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September 8, 2003

From Lincs to Minsk

In the last two weeks of July, we (Beverley Andrews and Hannah Marsh) were privileged to be invited on a Lincolnshire South Girl Guiding trip to Belarus. This is an established trip that has been occurring for ten years, when a leader from Belarus came over to the International Poacher camp and the Lincs-Minsk link began.

Our journey began in the early hours of the 20th July when we left our families at Boume Bus Depot. We managed to avoid the chaos at Heathrow as we were travelling by Polish airways to Warsaw, and then on to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Waiting for us at Minsk airport was our interpreter for the trip, and long-standing friend of Lincs South Guides, Olga.

From Minsk we travelled 5 hours south to Gomel, where we would be camping for ten days. We arrived quite late in the evening, and were shown to where we were to be sleeping - a house boat moored on the lake next to the camp!

Whilst on the camp, we took part in activities alongside Belarussian Guides. These included a trip to the 'Ministry of Emergency Situations', where we learned a little more about the Chernobyl disaster, which happened 2OOkm south of Gomel, and how they deal with this kind of disaster. We also went in to Gomel, which is Belarus' second city. It is very pretty and extremely clear of rubbish. In the city burns the eternal flame for victims of the Second World War. When at the campsite, we spent our time playing games and learning new crafts. In the evenings we provided entertainment which included our rendition of 'The Lincolnshire Poacher' and 'Yellow Submarine'!
The camp had an ecological theme, and a lot of the activities were based around this. In particular we were encouraged to think about the value of a lot of things we take for granted, such as air and water. One day we went on a boat ride to a nearby island, where we had to build our own shelter and survive until four o'clock the next morning, when we were collected again. It was an excellent opportunity to talk to the Belarussian girls, and to teach each other games and songs around the campfire.

At times, the camp was a lot of hard work. We had duties to perform each day, and the food, facilities and weather were much different to what we usually experience on a camp at home. However, the Belarussians went out of their way to make us feel at home, and put huge amounts of work into making the camp a success.

After the camp, we headed back to Minsk and were given home hospitality by the Belarussian Guides and their families. Once again we were given a huge welcome, and made to feel as if we belonged. Everyday we met up with the other Lincs girls and went on a trip. The place that made the biggest impression on all of us was the village of Khatyn, a memorial village that holds the ashes of 186 villages burnt in the Second World War by the Nazis. In Khatyn itself all the villagers were herded into a barn, which was set alight. If any escaped, they were shot, but most were killed by the barn roof collapsing in on them. In Khatyn today, a bell rings every 30 seconds in memory of the victims. It was a very sad but beautiful place, that is of great importance to the Belarussian people.

The trip to Belarus was the experience of a lifetime that we will never forget. It gave us the chance to visit a part of the world you don't usually find in a holiday brochure, and it was joy to see that they get as much out of Guiding as we do over here. It was hard work raising the money to go, but worth every bit, especially as any extra money we have raised will go towards bringing a group of girls and leaders from Minsk to Lincs next summer.

We also appreciate the grant awarded from "Connect Youth International".

Beverley Andrews and Hannah Marsh

First Published: MACLA Newsletter Issue 12 - Autumn 2003