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Mongolia: The Last Adventure of our Trip

Posted Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 at 2:03 pm | 1 Comment

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Well, well– they keep coming back!

Mongolia  in 2010 March-April 003Mongolia  in 2010 March-April 011Don't you wish you were here!


And so did the snow and cold. While everyone in the states is enjoying spring weather, we bundled up.

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But we continued on trudging through the snow to eat in Russian Restaurants.

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While Andrei was giving a week’s worth of welding and technical training to a Miller distributorship company, I found that the highlight for me was meeting with Father Carlos and touring the Don Bosco Education Center.

sewingI met teachers and students and was impressed with how hard they all worked. To be in this Technical School (preparing students for Carpentry, Welding, Computer/Secretarial, and Sewing/seamstress jobs) is considered a high honor and with a long waiting list, students WANT to get in and keep good marks.

Ulan Bataar’s population is exploding as citizens are moving from countryside. There is a high rate of unemployment and crime. So the skills which are provided by Don Bosco to these street kids are helpful in their survival.

A new program of housing orphans and preparing them for continuing education was started a couple of years ago. There have been problems with housing (as boys and girls MUST be on different floors and/or buildings). There have been problems with deciding how to receive these street children and orphans as the government has set up new procedures for distributing homeless children. But last year when Kim Kipp, BRAFF President, toured facility, they had about 6-8 kids in dormitory rooms without much of anything else besides food and shelter.

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The purpose is to give them the basic education and sending them to public school while receiving basic food and shelter. Hopefully they can qualify for the Technical School and/or other higher education. I viewed the new Living Area with TV, music, comfortable sofas and chairs and plenty of room for activities and games. Much of this was donated by BRAFF along with a separate room with multiple new computers/desks.

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Andrei, as BRAFF’s own personal camel, had lugged 2 large suitcases from the Kipp/Maggos families across the ocean and across Russia to Mongolia – filled with clothes for these kids – and what joy they had for Easter!

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P4045709Don Bosco as a facility is fighting quite a few obstacles such as zoning rules for building adequate housing for girls and boys, finding night staffing, funding the heating of buildings through the long, cold winters of Mongolia all while managing/staffing the Technical School which teaches over 400 students.

For these reasons and to continue our mission, BRAFF hopes to set up the new BRAFF’s BLESSINGS PROGRAM in Mongolia as follows:

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1. Sponsor up to 8 children at his facility who are considered Orphans by Mongolian Law. This means that Mongolia has expanded their definition of orphans much like Russia. (All of our Russian adopted children DO have some family or relatives (very rare to find a child with none) but parent rights had been lost or rights had been signed away or removed by law. In Mongolian’s recent past a child was considered an orphan only if abandoned and not claimed. Now the government has expanded that to include children whose parent(s) and/or relatives can not take care of child due to social problems (alcohol, drugs, abandonment, etc).

2. Fr. Carlo/Don Bosco Center would select the children for Sponsorship. They are not capable to take on mentally handicapped children even considering their strong desire to help all children. They would therefore like to use the current resources which now brings to them the children. It is not only the Police although NO MATTER how a child comes to them they ALWAYS coordinate the documents with the police. They know how to do this and they do everything according to the laws.

Within their current residents there are orphans that could be sponsored. Father Carlo was open to looking at children that could come from other facilities IF there was a reasonable logic why the child could not stay in that facility. But it doesn’t seem logical to move a child from one institution to another for no reason. The Center receives and wants children who have no other choices.

3. Don Bosco School would be happy to take on all accounting/reporting to sponsoring families on a regular basis established by BRAFF (I suggested quarterly??) This is easy for them to do as their teachers are already recording all grades, etc. The children also have English classes and they could be taught how to use the email systems so that eventually there could be direct contact with the families. The Center could also take photos and send with the report along with comments from the child.

4. Currently, The Center can only receive boys as the Mongolia laws say that to be co-ed you must have separate floors. This poses a problem now as the first floor of the building still houses the Carpentry and Sewing classrooms for the Technical School. There are beds available for additional boys now upstairs.The remodeling that was done this past 10 months is very adequate and there would be very little funds needed to add any new dormitories. The living area for the kids is warm and comfortable, the computer room very efficient and the sleeping rooms are clean and adequate. Together with the Center’s future reqeusts, BRAFF could make available “things” which they may want or need.

5. Sponsorship could include the costs towards food and lodging. Heat is expensive as is food and this subsidy is the most important. When BRAFF decides to do the project, together with Father Carlo – we could determine a monthly price that would help his budget and allow BRAFF to find families.

(Father gave me a basic budget for 30 children for one year – 20 mil Tugergs. This is for basic clothing and sundries only. It doesn’t include the costs for heat or food. Based on 1.450 T/$1 – I come up with about $1,700 per year per child?? Correct me Father Carlo if I am wrong!)

The Child could go to an outside school or attend their informal school to bring them up to date. IF the child show the interest and capability to go to their Technical School – than this would be possible to. All of these options would be determined by the School and their teachers.

“I can think of no better situation where BRAFF could trust that the best option is being done that will improve a future life of a homeless child.” Diane

With heavy heart and full bellies. (Andrei ate 12 Mongolian Traditional Boos while Diane had only 3!) We flew back to Moscow for one more trip to St. Petersburg and then homeward to Luck, Wisconsin!

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Surgut

Posted Monday, April 5th, 2010 at 10:47 am | Comments Off

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When I heard that we would travel to Surgut I wanted to know where and what was it like – Andrei says it was a 21/2 hour flight from Yekaterinburg to northwestern Siberia. It is at the end of human development where Russia mines the oil and gas. The name’s meaning something to do with “fish guts” as the large river Ob passes by. So my imagination drew quite a picture of this city. But to my surprise, I was amazed to find a beautiful city within thousands of pine trees and a population of 350,000. The architecture is new, modern and has many glossy headquarters for the various gas and oil companies.

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A small boutique hotel “Catherine’s Yard” was our second surprise. Our 2-story room was decorated in a semi-baroque, turn-of-the-century style which must fit the demands of oil “tycoons.”

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The attraction of the city is around oil and most people are transient workers who also have apartments elsewhere in Russia. Oil money brings in lots of famous concert singers and pop stars. The irony is that the oil reserves are located on tribal lands. The biggest company, Surgutneftegas, recently purchased 70 outboard motors and boats to donate to tribal leaders which reminded us of the bitter/sweet relationship our country has had with our First Nation tribes.

As we learned more about the various tribes in area, we discovered that Surgut’s meaning may also be translated into “fish beds” due to all the swamps along the river. No matter what meaning, we were impressed with Surgut.

Hopefully someday in the summertime we will return and explore the surrounding rivers, tiaga and villages. We found that we would love to come back…

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Weeks 2 and 3

Posted Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 11:30 am | Comments Off

In search of White Nights!

Riverboat on the Neva

Snow Bank in St. PetersburgIn June it’s the best time for St. Petersburg– but for us the White Nights is preceded by white snow banks – white boats on the white frozen canals!  Our accommodation at Marriot’s courtyard on Vasilyevsky Ostrov (island) connects us once again to Alexandra and the Leningrad siege as this island is her birthplace.  This island is opposite the Hermitage and the Peter & Paul Fortress but all connected by the Neva River. Peter the Great designed this city like American cities with parallel and perpendicular streets.   We are on Line 1 and she lived as a child on Line 16.

While we held each other trying not to slip on the ice – we thought about what a great opportunity has been missed in Russia this year – rubber spiked shoes!   As if they don’t have enough – it was still snowing there!  We will return in April for a few days and the predictions are for flooded streets and lots of mud.  But, no matter the weather, all times spent in St. Petersburg are special – the history, the colorful buildings – things seem more constant and unchanging – not like Moscow.  It’s a beautiful city.

We than headed to Yekaterinburg ….

The Capitol of the Ural Mountains

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This city lies on the eastern side of Ural Mountains and  claims to be the 4th. largest city in Russia – home of former President of Russia, Boris Yeltzen.  It has been the Capitol for iron ore, copper and gemstone mining for Russia since the late 1600s.  The combination of gemstone and ore mining traditions has created a unique opportunity for people to develop high quality skills.  In the central of their pedestrian mall named after their favorite sons – writers and brothers –Whiners,   you can see a  bronze monument for the creator of the bicycle – Mr. Artamonov (1800) and across the bridge of the Eset River you come along the monument of the ONLY  creator of the radio – Mr. Popov ( not as we believe that it was Edison!).

Author Bazhov's Queen of the Gem  MountainsWalking in -10C. on windy streets, we came across a small Museum honoring all gemstone crafts which produced many famous vases and architectural elements from the gemstones in the surrounding Ural Mountains.  For Andrei this connection to his childhood fairytales(Skazka)about the Queen of the Gemstone Mountains brought back good memories.  She guarded the treasures of the mines.  She is the beautiful protector created by Mr. Bazhov who wrote many tales of these underground areas.

Then the Revolution changed life of this city and one day after 1917 citizens woke up and found out that the city name had changed from the Czarina and  wife of Peter the Great – Katherine (yekaterinburg to Sverdlovsk) to the Revolutionary comrade of Lenin – Mr. Sverdlov.  (Thanks to former President Gorbachev it was reversed back to Yekaterinburg in 1985). The next year 1918 brought more tragedy when the whole family of the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas the 2n. was murdered.  They were imprisoned in a small merchant’s home when one night they were awakened and thought that they believed that  a family portrait was to be taken but were shot instead.

The Cathedral on the Blood

The Cathedral on the Blood

Monument to the Czar's family

Monument to the Czar's family

The orginal House of Prayer next to the new Cathedral on the Blood

The orginal House of Prayer next to the new Cathedral on the Blood


The Russian Orthodox Church first built up a small wooden “prayer house” on this spot but recently built h a beautiful church on the site called “The Cathedral on the Blood”.  The church has also proclaimed the whole family of the Czar as Saints of the church.

The good and bad of the city has not stopped us from following the Russian traditions –which is to be in the moment.  On Saturday, we ventured out 240 km. north with our dear friends into the small city of NizhneyaTyra  (meaning the Lower stream of the Tura River) to visit their mother. The trip passed a chain of cities which were prohibited to foreigners during the Soviet period.

Dam in Nizhneytyral

This city has an old beautiful man-made lake and dam which supplied the water power for processing/washing/flushing/grinding the ore mining plant in the 1800’s.  The second purpose of the dam was to create additional water flowage in the springtime for the flotilla of special boats which carried the ore across the mountain range towards Central Europe.

flowers for Mama

We were hosted by a very youthful 90 year old woman and her 3 daughters.  She received our flowers and cooked the pelmini – than sat around the table telling great stories.  We wish for us all to be as strong, smart and  powerful as this “Mama”  is at 90!

A true Russian Woman

Russian table


Next we will be in Surgut….

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Russia: Week One

Posted Monday, March 8th, 2010 at 1:58 pm | 3 Comments

It’s a new year – first time in Russia – new experiences:

Here we are in Russia again. Moscow welcomed us with the new possibility of not staying in a hotel but renting a VIP apartment. After one night in a hotel we moved into a short-term apartment lease for 2 weeks. Our apartment looks over the Kremlin and an island of the Moscow River which has a grove trees. We look at these lovely and very tall trees everyday:

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This is a caption.

Our dear Alexandra came for a visit and while walking with Andrei from the metro – she saw the grove of trees and said this was a place close to her heart – because as a young and aspiring actress-student at the Moscow Theatrical Institute – she and her classmates provided “free labor” (Subbotnick). Resentfully digging holes in swampy waters along the Moscow River they planted maples and oaks. But she is now pleased as something beautiful grew out of her labor.

It shows that out of something which is resented or not pleasing – something good and beautiful can grow!

We have had a new shock – once again in Moscow as we shop. Food prices are ridiculously high: $10-20 per loaf of Artisan Bread!! But these are Gourmet Grocery Stores with many wonderfully expensive foriegn products.

It’s the price you pay to look at the Kremlin out your window!

Art & Antique Expo

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One day during our long walks in the area we stumbled onto an Expo of Antiques and Art in the famous Dome Khudozhnicka (House of Painters). It was once our favorite haunt to purchase art by unknown artists at very reasonable prices but now these unknown artists have become mature and their works were expensively shown in Boutique Booth Galleries. In the end of our excursion, I came to the conclusion that I liked only 3 paintings by modern artists. The bright blue flowers was offered to me for $40,000, another village painting for $25,000 and, lastly, an outdoor table with apples in yard for $4000! The irony was that this lovely and peaceful work of art was done by an artist who told us he specializes in paintings of Gulags!

I’ll have to wait for Mongolia – hopefully inflation hasn’t hit there!

One week later, we now congratulate to all our dear women friends on the March 8th. Women’s Day and hope they know how wonderful and important they are! In the whole world it was a great holiday – banks were closed, offices shut down and it was a heavenly day for the flower shops and venders – over $5 per rose!

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Welcome to Our Blog!

Posted Monday, March 1st, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Comments Off

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Andrei & Diane

Welcome to our blog! We’re excited to see how we can communicate with everyone interested in us and what we’re doing. We left for Russia and Mongolia this past Sunday and will be posting updates throughout our trip, so keep checking back and enter your email on the right to get updates whenever we post something.

Thanks!

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