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Memories of a medic in Minsk 

Experiences result in plans for a new project

In August this year, Chris Beet (pictured right), then a first-year University of Leicester medic, had the opportunity to join students from Cardiff Medical School on a project in Minsk, Belarus. The students from Cardiff were members of an organisation called BACCUP (Belarussian Aid for Children Cardiff Undergraduate Program). The Belarus project was set up for health care professional students and particularly aimed at students in their clinical years. Chris's report and conclusions follow: Chris Beet and Minsk child

"In August this year, I had the opportunity to take part in BACCUP's work in an orphanage on the outskirts of Minsk, providing support in the everyday care of children living there. The children were aged between two and twenty-one years, with much variation in independence. Most of these children had severe mental and physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome. Others were suffering from diseases such as hepatitis and epilepsy. 

children at Minsk orphanage

"The orphanage itself is made up of several units, and different charities provided support to each unit. BACCUP was therefore only one of the several charities working within the orphanage. It was disappointing to see that there was little cooperation (ie sharing of resources and facilities) between the organisations.  

"I found myself the youngest member of the group, as BACCUP was made up of students from years 4 and 5 of the medical degree. Our duties within the orphanage consisted of following a daily routine set down by the staff of the orphanage. Our day started around 9pm, at which time most of the children were awake. Each child was given a bath or shower, depending on whether or not they could sit or stand unaided, and then any skin problems such as pressure sores, were treated before the child was given a nappy if necessary and dressed in clean clothes. 

"As the weather was pleasant, the children were then taken outside. The more able of the children were engaged in either teaching or play, guided by either a member of the orphanage staff or a volunteer from BACCUP. The rest of the morning was taken up with giving physiotherapy, taking some children for a walk to the shop, or general play. 

"One of the most significant events of the week was when a child who had been in a wheelchair bound for around a year was encouraged to walk with assistance, and eventually unaided. I was delighted to have been involved in this. 

Minsk child

"The children were fed around lunchtime, and although the meal looked less appetising, we were assured that it was nutritional. The children’s diet did however lack fresh fruit and vegetables, and water. I was surprised at how little the children were allowed to drink. They were given a small cup of juice at lunchtime, which was often imbibed in a single draught. I personally found this frustrating, as attempts to give the children additional water, or fruit (there were several apples trees in the grounds) were not encouraged. It was unfortunate that the staff spoke no English, and therefore you did not know what they were saying to you, nor could you put your viewpoint across to them. There was an interpreter, from the Belarussian medical school who was paid for by BACCUP, but he wasn’t always present, and was not always helpful.

After the children had been fed, they were taken to bed for an afternoon nap. This gave us the opportunity to feed ourselves and have a rest. For me, afternoons were spent in discussion with the assistant co-ordinator of BACCUP, called Raz. 

We talked about how the project was started, how it is run, and I got an impression of the long-term aims of BACCUP. The idea was for me to get some ideas as to how we could establish a similar project here in Leicester. Potential pitfalls, ways to organise the trips, and how to find a project were also discussed.

For me, this trip was a lifetime opportunity. I had never experienced anything like this before and found the whole experience very rewarding and fulfilling. The work was physically and mentally draining, and many members of the team needed reassurance. 

I returned home feeling inspired, with a desire to set up a Leicester-based project as quickly as possible. Plans for this project are already underway, and my experience has helped us to make some key decisions in how we would like to run this project. It was decided that the project should be open to students from any discipline and that there would be more emphasis on getting students in the early years involved. The project is to be named LYRIC - Leicester Youth's Relief for International Children.

Furthermore, we decided that LYRIC ould not have such a greater emphasis on providing healthcare, but instead to provide what ever is required of us. This is because our main aim is to provide an opportunity for students to engage in personal development activities.

I am very grateful to the University of Leicester's Vice-Chancellor for providing assistance in the funding of my trip, without which the trip would not have been possible, and I look forward to being able to give others the opportunity to have a similar experience."

December 2002

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Last updated: 8 January 2002 10:55
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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