Countown to Vegas – Story #4 – Russia

May 21, 2009

This story was written by Lindsey Kerstetter from Marketing Communications. Lindsey went along on the European leg of our trip around the world to capture stories of One by One projects that were funded in honor of the Amway 50th anniversary year.

Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital – ‘Child’s Smile’ playroom

The large gray hospital building stands tall with six floors of symmetrical windows climbing up it. It looks drab and unimportant from the exterior, but for the 500 child patients inside from birth to 18 years old, it is a glimmer of hope for a healthy future. The Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital is rated the top children’s hospital in Russia and one of the many reasons why can be found on the third floor, in the pediatric hematology unit.

The monotony of white walls is broken up with orange door frames down the long corridor. In each of the 20 rooms there are two children, once strangers that now lay side by side on their twin cots treated for various forms of cancer. Keeping a watchful eye on each room is the chief Doctor of the hematology unit, Dr. Karapet Aslanyan, but to the children he is “Karapet”, a name that is used for close friends.

Half way down the hallway, in a room on the left side sits 5 year old Yulia. She’s coloring quietly as the DVD she was watching comes to an end. Yulia’s mother is always looking for distracting activities while her daughter receives 24 hours of treatment to fight the leukemia cells that attack her little body. Only months ago, Yulia was attending preschool and learning English, but after her diagnosis she spends a month at the hospital with only a week or two to enjoy the comfort of home before returning for treatment again.

Yulia is not the only child that spends her days in solitude. Many of the children here are bound to their colorless rooms by the tubes and medicine that treat them. Yet, for these children there is a chance to be free from the worries of the hospital. In honor of Amway’s 50th Anniversary through the One by One Campaign for Children, these little patients can forget about their disease and just be a child in the Amway/UNICEF Child’s Smile playroom. This playroom is one of over 60 that will be designed in children’s institutions and hospitals all over Russia. Full of color, life and of course, toys, the playroom at this hospital is always buzzing with activity, especially after treatments are over. Little David, a three year old leukemia patient, can’t get to the room fast enough. “He feels at home in this room,” says David’s mother Lydia. “It is heart warming for us as parents to watch our children play. Thank you for giving them, and us, that enjoyment.”

The hospital serves children from many countries including Russia, Turkey and Armenia and regardless of the region the universal sound of “choo-choo” is understood among all the children. Donated by Amway, the train in the room is among the children’s favorites. And IBOs and employees are quick to be sure new toys are always available.

No matter what tickles their fancy, the sterile masks that cover the children’s smiles can’t disguise the enjoyment in their eyes. For little Yulia, it’s the play kitchen that makes her eyes dance. Traditional Russian cuisine of Borsht is her specialty and whoever happens to be in the playroom is welcome to dine with her. She’ll even do the dishes.

“This playroom has positively impacted the environment of our hospital,” says Doctor Aslanyan. “Anything that helps the psychological rehabilitation of our children is invaluable.”

The playroom is not the only gift from Amway at this hospital. Just a few doors down from the playroom is another important gift, state of the art, highly technical anesthetic equipment donated by six Diamond-level Amway IBOs. The relationship between the hospital and Amway started with IBO Vladimir Moon, whose son was treated at this hospital. The new equipment allows vital procedures to be done in the same department where children are treated. “Before children had to be transported to another area of the hospital for these procedures, which put them at risk with their poor immune systems. It is now easier and more convenient to give these children the procedures they need,” says Doctor Aslanyan.

The Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital has plans to construct a new building for the hematology unit in the future and acquire more state of the art equipment. But for now the third floor with a very special playroom is home away from home to 40 small patients.

And after a full hour of playing, it is now 2pm and time for many of the children to head back to their rooms for a nap. They do so obediently, including three year old David, who has a train car clenched in hand.

Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital – Camp “Raduga Druzhby” or “Rainbow of Friendship”

On the outskirts of Rostov, past groves of bright yellow sunflowers and down a two track dirt road is a special camp nestled among trees, called Rainbow of Friendship. The serene setting is an extension of the Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital and 20 of the campers there are the very same children that received treatment not long ago on the third floor Hematology unit. After years of medical treatment, these children have dealt with struggles far beyond their actual 9-15 years of age. This camp is just the place to reclaim their childhood.

“These children have had short but hard lives,” says Vera Surkova, “and an important part of this camp is to instill pride for all they’ve accomplished.” Vera is a psychologist for the Rostov Regional Children’s hospital and the visionary for the three week camp. She’s also deeply involved in these children’s lives and recovery process. Like creating team building games that help children socialize again and bond with their peers. Many of the campers have spent the past three years or more isolated and restricted to life at the hospital or in their homes. One of their favorite games is with brightly colored balloons that are sandwiched between the children as they twist and turn to keep them from floating to the ground. Shouts of encouragement echo among them as they inch their way down the path toward the finish line. The team building activity is definitely a confidence booster and the sense of accomplishment is felt from the first in line to the last. In victory, they shout a chant, their group motto composed by fellow camper, 9 year old Dasha. “Risk is good, risk is brave, risk this is us and our dreams!”

Over the years dealing with their child’s illness, many parents have grown cautious and are often reluctant to give their child over to someone else’s care. However, they have no reason for concern here. Roman Bugayevsky and Tatiana Reshetnyak are the house father and mother at the camp and also volunteers from the Children and Youth of Don organization. They’re excellent role models and a great help to Vera, who considers herself the grandmother over all 20 children in her care.

Like Aganez, who is a first time camper. At 14 years old, time away from home and the protective watch of his parents is a rare experience – but he’s finding the newfound freedom to be exhilarating. Although timid at first, and a bit weak from his disease, Aganez now craves the interaction and companionship of his new friends. He’s a frequenter of the campground disco and is often seen on the dance floor much more than standing on the sidelines.

Aganez’s experience at camp mirrors many others. “During treatment these children fall behind their peers in communication and practical skills,” says Vera. “Camp allows them to ‘catch up’ and research shows they often emerge as leaders among their peers.” The serious nature of the struggles these young children have endured gives them an inner strength and outer maturity that great leaders possess.

This is the second year Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital has ventured out into the woods with patients. But the first year they received a grant to send children to camp, this year they did not. Fortunately, in honor of Amway’s 50th Anniversary through the One by One Campaign for Children, Amway made the camp experience a reality for eight new campers… or eight new future leaders… whose camp experience was not paid for by the state. Not only was their room and board covered, but extravagant excursions like horseback riding too. Amway also provides supplies for the campers, which are put to good use painting faces, drawing pictures and making childhood memories for years to come.

The hospital children are not the only campers creating memories. The camp is owned by the Russian government and rented by various organizations. The groups of campers from Rostov Regional Children’s Hospital are housed next to a group of orphans who have come to play for the week. And when the energetic children are lined up in rows racing one another, pumping their legs to go higher on the swings and showing their dance moves at the disco, it’s hard to tell just what group they’re associated with. And it really doesn’t matter. Along with Dasha’s motto, they have their dreams, they have their life and they will be successful.

Children's Hospital Playroom

Russia Children's Hospital Playroom

Russia Children's Hospital Patient

Russia Children's Hospital Camp

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