Matt Bukowski joined a three-strong team of social care experts from the UK who travelled to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's third largest city. Here they shared their expertise and experience with city chiefs who want to develop services for disabled children and their families.
The visit was part of a project for the Social Care Initiatives Network (SCIN), a UK-based charity working to improve the quality of life for some of Central and Eastern Europe's most vulnerable people.
Mr Bukowski travelled to Nizhny Novgorod with Beverly Scruton, a project manager in Lincolnshire with NCH, and Barry Wilson, director of SCIN. The British Council in Russia funded the week-long visit.
'We were asked to travel to Russia in a voluntary capacity to offer expertise and know-how on developing services for disabled children and their families, said Mr Bukowski Between the three of us, we have over 50 years of children's services experience which SCIN thought could be put to good use in the city.'
Nizhny Novgorod has a population of over one-and-a-half million people and, until 1992, was closed off from the rest of Russia and Europe. It is situated just to the east of Moscow, on the river Volga.
'What struck me was the vast difference in the amount of resources and expenditure we have to provide and develop services compared to the Russians, said Mr Bukowski. It was a very powerful experience to see how people are looking to support disabled children and their families without the kind of resources we are used to here in Lincoln.
'We were able to offer advice and support in many areas. We especially encouraged them to develop real links with voluntary organisations in the city so partnership working could benefit more people.
'The difference there is that most voluntary groups have only been set up in the last 10 years. In the UK they have been around for a long time, for example the NCH since 1869.'
Beverly Scruton manages a project which provides support for disabled children and their families through a partnership between NCH and Lincolnshire CC.
'The city officials in Nizhny Novgorod were very interested to learn about the flexibility of partnership arrangements which exist in the UK between voluntary and statutory agencies, she said. It was encouraging to learn that voluntary and parent self-help groups in the city had developed in recent years.
'There is not a history of volunteering in Russia and this presents a challenge to the fledgling organisations. As 2001 is the International Year of Volunteering, it seemed an ideal time to get started.
'The visit created real opportunities to offer continued support to the newly-formed groups and share our experiences in working with the parents of disabled children to deliver services which will make the most difference to their lives.'
In April, two senior social care managers from Nizhny Novgorod will visit Lincolnshire to share experiences of setting up and developing a family centre in partnership with voluntary organisations.
SCIN is a UK-based charity working to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable groups of people living in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
SCIN's aim is to assist in the development of health and social care initiatives in partnership with local agencies in these countries.
The organisation provides education, training and awareness-raising opportunities to professional and voluntary organisations and associations working in the areas of health and social care.
This is done through matching the skills and expertise of UK contributors who are willing to give their time free to projects and organisations needing support and advice.
SEARCH FOR RUSSIAN TRANSLATORS
The search is on to find a Lincolnshire volunteer who can speak and write Russian.
Following the trip to Nizhny Novgorad, the team would like to keep in touch with colleagues in Russia so experiences, advice and support can continue to be shared via the post and e-mail.
'One mother in Russia told us 'we speak different languages but our words have the same meaning',' said Beverly Scruton.
'If we are truly intending to make sure that our contacts are meaningful and in order to build on the relationships which have developed, we need help. 'We are urgently seeking a volunteer in Lincolnshire who can speak and write Russian to offer support to the next stage of the project.'