The anniversary feature Power of 10 is a series of inspiring stories about our doctors, donors, staff members, volunteers and, of course, patients over the ten years of Gift of Life's operation, showcasing how much stronger we are together.

Today we are talking with Natalia Savelova, coordinator at the Podari Zhizn Foundation, our sister charity in Russia. With coordinators’ help we discover the inspirational stories of children Gift of Life has helped, and ensure we receive applications for vital drugs, surgeries and other medical treatments and promptly and efficiently.

Natalia started working at Podari Zhizn just recently, and she has already seen how the joint effort and support can increase impact tenfold, resulting in millions of roubles to facilitate vital treatment of children.

Click to read Natalia's interview in Russian

Natalia, what did you do before working in charity and Podari Zhizn specifically?

For the past 10 years, I have worked in federal executive authorities in the department of pricing and antimonopoly legislation, so not exactly a childcare professional! But as well as being a mother, I’ve had some experience of working with children and young adults; babysitting our neighbour’s son when I was in high school and as a volunteer counsellor assistant at kids’ summer camps. After graduating from university, I gave lectures on accounting for foreign economic activity to college students at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

I enjoyed my previous job, gained valuable experience and skills as an economist, for which I am grateful to my mentors and former colleagues. It was a great time for me.

Why did you decide to move into the charity sector? 

When asking myself this question, the answer is: “I matured and grew as a person who understands what has a true value and significance in life.” It was a grown up, conscious decision. A couple of years ago I began helping families whose children were seriously ill and needed support. This gradually began consuming more of my time and focus and at the end of summer 2020, I finally realised that I want to learn how to help others professionally and to work for a cause that really inspires me. At the same time, transparency and the reputation of the charity were really important to me. That’s why I chose Podari Zhizn.

When I was offered the position of the charity coordinator at the Dmitry Rogachev Centre I was incredibly happy! I feel so lucky.

The charity coordinators at hospitals carry out a vast and an extremely important area of work. They connect the charity with patients, volunteers, doctors and donors and assist their needs. When a child is admitted to the hospital it is the coordinator who liaises and supports the family, explaining what help the charity can provide. Coordinators are constantly in touch with doctors to collect applications for drugs and other treatments which cannot be covered from state funding, and promptly inform the charity staff about their needs in order to quickly raise funds and pay the applications. Without the coordinators’ assistance, we would not have been able to provide the necessary support to our patients so promptly.

New Year's Eve 2020 at the Centre. Coordinators Natalia, Ekaterina, Elena and Julia 

Natalia, what is the main challenge you deal with at work?

The most challenging is to resist the urge to give out all toys and gifts to children after donors’ visits to the hospital! But seriously, it turned out to be exceedingly challenging to establish relationships with volunteers when working remotely, to motivate them not being able to meet in person and maintaining virtual communication only. My first months in the office coincided with the pandemic lockdown and a quarantine at the Centre.

Fortunately, face-to-face volunteering is slowly making a comeback. With a positive antibody test for COVID-19, volunteers can visit children in hospitals which brings happiness for everyone. My colleagues, who have been working at the Centre for a long time are also happy about the ease of restrictions. 

The Dmitry Rogachev National Medical Research Centre of Paediatric Haematology, Oncology and Immunology (the Centre) is the most advanced centre in Russia that provides specialised medical care to children and young adults under 18 years old. Many children in our care undergo their cancer and blood disease treatments there. Since its early days Gift of Life has been regularly paying for expensive and rare medicines for the young patients of the Centre, which cannot be covered by the Russian state or aren’t available in the country.

On the 1 June, the Centre will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Like Gift of Life, it was established in 2011. It’s not just the inception year that Gift of Life shares with the Centre. It is the mission too. Both the Centre and the charity work closely to ensure that children receive the innovative and most effective treatment for cancer and blood disorders.

Annually, over 2,000 new patients are admitted, and more than 200 hematopoietic stem cell transplantations and 2,000 surgeries are performed in the Centre. In the past 10 years Gift of Life has allowed dozens of specialists of the Centre to benefit from our educational programme.

What do you enjoy most working as a coordinator?

Easy - of course it is the communication and interaction with children, parents, volunteers, doctors and, of course, the team of coordinators that I joined. I have never met such kind, selfless, intelligent and creative people, driven by a noble calling to constructively help. 

Teamwork is essential and has a broader meaning for charity. This is the effort of doctors to cure the disease, the support of the charity staff in raising funds, the volunteers’ input, and, of course, the financial contribution of donors who are mostly ordinary-off people. When we search for the solution together even the smallest donation can increase tenfold and change lives thanks to synergy.

That’s exactly it! I like the statement: "Together we stand, divided we fall." It’s inclusive and right to the point. I was part of the campaigns where ordinary people managed to raise tens of millions for treatment in small donations.

I personally know children who broke their piggy banks to help other children. Such stories are endless inspiration for me.

Helping others is an incredible exchange of energy with those who you help and those who help along with you. This energy works wonders, it can make any gift lifesaving. Like many, I do not have great financial resources, but this is not an obstacle to a good deed.

You can donate any amount to the charity, bring small amenities and inexpensive means for daily care to the hospital, escort a patient to the hospital, have a friendly conversation with a child or parents. Working hand in hand we can really see the power of 10, when even a tiny donation grows into something huge and makes a significant difference - after all, the more we help the better are the chances for a child to beat the disease.

Everyone can find a way to lend a helping hand. And only together we can make sure that every child’s life depends not on the financial means of the family but on the capabilities of the child’s body to recover.

We always ask our heroes to wish something to the children in our care and to our donors.

I hope for a long and joyful life for you, full of love and an abiding faith in miracles!

#GOLpowerof10

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Photos kindly provided by Natalia Savelova and Yulia Laskorunskaya / Podari Zhizn.