Six Project Life volunteers traveled to the Caucasus in May to celebrate 15 years of humanitarian collaboration. The American Caucasus Conference (ACC) was a chance to re-unite orphans who had attended Project Life over the years with voluntary staff from the Waterport program. The conference was co-sponsored by the Foundation for Assistance to Formerly Displaced People, the Nazran-based agency that works to select needy orphans.
“The purpose was to celebrate 15 years of cross-cultural cooperation and programs. We wanted to assemble the orphans all in one place to see what Project Life meant to them and how they are doing now. We also wanted to send a message of hope and harmony to the people of the North Caucasus who continue to suffer,” said Project Life Director Linda Redfield.
Volunteers in Ingushetia and Chechnya were able to contact almost all of the orphans who had been to the States since 1998 and invite them to attend. Meanwhile, U.S. volunteers visited families who had hosted orphans over the years to videotape their recollections. “It was a reminder of the deeply meaningful relationships that were formed and which in some cases continue to this day via the internet,” said Redfield.
The conference was held in meeting rooms in the Hotel Nazran on May 21. Twenty-five orphans who had attended Project Life over the years 1998 to 2012 were present along with their families to re-unite with Project Life personnel. Orphans ranging in age from their mid-twenties down to 12 reminisced and paid tribute to Project Life. Many of their family members also spoke about the enduring value of the experience.
One of the highlights of the day was a collection of photos gathered from all the years of the program that hung on the wall of the conference room. Volunteers had selected the images so that each orphan was represented in at least one. Albion N.Y. photographer and host dad Idris Salih reprinted the original small images into an 8 x 10 format. Orphans and their families enjoyed many moments gathered around the display, recalling their trip to the U.S.
In the Nazran area, Project Life’s delegation followed a jam-packed schedule that included a VIP type welcome at the airport, a visit to the Memorial Museum, and programs at the University English Club and a public school. There was a visit to the studio of the artist who painted The Road to Life, a painting depicting refugees fleeing the mountains in previous decades, and an open-air folkloric dance performance. The whole group was enveloped in the hospitality of the Caucasus, enjoying many wonderful meals with orphans’ families and local dignitaries.
After the official conference the group proceeded to neighboring Grozny, Chechnya, to catch up with even more children and their families.
Deborah Wilson, Deputy Director
Project Life War Orphans