16-28 March 2005 was a special period for USURT. It was the time of a new international project. This project's goal was to bridge the "digital divide" by instituting computer literacy for students and teachers at Municipal School © 8 in settlement Bulanash, Artemovskij region, Sverdlovskaya oblast. Two Russian volunteers, Ekaterina Belova, first-year student of Economic Faculty, and Eugenia Kostousova, International Project Manager, worked on the realization of this project in the collaboration with two American volunteers.
In November-December 2004 URGUPS took part in the volunteer project "United States-Russia Volunteer Initiative" (USRVI), a program funded by IREX (the International Research & Exchanges Board). That very project was unusual, because it combined two problems of current importance - HIV/AIDS prevention and Informational Technologies (IT) progress. That time three young American volunteers came to our university. They were Theresa Chen, Wyatt Matthews and Susan Farley. The whole month they worked together with Russian volunteers, assisted in design of a city site "Active position", participated in all activities and events devoted to HIV/AIDS prevention and drug addiction struggle, met with university students and discussed these problems with them.
No wonder that working cooperation very soon developed into close friendship. Eugenia Kostousova offered volunteers to visit her native settlement Bulanash, and American friends accepted this proposal willingly. It was a unique opportunity for them to know better the Russian countryside, to see real Russia. Theresa said, "practically all foreigners usually visit Moscow or St. Petersburg, and they've got a wrong, false impression of Russia. And such a small settlement as Bulanash is a small picture of a big country with its character, originality, peculiarities." Volunteers spent only one day in Bulanash, but in spite of the brevity of their visit they had time to visit local school and to meet schoolchildren. The volunteers were so hearty welcomed, teachers and schoolchildren were so excited and enthusiastic, that Theresa, Wyatt and Susan decided to thank people for their hospitality. And very soon they've got this opportunity.
IREX announced the new stage of USRVI, the competition of small grants, Wyatt and Theresa applied. They designed a project specially for school N8 "Bulanash IT Boom". One of the project goals was to help in organizing modern computer lab. American government regarded this project as very promising and assigned means for its realization. And it turned out that in March 2005 Theresa and Wyatt found themselves in a small mine settlement in the middle of Russia again.
The following appeared to be a real fairytale for the settlement citizens, and especially for schoolchildren and teachers of school N8. Volunteers used grant funds to buy three new computers for a school computer lab, all hardware and software, put a base to form a school Intranet. More than that, American friends gave master classes and consultations on software programs. In spite of the vacation the classes were always full. Senior pupils came not only to learn new computer programs, but also to improve their communication skills in English. Firstly, it was quite hard to overcome language barrier, but little by little their natural curiosity and extraordinary situation helped to get over all difficulties. School It teachers also visited these classes eagerly. They needed to improve their professional skills, to become proficient in some new programs.
Theresa and Wyatt were kindly surprised by the abilities of Russian students, their willingness to experiment, their rich imagination and strong motivation. Every day during the whole week one group of students replaced the other. This work would be hard if not the help of Russian volunteers, especially Katia Belova. Thanks to her excellent computer skills she was able to assist Wyatt and Theresa during computer classes. She also worked as an interpreter in the breaks when schoolchildren wanted to know better the foreign culture and asked volunteers many questions.
However it's impossible to build close relationship only on the basis of academic program. Cultural program was also very intense. One day volunteers visited the gym of Bulanash engineering plant. They spent the whole evening there skating and playing table tennis. Next day was a karaoke party. Theresa, Wyatt and senior schoolgirls sang Russian and English songs; they sang together a favorite song "Yesterday". Volunteers also visited the settlement museum. The guide told them about the history of Bulanash, its foundation, famous people and present day situation. Wyatt and Teresa didn't miss an excursion to the geological museum where they had a look at minerals and rocks of the Ural region.
Here, in Bulanash Wyatt could finally realize his dream - ice fishing. Volunteers took an active part in all stages of this traditional Russian activity. They started from making a hole in the ice and proceeded to patient waiting.
No doubt, that visit to a real Russian banya had to crown all program. In the wooden banya where the smell of birch brooms mixed with the tart odor of resin the endless conversation about the sense of life were heard in the vapor. Wyatt said that these banya evenings completely changed his mind. Now he had another point of view on everything that happened with him.
It was so sad to leave the settlement. It took only one week to change strangers into close friends. Theresa and Wyatt were invited many times to come to Bulanash in summer. It was hard to refuse. Of course, they would like to continue their volunteer work; they'd prefer to come to Russia, Ekaterinburg, Bulanash once again. Who knows, there's nothing impossible. IREX has announced new grant competition.