Volunteering on Sacred Island - Valaam, Russia

Impact: 10
Support: 10
Fun: 10
Value: 10
Safety: 10

In addition to the international volunteers, there were a lot of Russian volunteers. There were a women’s and a men’s Russian dorm, as well as our 11-bed women’s room and the 10-bed men’s room. So we had Russian as well as international volunteers. For showers, we had a 10:30 pm reservation for Monday and Thursday, as well as a 2-hour slot on Saturday after work for either a shower or the banya. When we arrived at the island, the women wore a skirt long enough to be below our knees and a scarf for the entire three weeks.
Our schedule was to work Monday through Saturday noon, then free time Saturday afternoon and Sunday, for three weeks. The men had the hardest work, baling hay, stacking hay bales, chopping wood, splitting wood, cleaning out forestations, demolishing shacks, stacking firewood. The women picked berries, whitewashed the cow stalls at the farm, pulled weeds from the gardens and walkways at different sketes, sliced apples, cleaned the chicken coop, and helped clean up the overgrown garden outside the monastery. One day I was sitting on one of the benches in front of the monastery, separating tulip bulbs from dirt (you have to lift bulbs in climates of snow and freezes), when some of the tourists walking by took my picture (long skirt, bandana), thinking they were getting a real Russian babushka. When I told the Russians, they thought that was terrifically funny! Most of the Russians were astounded that an American would travel so far to volunteer to help them. It also was a fact that I was more than twice as old as all but two women and one man. On one of our days off, we were invited to go by boat to visit two sketes. On the archipelago, there are ten sketes, housing from 2 to 15 monks. During one workday, it rained, so we took refuge in the newest skete--Vladimersky Skete. Inside, it’s highly decorated with icons,and I got some beautiful pictures.
I truly didn’t know what kind of people would be around me when I registered to volunteer. I didn’t know what they would think of me—an American female who was 64. But I’ve never been around so many kind, helpful, generous people, both on site and in transit from St. Petersberg.

Would you recommend this program?
Yes, I would