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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Volunteers Clean up after Flooding in Krymsk, Russia

Krymsk, Russia - In a newspaper on Sunday July 7, 2012, I saw an announcement about the flooding in Krymsk and couldn’t believe my eyes! I searched for more information, already determined to join a team of rescue volunteers even though I live in Novosibirsk, 4,140 km to the east of Krymsk, which is the Krasnodar administrative district near the Black Sea.

On July 19, ten people from various parts of Russia arrived in Krymsk for a seven-day Religious Youth Service project, spending a week cleaning rubbish out of homes and yards, erecting tents to shelter the homeless, and organizing donations that poured in from throughout Russia.

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The situation in the disaster zone was initially unclear, and no information was available about official rescue efforts. When I was asked to organize a Religious Youth Service project in Krymsk, I readily agreed and started forming a team of volunteers. The biggest challenge was obtaining money for train tickets. In addition, we had to get in touch with the emergency headquarters in Krymsk for details and an invitation to help. They responded saying that they badly needed any help, especially that of strong young men; then they asked for copies of our passports to register us as volunteers.

We divided into three groups to arrange for supplies and tickets, raise funds, and gather information. The lack of experience in disaster relief of some volunteers was amply compensated by their strong determination to participate after hearing ongoing news reports from Krymsk. We assembled sleeping bags, tents, boots, and other heavy items. We also had to bring along a three-day supply of water and food. Finally, volunteers from various parts of Russia including Moscow, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, and Rostov-on-Don headed for Krymsk; for many of us it was a two-day train trip each way.

Upon arriving at the railway station in Krymsk, we couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. When I asked the policeman who checked our documents where the flood zone was, he wearily answered: “Just walk 300 meters forward and you will see it all.”

When we came to the Kuban volunteer center, a manager explained how the work was organized: the local people send a request for a specific amount of physical help a certain place; then a manager gives volunteers the information and they go and help as much as they can. We walked along the streets filled with mud and saw destroyed houses, household debris, damaged cars, etc. The general atmosphere was oppressive, and the faces of passers-by were gloomy. There were many soldiers working in the houses and yards along with young rescuers from the national Emergency Situations Agency. The weather was extremely hot.

During the first day, we could help only two families. We carried garbage into the street and military trucks took it away. In the yard of one house where we worked there was a heap of several refrigerators, sofas, beds, and other items that had been deposited by the flood waters. A passer-by said she happened to find her refrigerator two km away from her home. We were greatly shocked when, after cleaning some houses, we saw ‘To be pulled down’ signs on them. This meant that there was a lack of cooperation between volunteer teams and bureaucrats.

We heard stories about the heroes of the first tragic days from survivors of the flood, which hit around 2:00 am, when most people were sleeping; 171 people died, and thousands lost their homes. They also said that the river bed had not been cleaned out for the past 20 years; there had been a flood in 2002, but it was not as destructive as this one because the river was deeper then and not as polluted. The reservoir upstream had also received better care in earlier years.

Morning devotions helped us keep focused and draw on spiritual resources for meeting the challenges that we would encounter each day.

A new friend, Denis, from Rotary International in Krasnodar, about 80 km away, introduced us to Andrew Clouting and Eve Doerr, from Australia and Germany, who were working with the ShelterBox Response Team. They invited us to move to the village of Nizhnebakanskaya to set up temporary shelters sent by their organization. Each "shelter box" included a tent for eight people equipped with a water filter system, lamps powered by solar batteries, blankets, and equipment such as kitchen utensils. Andrew explained how to set it up, a task that took three people an hour to accomplish. The ShelterBoxes were ear-marked to be given to families whose home was badly damaged and uninhabitable, but not destroyed. We set them up next to the homes so the families could live there and keep their property secure while their homes are repaired.

Then we went to more distant places to put up these temporary shelters. We were asked to teach other volunteers how to set up the tents. Altogether, we set up 150 tents. People with nowhere to live expressed their warm gratitude. Very often we had to clear away debris before putting up a tent. Some volunteers decided on their own where to put up tents without consulting the people who were going to live in them and even quarreled with them. In such cases, we had to intervene and sometimes even teach volunteers ways to communicate better with the local people.

We also spent a good bit of time taking heavy boxes to various destinations and worked at the humanitarian aid storage facility in Nizhnebakanskaya. I felt proud that our fellow citizens could send so many good, new donations, including ample supplies of water and food. Young people from the Department of Youth in Krasnodar worked enthusiastically unloading trucks with water, blankets, and camp beds. We were happy to work together with them.

On July 25 we headed back to our homes.

For a report on the ShelterBox website, click here.

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