Friendship stretches to the borders

[b]Talking to an Emergency Ministry worker, they tell me, “You can hardly imagine the gathering of young rescuers in Zubrenok. It’s like the Olympics!” Asking for them to tell me more they simply assert, “You need to visit and see for yourself!”[/b]I’ve come to Zubrenok for the opening of the 10th International Young Rescuers’ Forum, which has gathered over 200 participants at the National Recuperation Centre. The children’s faces are filled with anxiety and pride but the last preparations have been made, with senior children instructing the younger on what to do; they listen attentively with sincere expressions. Suddenly, the wind band conductor waves a hand and the children — as if obeying the music — head for the concert hall, accepting congratulations from top ranking guests at the gathering.
Talking to an Emergency Ministry worker, they tell me, “You can hardly imagine the gathering of young rescuers in Zubrenok. It’s like the Olympics!” Asking for them to tell me more they simply assert, “You need to visit and see for yourself!”
I’ve come to Zubrenok for the opening of the 10th International Young Rescuers’ Forum, which has gathered over 200 participants at the National Recuperation Centre. The children’s faces are filled with anxiety and pride but the last preparations have been made, with senior children instructing the younger on what to do; they listen attentively with sincere expressions. Suddenly, the wind band conductor waves a hand and the children — as if obeying the music — head for the concert hall, accepting congratulations from top ranking guests at the gathering.
The solemn ceremony followed a traditional pattern but Lia Shevidze’s singing created an emotional departure. From Russian Krymsk, her city was severely damaged by an awful flood. Her presence at the event was her way of thanking the rescue services for helping the settlement’s citizens. Many were moved to tears, proving that only those who have experienced sorrow or tribulation can arouse sympathetic emotions in others.
The tragedy in Krasnodar Krai’s Krymsk took many lives and homes. Their common grief showed how vital it is that we help each other. With this in mind, the international gathering of young rescuers is a perfect way to show children how to render medical aid, while involving them in rescue campaigns on water and at heights, as well as taking part in relays. As rescuers say, they are prepared ‘just in case’. However, it is not a vague desire to master certain skills which brings children from different countries together. I initially failed to appreciate their deeper desire to stretch out the hand of friendship — especially in adverse circumstances. All know first-hand that the profession of a rescuer is a hard job but friendship knows no borders.
The head of the US delegation, David Tilley, noted that they first came to Zubrenok in 1998; this year is his team’s fourth visit. On previous visits, the American children made friends with their Belarusian peers, inviting them to the USA. After the opening ceremony, I chatted to Victoria Avtushko, Vlad Filippovich and Veronika Knyazeva, who travelled across the Atlantic, taking excursions to fire-fighting stations in Manchester, Boston, Hampton and Old Forge — as well as visiting New Hampshire’s Fire Academy. Wearing the uniform of rescuers, the Belarusian children navigated the dark labyrinth of a ‘ruined building’, descending walls with alpine equipment. They travelled to the mountains and to the Atlantic coast, representing their country. Their performance of a traditional Belarusian dance, wearing national costumes, and singing This Is My Belarus was so admired that they were asked to show it at the Academy, at a fire-fighting station and on an open stage during Old Forge’s jazz concert for local residents. This year, they were awaiting the gathering with much anticipation, eager to meet their American friends again and recollect their holidays in the USA.
The forum ended with an impressive contest entitled ‘Line-up Inspection’ in which each team presented itself in uniform, with matching hair styles and footwear, performing a song.
I ask the Head of the Belarusian Emergency Ministry’s Department for International Co-operation, Alexander Dokuchaev:

From where did the idea come to organise international gatherings for young rescuers and fire-fighters?

It was inspired by co-operation with rescue services from other states; the Poles were our first partners, with Lithuania and Latvia following. We now also liaise with Ukraine and Russia, while Azerbaijan has shown recent interest. Of course, our colleagues are yet to achieve the scale of youth rescue work seen in Belarus.

As far as I know, the South Korean team requested particular dishes on the menu. How did you tackle that situation?

It’s true. South Korea has been coming to our gathering for several years and, despite our language barrier, we enjoy mutual understanding. When they first arrived, we faced some difficulties, as the Koreans primarily eat spicy rice and seafood dishes while their national dish is kimchi (piquant cabbage, with about 8,000 recipes). We lack such a dish but managed to cope with the situation, purchasing several bags of rice to which the Koreans added their own spices and sauces. Over time, the Koreans have adapted, trying our food and, this time, ate the same menu as everyone else.
Our main problem was coping with the huge number of teams wishing to participate. Kazakhstan, Russia and some other countries would like to send up to three teams but we’re sticking with the principle of one team per country, so that we don’t devalue our gathering. The Armenians are here for the first time, joining the Swiss, British and Germans; these teams have had trouble with financing, since they rely on charity funding. Last year, the Americans failed to raise enough air fare donations. Of course, Belarus covers all costs relating to guests’ stay, also providing a rich cultural programme to reserves and museums. The Azerbaijani team has been coming for the past five years but recently visited our newly restored Nesvizh Castle; they’re hugely impressed. Foreign guests always say that Belarus impresses them, despite its small size.

How do foreign colleagues rate this project for young people?

Our CIS colleagues express only positive views. When Ukraine was organising a similar gathering, the Azerbaijani team praised its efforts but recommended that the organisers use Belarus’ forum as a model for further improvement. There’s no doubt that such international gatherings create a positive image for Belarus and, importantly, encourage children to make friends easily. It’s real-life diplomacy.

By Natalia Popova
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