Vlada Zhunina from Kaliningrad is a Gift of Life volunteer and a journalist.

She has recently returned to Russia and shared her experience of helping the foundation and seeing the results of such help. 

“I was first introduced to the Gift of Life and Podari Zhizn charities when I was interviewing the volunteer Nadya Raud. Before that, I'd believed that volunteering was some distant thing that wasn't relevant to me at all, something difficult to fit in with everyday life. Nadya changed my mind. She told me about how she transports food and blankets to an animal shelter on her way to the supermarket, and how she looked after ill children in Russia, and I was sitting there wondering how I'd wasted all these years. When they were gathering a team of volunteers for the Gift of Life charity gala, there was no question whether I'd join or not. I took a day's leave and went to help.

I met many incredible people at the gala evening, and I don't mean the guests but the volunteers. Many had been helping the charity for years side by side with school or work, lending a hand at events, and taking part in fundraisers. Just recently they ran five kilometres to raise money for children's treatment.

That evening I felt like I was part of a big family – everyone plays their small part, but together, we're doing one great thing, and putting our heart and soul into it. I could see it in my colleagues, in the charity staff, and in Chulpan.

Even so, I wasn't seeing the results of the charity's work. There were names on paper, and there was a girl at the gala who'd had her treatment paid for by the charity, but I couldn't feel a direct connection between what we were doing and the children we were helping.

When I came to Russia, I stayed in a hostel. My neighbour, a chatty old lady from Tuva, would tell me about her grandchildren over breakfast. The youngest, she said, was the prettiest – enormous eyes, wavy hair, eleven years old, and a ridiculous flirt. She was recently diagnosed with bone cancer. Her surgery cost 3,000,000 rubles, which was a vast sum for her Tuva family. The family did some research and asked a charity for help. The money was gathered quickly, and the surgery was a success. I asked which charity it was, and she told me “Podari Zhizn”.

That was the moment I finally felt myself to be part of something. Not an event or an organisation, but part of someone's life. The life of the lamenting grandmother, the parents sitting by the child's bed 24/7, and the child who was given a chance, and the gift of life.