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Belarus - Giving something back
Giving something back
When I talk to people about how unspoilt and uncommercialised Belarus is and about how that makes it a destination of rare interest for the visitor, the response is always the same: that nobody will go until budget flights are available.
That is a very depressing supposition. Put bluntly, there is a very persuasive argument that the footprint we leave as we depart a country has considerably greater importance than the intentions and aspirations we have for our visit when we arrive. Budget flights anywhere do not necessarily encourage such an altruistic aim, and the very opposite can sometimes be an unfortunate consequence.
Since the Chernobyl catastrophe, much of the aid that has been targeted at Belarus and its people has been by way of humanitarian assistance. Yet for a number of years, sustainable development programmes have been on the increase, with the purpose of transferring skills and experience to help build an infrastructure for local people to develop local solutions to their own problems.
Your presence in Belarus and the interest you show in the people you meet and all that you see will be a very good start. I shall be very surprised if you do not return from your first visit with a burning resolve to put something back into this wonderful country and its people. Plenty of options exist, certainly in the UK and Ireland. The best thing of all is that you can get involved quickly in your own locality and pretty soon you will have the chance to take a direct and active part. My own view is that while humanitarian assistance can certainly help to alleviate some of the hardship that exists in this country, it does little to stimulate growth and development within the regions in sustainable terms. And it is only by this means that communities and individuals will be able to build confidence and self-respect in the search for ownership and control of their own destiny. The development work that I have had the opportunity to undertake with Belarusian communities over the last 14 years is absolutely the most rewarding and fulfilling thing that I have ever done. At the outset, I had no specialist skills in the field, but by learning with people in the communities themselves (as they progressed their own learning and experience), I have been fortunate indeed to feel that it really is possible to make a difference to (and have a positive impact on) the lives of real people. The work isn’t easy and is sometimes very frustrating, yet in terms not only of the outcomes delivered in Belarus, but also my own personal development, I wouldn’t change a single moment of it. My colleagues and I have made plenty of mistakes, but I’d like to think we have learned from all of them and have tried to put the experience of that shared learning into positive outcomes in our subsequent project work.