Ellicott City woman travels to Russia to help rebuild 'the home'

August 15, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

No hot water for bathing, work as grimy as it gets and nary a day without a snafu to test just about everyone's patience.

Glenda Condon misses those days still.

"It was the experience of a lifetime. I've already started thinking of going back," said Mrs. Condon. The Ellicott City resident left her two children and her husband behind in their comfortable brick rancher for 18 days in late June and early July to participate in a volunteer project in Russia that left a lasting mark on her.

Mrs. Condon was one of 26 volunteers who helped rehabilitate Pensonevraligichecky Internat No. 4, or as the volunteers dubbed it "the home," an institution that houses and cares for 300 mentally and physically handicapped people in Pushkin, a town about 15 miles from St. Petersburg.

The 18-day project was organized and sponsored by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Volunteers paid for their own airfare, accommodations, food and touring expenses -- about $1,950 each. The group raised about $3,000 to purchase lumber, paint and other supplies in Russia for the project.

Mrs. Condon, a parishioner at Chevy Chase United Methodist Church, learned of the trip and project when she read a notice seeking volunteers in United Methodist Connection, a publication of the Baltimore-Washington United Methodist Conference.

"I saw the notice in February, and by March 1 I was signed up to go."

The project was full of unexpected problems that required the volunteers to stretch their ingenuity -- and patience.

The first jolt came on the day the volunteers showed up at the institution. It was not a children's orphanage as the volunteers had believed, but a home for handicapped adults ranging in age from their 20s to the very elderly.

"Apparently in Russia, people who live in these types of institutions are considered orphans, so we just missed something in the translation," said Mrs. Condon.

But the ages of the residents soon didn't matter. At first glance, it was clear the 30-year-old building was in dire need of refurbishing. Floor boards were rotting, plaster walls were cracking and peeling, and bathroom tile and toilets were falling apart.

The group snapped into action, setting their sights on several major projects, including replacing floor boards in a dining hall, laying linoleum in a kitchen or "buffet", and repairing and painting cracked walls in a residents' day room.

But it wasn't smooth sailing.

For example, lumber had been ordered to replace flooring in a dining hall. Mrs. Condon and other volunteers were aghast when the shipment arrived. Boards were roughly hewn, and many were bowed and still had bark on them. None of the wood had been treated to prevent dry rot.

Volunteers considered the flooring project saved when they located an old table saw in the building. They used it to trim up the wood so it could be properly laid.

"My big prayer each day was that the belt on the [saw] machine would last until we were done," recalled Mrs. Condon. That prayer was answered.

But such headaches were overshadowed by moments like the day an elderly woman living at the institution gave Mrs. Condon a piece of rock candy.

"She had just the most wonderful eyes and smile. It really just about brought me to tears," recalled Mrs. Condon. "Here was the woman with so little offering me, handing me, a piece of candy."

Other lasting memories came from comradeship among the volunteers, who hailed from around the state and from Washington, D.C.; a sense of mission about the project; and the eventual receptivity of employees and residents of "the home."

Mrs. Condon hopes she can return to Russia next year on a project one volunteer is already organizing.

"This is something I really believe in now. The work we did was not the most important thing; it was the love we shared, the sense of mission," she said.

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