Granny for an hour? No problem!

Sofya Tsurko convinced that only those with kind hearts are always suitable as volunteers
By Tatiana Lysenkova

The wartime generation truly appreciates friendship and mutual support. Its desire to help is a need. Sofya Tsurko notes, “We are children of the war, having seen mud huts and ruins. My mother supported us financially and was responsible for the household. Of course, we were glad to help but our strength had its limits; we dreamt of growing up quickly, to start our own life and earn money. My choice of profession was no surprise to anyone: a typesetter at Polespechat printing office. I took a room at a hostel and began studying with Moscow’s Polygraphic Institute, by correspondence. I also worked as a brigade member. Sadly, my eyesight suffered and, even after an operation, I never regained my full vision. I then joined a society for the support of sight-impaired people, where we encourage each other to fulfil our potential.”

Some of our heart’s desires remain a whole lifetime and those of Ms. Tsurko are no exception. She always dreamt of being on stage and eventually found her niche reciting poetry and singing in a choir. Continuing through her retirement, she was awarded at the Veterans’ Soul Never Grows Old contest.

A year ago, Ms. Tsurko heard of the Elderly are a Golden Resource of Society project (run by Gomel’s Social Projects Regional Public Association). She was initially interested in classes on landscape design and on becoming an excursion guide. Meanwhile, the Granny for an Hour volunteer initiative is being implemented as part of the national Dialogue is the Venue programme, supported by the Memory, Responsibility and Future German Fund). However, co-ordinator Irina Kekukh recognised that women such as Ms. Tsurko are much needed by lone mothers and by families without their own grannies. By taking on child-care responsibilities, elderly women gain a new sense of purpose and create valuable bonds with the younger generations.

Of course, training is useful, reminding the ‘grannies’ of ways to amuse children: the telling of fairy-tales and the playing of games. “There were about thirty of us and I was rather worried as to what kind of children I might be asked to look after,” Ms. Tsurko admits. At last, she met little Zhenya... “I was greeted by her family as an old friend. Oksana, her mother, was very chatty and Zhenechka was open and welcoming, saying, “Granny, would you love to see my toys?” We established an immediate friendship, playing with dolls for a while and then went for a walk...”

Ms. Tsurko tends to look after Zhenya on Saturdays, so that her mother can go to the market, shops or sauna. “We visit the park — riding on the merry-go-round, feeding ducks and squirrels, and admiring the majestic Rumyantsev-Paskevich Palace. We used to visit St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, lighting candles for those in poor health. Afterwards, we’d have an ice cream (with money given by Oksana), sitting on a bench.” Outings include riverside walks and picnics in warmer weather, with blanket, mineral water and sandwiches, as well as books. After 4pm, Sofya takes the girl home.

Initially, Oksana would phone her ‘granny child-carer’ every hour to check on things but now feels completely at ease with the situation and makes far fewer calls. She trusts Sofya utterly.

The Granny for an Hour service has brought happiness to many Gomel families, with kindly ladies looking after children as their own — all free of charge.
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