Nazish Zafar: International Service Fellow

22 November 2005

This summer I spent two months at Kitezh Children’s Community. It is a village commune of foster families located in Buryatino, Russia. The Kitezh Children’s community operates in direct contrast to the institutionalized care at other orphanages. This setting is ideal for allowing children to reconcile themselves with their very painful past and to confidently embrace the sparkling future ahead of them.

Kitezh itself is located in a gorgeous fairytale setting with lovely log houses, bridges, and paths spilling over with flowers and laughing children. Each and every day plunged me into an entirely new world of experiences. Some of the things that illustrate my experience include:

  • I taught English in the kindergarten every day (we progressed from the English alphabet to reading words).
  • I scrubbed rooms, washed dishes, fed the cats, weeded the herb garden, re-planted carrots and collected various herbal plants.
  • I found and nurtured an abandoned kitten, but unfortunately it passed away.
  • I talked about the meaning of life in Russian every night over biscuits and tea.
  • I ate a lot of buckwheat and potatoes and drank 90 million cups of tea a day.
  • I made jam and juice with delicious amounts of black currants and raspberries and strawberries.
  • I hiked to a WWII battlefield and walked in the 6-foot trenches where I found hundreds of bullet shells.
  • I shot from a rifle and threw daggers.
  • I played war games till 4am in the dark woods without a flashlight and jumped into the wet muddy bushes at any conceivable sound of the approaching ‘enemy’.
  • I learned the meaning of the words ‘krapiva’, and ‘akuratna’ and ‘dve radugi’ and, I will never forget it.
  • I played a lot of outdoor children games and held origami and felt craft workshops.
  • I introduced the children to Michael Jackson’s cool music videos, and they introduced me to Disney movies in Russian.
  • I melted before the sight of TWO rainbows at once.
  • I taught the children exciting little phrases in Chinese and Malay.
  • I discovered that “I like you” in Malay sounds like “I’m a bitch” in Russian.
  • I danced under the moonlight with the children to the beat of music from a distant disco.
  • I used and washed the invigorating and rejuvenating banya.
  • I sang and performed ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes’ and Barney’s ‘I Love You’ before the entire community with 8-year-old twins Ksiusha and Vadim.
  • There were regular bonfires where we sang Russian songs.
  • I strolled through the woods with 9-year-old Marina and together we discovered a whole world of flowers–in Russian.
  • I learned to make daisy chains and exactly which part of the grass stalks to munch on.
  • I killed spiders for the children.
  • I translated a Kitezhian newsletter as well as two articles for a grant.
  • I learned a lot of Russian, a lot about Russia, and a lot about people in general.
  • Most importantly, I learned about living a good life and using your will and passion to create your own fabulous life experience.