It was always mentioned in conversations. It was the biggest, brightest marked event on the office calendar. I had seen the photos from last year’s, I had heard all the fan fair but nothing could prepare you for the magic.
We hit the road at 6am on the Thursday morning, running on 1.5 hours sleep I didn’t have high expectations on enjoying the day. Thankfully our Marshutka (mini bus) was comfy enough to catch a few Z’s. We got to the hotel and dressed in our uniforms we had a new found energy.
In a sea of blue we were introduced to our volunteer teams. Our fellow volunteers didn’t speak English. Challenge 1 accepted; survive solely through Russian.
It was a very intense morning of new faces, names and trying to keep up with the conversation. Adding to that the lack of sleep my head was a fuzzy mess! Alas, we survived.
Myself, Nastia and Max were assigned to Goradische. Our job was to make sure they made it to all the venues on time and help them with any issues. It was nice to be able to spend time with my friends outside of the walls of the institution.
After lunch we went to the Filarmonic Theatre where the teams from the 10 institutions performed their pieces. For the first time ever there was an international representative, Artiom from Odessa, Ukraine opened the show with his performance he owned the stage with his dancing and charisma. I missed the first couple of teams as we were backstage getting our guys prepared but you could feel the energy bouncing off the stage and the smiles on their faces afterwards said it all.
The theme was “Life in the year 3000”. It was interesting to see all the different interpretations of this. We were thrown back in time to the beginning of life again and we also danced among many aliens from various planets.
After all the performances we headed back to the hotel. As it was International Children’s Day there was a big street festival nearby so we went there to soak up the atmosphere. There were all sorts of activities but we found ourselves starting a huge dance circle by the main stage where all the children were showing us their moves. A local lad came over and did some card tricks for us, this was a huge hit with everyone! We headed home completely confused but ready for dinner.
The volunteers went for a singsong by the river afterwards which was lovely in theory but the weather wasn’t in the mood for cooperating!
There was a tour of the city the next morning where we had plenty of photo opportunities. We were shown the venue for the concert later that day and we were all blown away. I had heard it was a 6/7000 seat venue but Janey Mac it was a grand size!!
The scale of the festival was finally starting to set in.
After lunch we went back to the venue for the finalists to rehearse – woo Goradische qualified! Each of the teams had to shorten their performance to one song.
There was also a market with dozens of stands from various institutions and centres selling their handmade crafts. I bought two lotto tickets on which I won two little handmade prizes. It was lovely to be able to support the adult institutions too.
Dinner and the bus back to the venue were very quiet, a few nerves kicking in.
The 4,000 strong audience began filling up the seats. Back stage was crazy with golden segway aliens zooming around, colourful rollerblades skating about and of course 8 ft Transformers stomping through the crowd. The atmosphere was electric. Volunteers and organisers were working away making sure everything was ready to run smoothly. The children were standing mouths half open watching everything happen.
There were celebrities performing tonight too. You can imagine how our guys must have been feeling to be sharing the same stage as their idols. One young man in particular had me near tears. Mikail a graduate of one of these institutions for people with disabilities sang on stage with Alexander Patlis. I had met Mikail at the graduate seminar back in April and had the pleasure of getting to know him a little. He owned that stage. His eyes were so bright, so happy, he was so proud. We all were. The whole audience erupted into applause for him. It was a big song, but he had the pipes for it and he truly stood side by side with idol. I had goose bumps for his entire performance.
What a tough act to follow.
All the groups performed so well. No signs of nerves on stage at all. They embraced it all and soaked up the energy. The audience really was fantastic.
Some more celebrities performed and then it was the results. There was a judge’s choice and then 1st, 2nd and 3rd. All thoroughly deserved. I was delighted to see Cherven place 3rd. Their performance was really stripped back and very traditional but really well done. They were delighted.
My personal favourite performance, Bogushevsk won with a very clever performance that used video and huge pieces of material. It was mesmerising to watch.
The night finished off with all of the participants and volunteers joining one of the Belarusian singers on stage for a massive dance and sing song, there were even fireworks. The closest thing I can compare the feeling to is my time with the Special Olympics. Just pure happiness and love for everyone around. No one was segregated for their differences or disabilities, they as human beings were embraced and celebrated.
But at the end of the day all of these guys won. Yeah I know, cheese. But seriously, never has cheese been so truthful. Dreams Come True is possibly the most appropriate name for this festival.
Despite all of us only meeting less than 48 hours previously the sense of community and camaraderie that evening was powerful.
Unfortunately the festival was far too short as I’m sure everyone would have happily stayed on another few days but all good things must come to an end.. but not of course, before some cake!!
Why events like these are so important:
…Just after we had all piled into the van to head home on the last day (I was heading back to Goradische with the group), there were a few quiet moments. I was sitting beside Andrei who, to anyone who has met him knows he is THE happiest boy you could meet. Always so upbeat and positive, literally jumping about the place. But today, Andrei was upset. He started crying, very quietly and discretely so much so that I didn’t notice till one of the girls said something. I tried to comfort him. It broke my heart. He didn’t want to go home. He didn’t want it to end. This little bubble that they had lived in for the past few days was such a happy, safe place and now he was going home to the institution where life would go back to normal.
Every day I met them this past week we’d talk about the festival. They were still wearing their lanyards, badges and wristbands, proudly showing them off to everyone. The festival may have only lasted a short few days but their memories will last a life time.
A huge congratulations to all the organisers, volunteers, teachers and participants. You were all part of a very special occasion.
Спасибо большое, thank you and congratulations on such a fantastic event.