With one foot still in its Soviet past, Belarus might not be the most obvious choice for travellers, but its isolation is at the heart of its appeal.
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, and 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 play a direct and active role. 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 projects that I had the opportunity to personally implement with Belarusian communities over a period of 15 years under the umbrella of the charity I helped to found and run, the West Oxfordshire Vetka Association (WOVA), were absolutely the most rewarding and fulfilling activities I have ever pursued outside the environment of my home and my family.