi on the Friday morning Paul and David headed due East to Gomel just 30 miles from the Russian Border – 350 miles and arriving at 11pm to be met but Liena Fedorchuk our team member and co-ordinator of all or work in Belarus.
The other vehicles travelled North East to Rogachev and the Zlobyn customs. Ira Laptev and her son Alexie of the Rogachev association for families with disabled children met us at 10.30pm and, once the vehicles were parked securely, transported us to flats (3) where we were to spend the night. Alexie speaks English and has worked with convoy teams for many years so was to be our interpreter.
Up early Bob and Aidan made for the Zlobyn customs before joining us at the Rogachev school of music where we viewed the children using instruments and sheet music delivered by Alan Wade and Bob on the previous convoy. This is a very special school and the concert they provided for us was easily the best we have seen on our many visits to Belarus. Lots of skill on various instruments and loads of versatility in their performance.
The children displayed not only skill but enthusiasm and commitment to learn. They were obviously high achievers and our donated instruments and music has meant that they have a real chance to develop their music ability.
The dancer’s costumes were made by their tutors and parents from materials we delivered earlier this year. The school is receiving national acclaim for the standards of performance it’s pupils display in the music competitions they enter. When we delivered a drum kit earlier we omitted to load the foot pedal for the large drum so we took it this time and came across the drummer accompanying a trumpet player and his Tutor and doing really well but without his foot pedal. The smile on his face when we produced the missing item had to be seen.
Next it was to Vikov and a very different place. We have supported this institution for the physically and mentally handicapped over the years and we were pleased to see the improvements made in that the building is now well painted, clean and bright. The director was keen to show the care given to the patients many of whom are bedridden. She explained that the fabric and appearance of the building was important but that her ‘people’ needed just to be warm, fed and to feel secure in their environment and that the aid we bring makes all the difference to what they, the carers, can do to support them. We will continue to take aid to this unit as the need is ongoing and the help from their authorities insufficient.
Back at the Association’s warehouse and it was time to unload the large box van and the support car. Many hands helped to complete the job in less than an hour and after a brief wash up we were off to a meal in a local restaurant that turned into a party particularly for Alan Miles who was celebrating his 70th birthday. It was a great three hours and just the start of the celebrations for Alan as our hosts repeated the good wishes with birthday cakes on all the visits. Leaving Rogachev at 9pm we drove almost two hours to arrive in Gomel at 11pm and meet up with Paul, David and Liena and our hotel by the station.
Sunday was spent visiting friends while the local customs cleared the paperwork for the 7.5 Tonner then we met early evening at the Diabetic Association to unload the aid and have a meal and meeting with the DA people again included was a cake for Alan.
On Monday the trailer was unloaded into a large room at Grabovka school on behalf of the Gomel regional education department who will use the aid to open kindergartens, supply schools and institutions and provide help for the poorest families in their area.
We visited the school and the various classrooms, talked to the pupils in class and were treated to a performance of singing and dancing by the children. It was a very good visit and the relationship between the pupils and teachers was very special resulting in happy confident children. Another lovely meal and another cake for Alan.
Tuesday we set of for home early and leaving the outskirts of Gomel at what we call the ‘kissing place’, as that is where we say “goodbye” to Liena and others, we made good progress. After probably 15 minutes or travel I realised that I had left my paperwork at the hotel, a first ever but it should not happen as I could not leave the country without it.
A quick call to Liena who by now was almost back to the centre of Gomel near the hotel and within a few minutes she called to say “I have your papers”. This was where the support car became more than useful as Aidan quickly backtracked to the kissing place to be met by Liena while the trucks continued for the border some 350 miles away. We were all soon back in line and the problem solved.
Some 2 hours short of the border with Poland we stopped to meet with Papa Seigie, a priest, who is planning to open a hospice for children in or near the town of Stolin just a couple of miles from the border with the Ukraine. The meeting was on behalf of another charity, CCLL, who asked that we made the meeting for information purposes and it is possible that we may, in the future, make an aid delivery on their behalf.
The aid we took to Belarus was of a wide range of commodities including kitchen utensils, bowls, mugs, dinner plates and drinking glasses, toiletries, soap powders, clothes, footwear, bedding, beds, tables, incontinent pads and pampers, household paint and carpets, toys, games and many other items. We had over 100 pairs of children’s spectacles kindly donated by White Rose Optical in Wakefield. The receivers make specific requests to us based on the requirements of those they support. Many of the families we support spend the greater part of their low incomes on medical items for their sick and disabled children leaving very little for the basics.
They are always very thankful for our help and we are grateful to all who support our charity in whatever way. Without the help of our suppliers of aid, our knit and natter groups, Ikea, APC clothing, Whittles Paint etc. and our fund raisers and donors we would not be able to give this support.
The convoy team enjoyed greatly the interaction with the children and their carers, their teachers, parents, and the companionship from being part of the aid team. As is usual the team pay their own expenses for hotels and food and we do not pay anyone a salary or personal expenses either in UK or Belarus. It is something that we are proud of as a charity and ensures that all donations are used solely in the operating costs involved with our ability to make the aid deliveries to Belarus.
Many thanks and best wishes to you all.
Mike Allison. Chair Trustee. Chernobyl Aid UK 8th April 2016