Maxim Shibanov: “An encounter with volunteers changed my destiny!”

When Max was only three months old his mother sent him to an orphanage and never came back… Every year at summer camp the boy saw parents visiting other children. It was painful for him to lie to his friends, saying that his mom and dad were away and couldn’t visit him. Every night Max dreamt of how someone would come for him to give him a loving family, which he’d never had. But every day his timid child’s hope grew weaker and weaker.

As he grew up, the little guy got used to the thought that he was an orphan and did his best not to show it. For example, when he was older he never went anywhere in a big group with other children from the orphanage, and he didn’t use the word “orphanage”. However no matter how the children tried to prove their independence and significance to the outside world, they never parted with the overwhelming feeling of emptiness and loneliness. But once, when Max was in 9th grade, volunteers from HOPE worldwide-Russia (Nadezhda po vsemu miru)
paid a visit to his orphanage just to talk to the kids and find out how they were. This amazed the children, because before that moment they had only been visited by sponsors who saw help only in terms of material things, but no one had ever given them as much attention, care, and joy as these young people brought them. The children from the orphanage nicknamed them “students”, because many of them still went to university. They were impatient to see them again and again, as they could share their innermost thoughts and feelings with them, play interesting games, or just watch cartoons together.

Volunteers from HOPE worldwide-Russia (Nadezhda po vsemu miru)
not only brought novelty into the lives of the orphans, but things that would change their lives forever. One such thing that they brought to Max was a fairytale about a kind wizard, which turned into his new dream for his life – to serve and help people in need.

There are other ways besides money to help children

At first, when Max finished his education at a construction college and began earning good money he thought that the only help that one could give to people is money. So, the young man began giving most of what he earned to people in need. Suddenly he had an epiphany and realized that money doesn’t solve your problems. Something else was needed.

Once, when paying a visit to an acquaintance, Max saw a face which seemed familiar and dear. It turned out that, while he had lived in the orphanage this volunteer had often come to visit him. After this encounter Max could not stop thinking about how he could help children who, like himself, were denied a loving family and a happy childhood with their parents, because they had been sent to an orphanage.

Max began taking part as a volunteer in programmes for orphans organized by HOPE worldwide-Russia (Nadezhda po vsemu miru).

He became a frequent guest in many schools and orphanages. Max knew from his own experience that children in such institutions needed more than just toys, cartoons and other entertainment. The most important thing for them is attention.

A parting that lasted a lifetime

When Max turned 21, due to pure coincidence he came across a document in which he could saw roughly how his mother looked and where she lived.

The young man’s heart trembled, he was so agitated. He was ready to begin looking for her immediately, however uneasy thoughts filled his mind. Max understood that perhaps no one needed him and that maybe without him his mother’s life turned out better than it would have. He saw how difficult it was emotionally and psychologically for his friends from the orphanage when they found their parents and realized that in their successful lives there was no room for them.

Max became anxious, he could not sleep, because he did not know how to keep living. The world suddenly changed, and he needed to know who he really was and where his family was!

First Max found his grandmother, but realized that the news of her grandson appearing might hurt her. He then asked his close friend to meet her and find out what the family atmosphere was like and whether she knew anything about her daughter’s first child. In the apartment, where his grandmother lived, it was terribly untidy: it was dirty, unhygienic, there was no stove, no fridge, and no sink. Max’s aunt was addicted to drugs and had sold everything she could to buy them.

In one and a half month’s time, Max’s friend took him to see his grandmother. The young man feared that the old woman would see how much he resembled her daughter and would not survive the shock. But his grandmother did not notice anything, and Max began visiting her often to talk to her, to help her and to try to become close to her.

Then one day Max told his grandmother everything. She cried for a very long time because she was so happy, and she told him how she visited orphanages trying to find him, but she never could. Then, hugging one another, they forgot about all the hardship that they had gone through, though it seemed to have lasted a lifetime.

However the meeting with his mother was still ahead for Max. He could not imagine how he would look in the eyes of the woman who rejected him, how he could tell her that he is her son… His grandmother told him, that her daughter had been married several times and was living with her third husband in the Ryazyan’ Region. That very day Max decided to go there. It was important for him to understand whether his mother’s new husband knew about her past and about him. Max realized that he might destroy their family by appearing out of nowhere and he couldn’t let that happen, so he talked to his stepfather first.

On the day the young man entered his mother’s house, she was away at work, so Max had a lot of time to talk honestly with her husband. He learned that his wife’s past was not a secret to him.

The son left… and returned with flowers

His mother was cleaning the dishes in the kitchen and when he saw her for the first time Max realized how much he actually resembled her. There was no joy in her eyes, but of course she understood everything. He could see how she was trying her best to hide her tears and how much she needed to say to him, as all these years she had been living with a burden that could never disappear. That night he wasn’t able to call her ‘mom’ and after a long conversation he returned to Moscow.

In ten days time Max received a telegram: “I am coming. Meet me. Mom”. They spent a couple of days together walking and talking about life. Everything was fine when suddenly she left without saying anything. Max could not understand what happened. Later he found out that she wanted to visit him as his mother: she wanted to wash his socks and cook for him, but she saw that he was already grown-up and didn’t require that kind of assistance. She reproached herself because she thought she could never be a real mother to him, since the main period when one is in need of motherly care is in childhood, and that had disappeared into the past.

Now Max occasionally visits his mother, and everything has begun to improve in their family. His aunt quit taking drugs and his grandmother’s flat was repaired.

One smile can change a life

Upon his return, Max continued with his work for the charity HOPE worldwide-Russia (Nadezhda po vsemu miru)
and with his visits to the orphans. Now he has a family, which he had always missed and he hopes to find homes for all his orphan friends.

Max loves children, and they love him too. Every time he comes to visit them they run out to meet him. Not long ago, when Max came to the orphanage, a little girl came outside to see him when he arrived. She was wearing a dress and no shoes running barefooted on the snow. She was so happy that her friend didn’t forget her and that he still visits her often. Max was always amazed that people bring orphans material things, but never find the time to spend at least one hour of their time with an abandoned child.

The uniqueness of HOPE’s programmes is that volunteers visit children in different orphanages and organize festive occasions for them on a consistent basis.

One of Max’s favourite events is Birthday parties. Orphans don’t have parents to congratulate them or give them presents on their birthdays, so HOPE’s volunteers take on that role. Sometimes the money they are provided with is not enough to buy presents for everyone, and then Max spends his own money, just to see the children’s eyes sparkle with happiness.

Max and the other staff and volunteers from HOPE worldwide-Russia (Nadezhda po vsemu miru)
always try to make feasts enjoyable for the children and to do everything with passion. Once they organized a feast entitled “On unexplored paths”. Max played the role of Pushkin, placed the children into groups, and asked them interesting questions. If the children answered correctly, then they would go onto the next step of the quiz to visit Baba-Yaga, Kikimora or Snegurochka. Special feasts like these mean a lot to the children, and every time an event is planned the children eagerly await the volunteers, leaning against the cold glass of the orphanage windows, hoping that their friends (and wizards) will come and tell them another fairy tale.

Someone once wrote: “The worst thing in life is ignorance, because it is ignorance which helps evil be victorious.” It seems like such a simple thing to visit and support a child, but for the child it may be the most important thing in their life. History has many examples in which a single smile changed a life.

“We may think that something grand only consists of great things, but a masterpiece is built from details.” At HOPE worldwide-Russia (Nadezhda po vsemu miru)
where Max works there is a wonderful place: the “HOPE Town”, where orphans can learn to be friends and develop skills necessary for life. Children of various ages learn to cook, make clothes, draw and hold art exhibitions. At the end of every month they receive “hopies” (play money) for their hard work, good behavior, and active participation in the life of the “town”. Like real money, the children can spend them in the town shop where a whole variety of things for the children are sold including toys, books, make-up, cd players and sweets.

Unfortunately, the magic town may disappear off the “map of kindness”, because it needs constant financial help from local and international partners, as money given by sponsors is not enough.

Even without all the necessary funds, children still visit “HOPE Town” to celebrate their birthdays, socialize with peers, learn something new, or simply to eat.

Max believes that the orphans and volunteers have become one big family, and he believes that “HOPE Town” will always survive, filled with the laughter and joy of its happy citizens.

Material prepared by the reporter of KM.RU Marina Lapina