Olga Kotilevskaya, a London-based photographer from St. Petersburg, tells about her experience as a volunteer raising funds for Gift of Life patients and explains why it is important to help children in Russia.

Click to read Olga’s interview in Russian

 

Olga Kotilevskaya is a professional photographer specialising in portrait, advertising, and fashion photography. Olga's portfolio includes photoshoots in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Russia.


Olga, you've been living in London for some time now and there are tens of thousands of charities here. Why did you decide to help Gift of Life and its cause?

I’ve only recently started doing voluntary work and to be honest I don’t know much about British charities. However, Gift of Life has been on my radar for a long time, and I’m well acquainted with one of its team members, Marina. And yet, I still hesitated to get involved until one of the charity's volunteers reached out to me suggesting I support the #LifeSavingBirthday fundraising campaign* in honour of the tenth anniversary of Gift of Life. I knew this was something I could really help with and gladly decided to raise money by doing a charity photoshoot.

In Britain, cancer patients have a high chance of getting the treatment they need. But in Russia, parents of sick children are often forced to raise money for treatment by themselves. The sums are huge, and without the support of charitable foundations and their donors, it's almost impossible to raise enough money. It's within our power to do something to help this sad situation and everyone can do their bit to support children in difficult times - this is what I have tried to do.

* The #LifeSavingBirthday fundraising campaign dedicated to the tenth anniversary of Gift of Life, was supported by over 200 participants, including the Gift of Life Patron Katya Galitzine and the chief editor of ZIMA Magazine, celebrity chef Alexei Zimin. Together we managed to raise £11,000 to help children in the care of Gift of Life.

Photoshoot in support of Gift of Life

You have done several charity photoshoots in Notting Hill and raised £570 to buy vital medicines for children. This is an amazing result, especially as a first experience. How does it feel?

It feels absolutely incredible. When I posted an offer to do a shoot in exchange for a donation to Gift of Life, I didn't think that many people would respond. We managed to raise £570, and I’m very pleased with this result. Of course, it is often necessary to raise tens of thousands of pounds to treat one child, and the efforts of one person alone are not enough here. It’s so important to act together, involve relatives, neighbours, colleagues, and, of course, your friends.

Among those who took part in the photoshoots there were my clients or friends. They learned about the project through my social media posts. All of them are easy-going people, ready to plan the shoot just a few days in advance. Mira Kogan is engaged in mentoring and coaching. We met when she took part in one of my projects. Michelle and Mathias recently moved to London from the Netherlands. They found me searching through Instagram. This was our second shoot. Julia and Nadya work in IT. We met through mutual acquaintances and became friends.

What was the response from those who participated?

The most positive response possible! The participants, like me, were happy to support such a great cause. Several people have told me about their experiences participating in charity marathons, and someone shared their concerns - like it's so scary to start a fundraiser when there are fears that no one will support you.

 Photoshoot in support of Gift of Life

Where should one start in such a situation and how do they find support among friends and colleagues?

Think about what you can offer in return for financial support. Many of us are familiar with impostor syndrome, feeling as if our skills are of no interest to anyone. Believe me, this is not actually the case – ask yourself what you enjoy doing, offer your hobby skills and expertise to others. You can give a lecture on history of architecture, host a cheesecake-making workshop, an online yoga class, or an exercise session in the park. Your peers will be happy to support you if you approach the task with joy, put a piece of yourself in the fundraiser, and can explain why it is important to you personally and who will get help because of it.

How would you explain to friends who are not engaged in charitable activities why it is important to help others and share your skills, time, and donate to a good cause? 

If a passerby tripped up, we would instinctively try to help him: we would grab them by the hand or go over to make sure everything is alright. Charity is a conscious version of this kind of help. By helping others, we always help ourselves. After all, good energy returns, and everyone may need help one day.

Olga is a finalist of the ZIMA Photo 2020 competition - "The world after quarantine"

If you were offered to work in the non-profit sector for a month, what direction would you choose?

I am interested in projects related to art. Art is like charity in that many are afraid to try it at first. And yet once you start, you won't stop. I want more people to get involved and start doing something with their own hands. Do not be afraid to apply your creative skills to it and never be afraid to help others!

Read more about raising funds for Gift of Life here

Translation: Karina Zakharyan

Photos: Olga Kotilevskaya