Changing Lives in Lithuania & Russia
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Changing Lives in Lithuania & Russia

Grand Circle's regional offices organize two community service events

When Grand Circle Travel Program Directors and Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) Trip Leaders gather for training, a day of community service is always one of the most anticipated events. This year, Program Directors and Trip Leaders in Russia and the Baltics had the opportunity to participate in not one, but two service events in their region.

Small-Town Service
Particularly notable was the event in Salantai, Lithuania, which represented Grand Circle's first day of service in the Baltic region. The focus was a municipally funded day care center that provides social services for people with mental and physical disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and blindness. Located in a rural area rather than a city, the center offers a unique lifeline to people who might otherwise be isolated and left to cope on their own.

The center supports its constituents by helping them develop basic skills that allow them to live more independently. Unfortunately, it lacks the funding to develop the grounds where residents can improve their motor skills. On their designated day of service this past April, 20 Baltic Trip Leaders, three hospitality representatives from Moscow, and staff from the company's Vilnius, St. Petersburg, and Moscow offices looked forward to clearing the grounds and planting seeds and pine trees.

What they didn't anticipate was snow. "Weather is very unpredictable in the Baltics, and it surprised us again," says Oksana Nageviciute, Area Manager for the Baltic States. "We said, 'we need a plan B!' But instead we called the center and told them that snow could not stop us. We were coming anyway!"

So significant was the event to the town of Salantai that the team was met by the city mayor and the head of social work, as well as newspaper and television reporters. The team divided themselves into three groups: one to clear the grounds of dead trees, one to clean the building, and a third to engage in a pottery class with the residents.

Another hindrance quickly arose for the cleaning team, however: The building was already spotless. Again, the team rose to the challenge. Instead of cleaning, they turned the event into an opportunity to teach the residents how to use the cleaning equipment. "This was a great idea of the social workers," says Oksana, "to let residents feel equal and capable."

According to Oksana, however, the best part of the day was the pottery class. "Residents got the task of teaching us how to create flower pots and decorate them," she explains. "They felt so responsible and powerful teaching foreigners. At the end, we were thankful that the weather allowed us to have this experience, as it was the best example of how we change people's lives!"

Helping Out in the Big City
The community service team in Moscow had a similarly rewarding experience. In April, more than 30 Program Directors and Trip Leaders, as well as staff from the Moscow regional office, dedicated their last day of training to community service. The site they chose was the Social Adaptation Center Marphino, a state-supported institution in Moscow for homeless people. Conceived as a transitional center, it provides health services, clothing, temporary accommodations, hot meals, and assistance in getting back to normal life.

The Grand Circle group's task was to clean the grounds surrounding the center and to remove piles of old leaves. The crews of the M/S Rossia and M/S Tikhi Don, the ships on Grand Circle's Russia Revealed: Moscow to St. Petersburg River Cruise, provided rubber boots, and the ships' chefs not only cooked lunch for the service team, but even baked cakes for residents of the center. Even Grand Circle's coach vendor in Moscow pitched in, providing free service for the team.

Again, the weather did not cooperate, but the Grand Circle group was undeterred. "Our team worked in the rain, singing loudly," reports Natalia Janjic, Regional General Manager of Russia and the Baltic States. "The inhabitants of the Center were very impressed by Grand Circle's energetic and lively work style! Some of them even joined us, and we worked as one team."

Along with cleaning the grounds and preparing them for spring, the team also purchased supplies to create 600 toiletry kits for the residents, containing soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, hairbrush, disposable shavers, and toilet paper. As a thank you, the residents of the center performed a concert they had prepared especially for the Grand Circle team. "It was a day when every one of us felt clearly how things that seem minor to us can become huge for somebody else," Natalia says.

Featured in our May 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.