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BASW Russian trip 2011 – Rolling blog

This page will be used as a rolling blog, containing contributions and updates from the BASW member’s trip to Russia, check back for regular updates.

30/09/11– Sue Kent

So hopefully we are all packed, all visas and passports ready for tomorrow’s journey, BASW members travelling from across the UK, all meeting at Heathrow terminal 5 for the lunch time flight to Moscow. Leaving the sun and unusually hot weather for the chill of Russia, we will all be excited sitting in our respective homes prior to becoming the ‘BASW trip to Russia’ tomorrow. The itinerary is full with only a brief time for sightseeing. Sharing social work practices with our Russian colleagues will be both educational and stimulating, there is no doubt that we will be presented with plenty of experiences to share on our return. Russian social work has only existed since the 1990s, how has it developed and what services are provided today? We hope to keep you informed of all our adventures so please watch this space!

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Despite some initial difficulties including one group member not able to join us at the last minute, another member having a puncture before she set off for the airport and another getting off the train at the wrong terminal, we all met for the first time and as all good social workers do, soon got to know each other. The group comprising of BASW members, represents social work across the UK and all are eager to extend their learning in Russia as we climb aboard the plane bound for Moscow. No vodka consumed on flight and all eager to relax at the Cosmos hotel once safely there. Adjusting to time, we were occupied while sipping our tea/beer by the night time activities and glad to see that the working girls are safe and warm here in the hotel. All excited about the busy day ahead tomorrow.

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3/10/11 – Sue Kent

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So the weather is chilly and we wrap up warm as we head on the underground with Tony, a BASW member here in Moscow. He guides us across the complex network of the metro and we gaze in amazement at the decorative stations, all so different, all so clean. Right on schedule we meet Alena, a Russian social worker, who we recognised immediately from her visit to England earlier this year, who took us on a guided tour (with the help of her friend who translated) around the streets of central Moscow. Her commentary was both informative and interesting, relating history to the current economic and social situation of Moscow. Our highlight was arriving at the Red Square, standing looking up towards St Basil’s cathedral, walking past the Kremlin and despite our feet telling us we were tired we trekked on, stopping for refreshments in an Irish bar, some to us eager to sample Russian beer!! Later that evening we joined the new President of the Korean Association of Social Workers and his colleagues along with Antonina Dashkina, President of the Russian Union of Social Workers, for dinner, in believe it or not, a Vietnamese restaurant. However skilled we are at communicating, the language difficulties were a barrier and the evening was spent smiling and nodding with the occasional bow.

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2/10/2011 – Sue G

We are now used to the chilly weather; the wind today seemed to be coming from Siberia! Bitter cold but this did not deter us from seeing as much of Moscow as we could. News from England had reported it was 27 degrees in London! A visit to the market proved to be a source of cheap (we mean expensive, of course) souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. Lunch was taken at our first typically Russian café, where we tasted our first truly Russian meal. Some of the group decided to brave the Kremlin remembering the days when we saw it on TV with all the tanks rolling past. Those who made the trip were rewarded with the most beautiful sights inside the walls of the complex. The Faberge eggs were particularly stunning, making our market gifts pale into insignificance.

It is interesting to note that we have not seen many disabled people in Moscow, this may be due to the fact that everywhere seems to be accessed by lots of stairs. On our way back to the hotel, located in the north of the city, we witnessed a young woman precariously pushing an elderly gentleman through the long corridors and up the stairs of the metro and even going backwards down a very steep elevator – they were very brave!

An example of the decorative art evident in the Moscow metro, a stunning network of underground railway.

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3/10/2011 – Maureen

BASW members had all bought gifts for our hosts over the next few days. So the first task this morning was to lay the goodies all out on a bed and make up bags of adult and bags of children’s gifts. Gift exchange is an essential part of Russian culture that we are learning fast. Then we met up with our interpreter for the day, Maria. She helped us through the day not just by translating the language, but helping us to make sense of the culture.

Then it was off to the Veteran’s Centre. This was an ultra bright and modern facility with every kind of therapy; some old soldiers and war workers undertook a cold store down to -110c. Other forms of water therapy looked more appealing. The physical standards of the building were second to none. The veterans had one month every two years here, either as residential, or on a day care basis. Their carers could come with them. There were equal numbers of men and women using the facility. We met Constantine, a very remarkable veteran who spoke fluent English and recounted how he had been at the epicentre of the main theatres of the Second World War.

Constantine discussing his contribution to a veteran magazine overlooked by doctor based in respite care facility for veterans.

On we went to a children’s centre. Another wonderful purpose built building that was so well placed in the centre of large blocks of flats that it was difficult to find. This was a similar model to the Veterans Centre in that a number of therapies and services were run from here. Preventative services for families, and ‘clubs’ for groups of service users with the same needs eg pregnant mothers, teenagers, parents who had given up drinking. Additionally there was a residential centre for children without parents to care for them and a team of social workers to find foster and adoptive families.

In Russia Social workers can sing. One sang whilst playing the grand piano on a stage to the Veterans and us, including a really moving rendition of ‘Yesterday’ and another played a duet with a child in the children’s lounge. Perhaps we need to extend our portfolio of skills?

Boarding the ‘midnight express’ (well, the 9.05pm to Vologda) we settled down for a bumpy sleep anticipating out exciting programme in Vologda, over the next few days.

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4/10/2011 – Eddie

Met with two groups of social workers today (children and adults), as ever the hospitality of our hosts and the professionalism and enthusiasm of the people we met was very impressive. The layout of the services which we have seen has been very geared to generic /holistic SW…. making many of us hanker back and look forward to a return to some type of generic ‘team around the client’ social work.

Tonight we enjoyed a formal a Russian feast. A running theme throughout the many toasts given by everyone present was simply that; social work is an honourable profession and one on in which the professional values which we share serve to bind us together as part of a unified wider, but infinitely wonderful social work family.

Here’s to tomorrow!

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5/10/2011 – Adele

Today started with meeting the head of administration in Kirilov which provides a generic service within a rural community followed by a visit to two of the most impressive monastery’s in Eastern Europe, one of the monasteries is a functioning monastery where six monks continue to reside. We then proceeded to have lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch we attended a round table workshop where we met with social workers and home carers to compare notes on services in both countries.

In the evening we had supper in a log cabin which was located in the middle of the forest; the cabin is a reproduction of a traditional herb gatherer’s home, which presented as being warm and comfortable. This was hosted by the Minister of Social Protection and the Head of Administration. We were met by social workers dressed in pre revolution Russian clothing offering a cultural greeting of bread which was then dipped in salt. The evening proceeded to be one of joviality where Russian and British workers came together singing, dancing and playing the accordion.

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6/10/2011 – Alison

Up early for or final full day in Vologda, still plenty to see and experience. The first visit was to the new lace museum where the guide explained the history of lace making in Vologda, and described how Vologda is a leader in this craft, holding international lace festivals tri-annually. Following on from this we visited a multi-functional centre (our equivalent of a ‘one stop shop’) which was informative and impressive, allowing people from all over the district to come into one building (or ring) to access information and services relating to their social needs.

It had only been open a year but was running smoothly and the feedback from customers had indicated a 99% satisfaction with the service, reported the Director. Yes, there are similar resources shooting up in the UK but perhaps not offering exactly the same services and certainly not covering such massive geographical distances. After lunch back at the hotel we met with the director of Education in Vologda Square and she escorted us around the beautiful central cathedral of Saint Sophia while telling us about the social and economics of Vologda.

Energetic group members climbed the rickety stairs to the bell tower to photo the fantastic views across the city and the afternoon was completed by an escorted souvenir shopping trip to purchase those last minute bargains for family and friends. Our last supper was hosted by the Education Director and we were joined by other senior managers and a series of toasts proceeded in which we all thanked each other for the sharing of information and experiences. We were all genuinely sorry to leave. Will we be back, we wondered?

As the darkness drew in we climbed aboard our night train to Moscow to start the long journey home, chatting about the experiences we had had, eager to share these with friends, families and especially colleagues on our return.

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10/10/2011 – Sue Kent

Our trip to Russia is over and we have many memories to share about the people of Moscow and especially Vologda, the beautiful places we have seen, the history shared and especially the development of their Social Services. The possible perception of Russian social work practice being limited and underdeveloped has been blown from our minds. We hope to cascade the information and experiences we shared in a number of ways and BASW will be involved in this process.

Eddie, Sharon, Sue W, Sue G, Adele, Alison, Maureen, Annie would all like to thank BASW for helping to facilitate this trip and of course I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go too. We would all like to thank the Social Work Educational Trust and the Great Britain Russian Society for their generous contributions which have enabled the trip to be so successful. But most importantly we would like to thank the Russian Union of Social Workers, particularly their president Dr Antonina Dashkina, for their hard work in co-ordinating the visit and helping to facilitate the wonderfully full programme offered by the Social Services in both Moscow and Vologda. And we must not forget Tony Widmer OBE, (how could we???) for helping us to enjoy every minute!!!

The trip confirmed the importance of international social work and the need for us all to work together and most importantly the need for democratic and successful social work professional members organisations which can promote this agenda!