For Belarusian Children

Registered Charity Number: 1077872


For Belarusian Children

Registered Charity Number: 1077872

Designed and Managed by Matt Capel

Leave of Hope ©



Hosted and IT Managed by Dave Cox dave@coxyco.com

One day in June 2001 I had a phone call from the manager of crime concern Linda Williams. She asked me if I would like to go to Belarus with the youth club. If I was interested to go to the youth club to find out more. When I was at the youth club Linda and the other boys were they're speaking to another lady called Val. They explained that we were going to make the porter cabin outside a music room for the children of Novinki orphanage.

I agreed to go even though I didn't no what I was going to experience. As the weeks went by I just carried on as normal getting into trouble with the police and hanging around outside shops. Finally the day we were leaving was here onto the bus and of we went on the longest drive I had ever been. From Cardiff to England and England to France then through Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland were we had stayed in a motel. That night I was a bit nervous because we were so near and I didn't know what was to come. The next day we were there and I had the shock of my life. How do young children live like this I thought to my self everyone was upset and some people were crying? After that day I didn't think that I would cry. As the days went by there was a little girl called Angela and she used to come with me every were I got so attached that I didn't want to go home. As the last day came and we had given the orphanage its own music room. It was time to say farewell to our new friends and I couldn't stop myself from crying. That day I realised that I didn't need to get into trouble no more but what I did need to do was help these unfortunate children live there lives the happiest way they could and visit as often as I could.

Luke's Story

Luke Cachia, 15, was one of the boys who travelled to Novinki with the Llanrumney Youth Inclusion Project.

Here are Luke's thoughts about the trip....

Luke's report on trip to Belarus

Liam's Story

My name is Liam Castillo I am 15 year old and live in Trowbridge, Cardiff. Who attends the Lanrumney Youth Inclusion project for the alternative education programme. I was invited by the Leaves of Hope Charity, based in Llanrumney, to travel over to Belarus and help the orphans.

We travelled to Belarus in a minibus and it took us about two days to get there. We had to sleep on the minibus which was a bit cramped, and we cooked on camper cookers at the side of the roads. I travelled with three other students and three members of staff. There were a few rows between us which was okay by me because there wasn’t much to do on the way anyway.

This is the first time I had to go two days without showering but it was worth it because when we finally got there the orphans we so happy to see us. All they could do was cuddle and kiss us. I even cried because I have never seen a group of children so happy to see anyone before.

We all worked hard, trying to improve their standards of living. When we wasn't working we were playing with the orphans. I loved seeing them everyday.

The worst day was when we had to leave them to come home. Everyone was very upset and did not want to leave.

On the journey home, I had time to think about how lucky I am to have what I have, family, friends and nice possessions. Since coming back, I have tried to work harder and don t really moan about things as much. I really want to go back but seen as we need about £400 to do so, I m finding it very difficult. I will do all I can to raise as much money as I can to go back or even just to offer to the charity. I believe the journey had a positive impact on my live and would advice anyone to go, even just once.

James's Story

My name is James Tabbener. I am a fifteen year old boy living on the Llanrumney estate, Cardiff.

I take part in the Llanrumney Youth Inclusion Project s informal programme. I was offered a chance to take part in a humanitarian trip with a local charity The Leaves of Hope through the project.

I had to raise £400 in order for me to go. I found this to be a bit of a pain as the fundraising had to be done in my own time. I would have rather have hung out with my mates. I did enjoy the fundraising events when I got into them, especially the quiz night. Our table top sale was a bit of a nightmare as not many people turned up and we ate most of the hot dogs for sale ourselves.

The trip was to Belarus to help decorate a play area outside a local hospital with flowers etc. The trip to Belarus took about two days on a minibus and a converted ambulance. We travelled through England, France, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and into Belarus, just outside Russia.

The journey was very tiring and there were some arguments on the way but we had to work through them because we had to work as a team to help improve the lives of the children in Belarus.

We all worked very hard but it did not seem like work. We were all glad to do it. The children had nothing, no nice trainers, not many had socks, and sometimes only one set of clothes. It made me feel very sad. I wanted to go and buy them all a new pair of shoes but I did not have the money!

I was glad to have taken part in the trip because I met a lot of new friends, I hadn’t been out of Wales before and we made the Belarusian children happy. I wanted to cry when we finally had to leave after six days over there, I was very upset.

There were less arguments on the way home. We were all very tired and more grateful for what we have.

I think more differently now and have not been in as much trouble. I would definatley go back. It s the best thing I have ever done.

Emms Story – August Convoy 2005

Remember 5 years ago when Val first suggested that a portacabin, refurbished by youngsters from the Llanrumney Youth Inclusion Project, should be transported overland from Cardiff to Belarus? We all thought she had taken leave of her senses. When she followed that by saying she was going to drive overland with a group of the youngsters we knew she had! But she argued ‘it was only fair that having put so much into it the youngsters should be encouraged to see it through; to make sure the portacabin was safely installed, and to see the children from the orphanage using it as a music room’. It was an ambitious project fraught with risk but they did it. Val was absolutely right. Earlier editions of our ‘latest news’ tells it as it was.

It was an astonishing success. These were tough young men, used to the world of the inner city, having to fight for survival. They knew what it was like to feel rejected and alienated. On the fringes of the criminal justice system they know about family disruption and fractured relationships; they had learned to cope with disapproval and hostility.

But they were not prepared for the orphanage and the effect it would have them. They were clearly very moved by the children whose needs were palpably so much greater than their own; children who craved so much affection and attention. They were distressed and, in the security of Val’s understanding and love, they wept. They returned to Cardiff with a real sense of achievement and a sense of self respect that would have been hard to imagine ten days previously.

Since then, of course, Val and a team of wonderful volunteers have driven overland with groups of youngsters – girls and boys - every year to work on refurbishment programmes moving from Novinki Orphanage, to the children’s ward of Borovliani hospital and then the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre close by. Each time it is the same. The youngsters quickly form friendships with the children, and work their socks off to redecorate designated areas. Val’s moving accounts of the trips on this web site are a joy to read and it is absolutely clear what a wonderful success the trips have been for everyone – especially the young people.

This year drivers were needed so I volunteered ……

I was intrigued. The young people, this time a mixed group of boys and girls, volunteer to spend three days in a mini bus being driven 1,500 miles in order to work hard for eight hours a day and then to drive back another 1,500 miles confined for another three days, eating in lay byes at the side of the road, and sleeping as and when they could make themselves sufficiently comfortable! And if this wasn’t enough they had to raise £400 each for the privilege. Why did they want to do it? What possible motive had they? What on earth was in it for them? How do they cope living in such close proximity to each other.

How would they cope with someone who was so demonstrably not from ‘their world’; not from Cardiff, or even from Wales, an obvious establishment figure, in her early sixties who didn’t smoke, knew nothing about the latest reality TV nail biters, and whose last intimate contact with pop music was the Beatles. ….I was to learn a lot in the next ten days.

The very public exposure of my deficiencies endowed a sort of ‘street cred’. At the same time there was considerable revelling in my embarrassment, reinforcing the misery, with helpful comments like, “Cor Miss! D’you really not know the ‘effing’ difference between ‘effing’ benzene and ‘effing diesel?” But they decamped, uncomplainingly into the other two vehicles, and set off to find a motel for what remained of the night leaving me with a saintly volunteer to wait for the breakdown truck. It arrived at 2.30 am. Communication could have been a problem but as Benzene and Diesel are universal words (“to most people” I suppose should be the caveat!) the trouble was fairly obvious. The mini bus was duly winched on to the break down truck and delivered into the darkness of the Polish country side to wait for a local village garage to open in the morning. That was OK except that the breakdown chap wanted to be paid, and US dollars weren’t good enough. Being then driven even deeper into the countryside in the cab of a thirty two foot break down truck in search of a ‘Kantor’ to change US dollars into Zloty was an unlikely tale but I do have a receipt timed at 0335!

The second was the crucial importance of service station stops. Fag ‘fixes’ were dragged to within centimetres of the cork. Quantities of crisps, nuts, pop, sweets and bars of chocolate were hoarded as if for a siege of monumental proportions, or as very soon became apparent, to be used as ammunition in the resolution of disputes en route.

All this, I suppose, is what Val means by ‘team building’. Relationships were explored, alliances pursued, roles and territory established. We learned to cope with travelling, driving long distances at a time, sleeping when we could, sharing the driving, and doing as we were told by Val!

And when we arrived Belarus experienced some of the worst and most violent storms in its history.

Negotiating flooded roads and uprooted trees was nothing compared with the effect of the power failures and the loss of water. Without water and electricity for two days the decorating was definitely a test of endurance. Even the loos did not work so we had to develop a ‘code of practice’, and rota for their maintenance. Some moans and groans would have been understandable but the young people were truly wonderful. The lavatorial jokes are unrepeatable but sustained the spirits. And our little travelling gas cookers were the only cooking facility for the whole orphanage. This was team building like nothing else. There were no complaints – just competition over who could make us laugh most. It brought us all together; gave us all a common cause, and brought us face to face with how very hard life can be in Belarus.

The Embassy presentations presented a problem. It would not do to meet Her Majesty’s representative stinking!! But mercifully just a couple of hours before we were due to leave the water returned and we were able to luxuriate in the showers and arrive looking (and smelling!) reasonably well polished. The picture shows seven very proud young people having been presented with their certificates of achievement by Charge d’Affaires, Mr Greg Quinn.

And they had so much to be proud about. They had weathered the storms, the lack of water and electricity and had completed the job on time! They had all worked hard. They had also played with the children in the Centre getting to know them and love them. Like their predecessors they had found it a highly emotional time but Val, or another volunteer, was always on hand for the private expressions of distress, frustration and helplessness. I was so impressed by the compassion and and understanding of the experienced volunteers as they gently guided the young people through the rawness of their feelings.

There is no doubt that the young people who made the return journey were a more mature, knowledgeable and chastened group. They felt better about themselves and probably knew themselves better. They had visited the grave of our ‘little bird’, and had learned about the history of Belarus at the war memorial at Khatyn. They were genuinely proud of what they had achieved and were not afraid to admit it. It was clear that they had become a team. They cared about each other were beginning to make some effort to resolve their internal differences without resorting to cursing or bombing each other with M&Ms (although that is clearly not claiming that referees were not still needed!), and we knew then some of the answers to those questions that had intrigued me at the beginning of the trip.

Farewells …

And then it was time to say goodbye. All the children and staff were up at six in the morning to see us off. They sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in English to one of our volunteers. He had to swallow very hard! There were lots of promises of return trips and letters but, unlike so many emotional partings, we knew we would soon be back. It had been such an extraordinary week. How can one do justice to it? We got back into our vehicles sad but exhilarated. It would be long journey home, but not, we knew, long enough to sort out all the feelings – the fun, the sadness, the frustration, the squabbles, the discipline, the language, the confidences shared, the understanding of things we did not understand before.

We did not speak much at first – but then the camper broke down and we were jolted back to reality. We knew the return trip was going to be no less eventful. Again we took refuge in a Polish motel overnight. This time when we came to leave early in the morning, we found we had been locked in! ‘Breaking out’ was not a problem. The ‘team’ had lots of experience!!! The ambulance breakdown on the autobahn was a bit hairy but eventually we made it back to the Channel and home.

I shall never forget the wonderful volunteers and young people who made up the group. They were truly inspirational. I am so grateful to them, and to Val, without whose drive, vision, courage leadership and strength this would never have been possible.

Thank you everyone.

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Kyle Newton, a volunteer on the Easter 2004 convoy was due to join the Royal Army Medical Corps that June. He felt so passionately about his experience in Belarus that once posted he approached his C.O. to tell him about ‘Leaves of Hope’ and the work it does. Captain Ray Jolly was interested and speculated about the army as a possible career option for the boys. After a meeting with Val, Ann and Paulette Hanscombe (LOH and Llanrumney High Schools Social Inclusion Co-ordinator), things started to happen very quickly. Within a week, plans were being set to give the boys an idea of what it would mean to be in the Army.  A week at HM’s base in Munster was arranged.  For a week the boys had to conform to Army discipline.

They had to get up at 6 o’clock, make their beds ‘the military way’, iron their uniforms, polish their boots and tidy their rooms ready for inspection by the Sgt Major.

They experienced everything involved in a soldier’s basic training. They learned map reading and camouflage, first aid and resuscitation

And the dreaded DRILL!

Left hand/right hands took on a completely different meaning! The short film Val made of the boys’ ‘Learning how to Drill’ would have to be seen to be believed!

They had to learn the six Corps values and be prepared to be tested on them during their final drill test in front of the C.O. Major Richie Knight on their last day. To boost their confidence, they practiced to the Military Band that morning.  It was deeply moving for Val and Paulette - bringing tears of pride and a lumps to their throats!

But their final test was attending a formal Regimental Dinner. Their first time in dinner suits and they looked stunning – and behaved impeccably. We were so proud of them.

Well done Gentlemen!

Past Stories
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