– Kirill, medical education in Russia is quite prestigious. You graduated from the university in Kursk. This is not a depressed region. And instead of working for small salary and a social guarantees in a state hospital or making big money in a private clinic, you left everything for the dirt and poverty of a foreign country. What for?
– It began when I was in my last year in the university. I never had thought about going to some third world country before. That time I got acquainted to a Ukrainian, who was engaged in a strange business – helping homeless African children. He organized some kind of shelters, crisis centers. And he invited me to Kenya, but I did not go. I couldn't – the trip occurred on the days of my final session, and I had no money for it either.
But the curiosity remained. I began to get interested. I read publications, watched video reports from the people who had invited me. That time I watched a film, an action movie. The film was called Machine Gun Preacher, starring Gerard Butler. I can`t say the film was a cinematic masterpiece. It was about a former bandit who rethought his life and prioritized correctly. The action takes place in the late 90s. He arrives to South Sudan. There is a civil war in the country with all the horrors of the war, and Butler's character is taken to help the children. The film impressed me precisely with the sense of eerie reality. At that very moment I fell ill with Africa.
That time I had absolutely no idea of where to go and what to do, but I clearly realized that as soon as I receive my diploma, I`d look for an opportunity to go to Africa. To help with what I can help.
– A screen hero with a machine gun... He is cool and brutal. To be honest, your motivation was dominated by a desire to become the same superhero, but with a scalpel? Or a defining word was “to help”? You`ve already believed in God, haven`t you?
– It`s hard to tell. I wanted to see the world and rushed to glory. In general, this is typical of men. Women are more about taking care of the home and family, and in male psychology, the desire to realize oneself in something very important remains a very significant factor.
– Yes, men dream of saving the world.
– Well, yes, my subconscious emotional impulse was about a very strong desire to help someone else with what I can do well. To perceive my motive as a Christian ministry, I had to taste first what it really was like...
– Why did you go alone? No colleagues, friends, fellow students accompanied you. «There are few real leaders», aren`t there?
– In fact, at that moment I had already passed the age when people go to the end of the world. Usually, extreme impulses are realized by young people aged 19-23, when they break away from their parents seeking adventures. At this age, it is quite easy to give up everything, career prospects are not yet so valuable. I was almost 25. Half of my peers already had families.
– What did your parents say?
– Parents were gone then. I have two sisters and a brother. They did not understand me and approve, but respected my decision.
– You didn’t come to an empty place, did you? Were there people who met you and explained everything?
– I had contacts of people who had lived in Kenya for four years. They opened two orphanages and a school there, succeeded with some kind of medical service. So, yes – I didn't go to an empty place. I found contacts, wrote them and joined their team. Those days it was called Heart of Help mission. The name of the organization now is Ok!Africa.
– Kirill, would you please list three good or bad things which shocked you and made fall in love with Africa.
– The first one is children.
– You're not a pediatrician?
– No, I`m an epidemiologist. I don`t mean a kind of medical specialization, but simply children. their shocking position in Kenyan society. I saw everything with my own eyes. And what I saw was incomparable neither with the stories, nor with the pictures about Africa that I had heard and seen before.
We are arranged in such a way that we tend to abstract ourselves from terrible reality. When we hear horror stories about atrocities in India or Africa, for example. Or read about the horrors that happened in the Middle Ages. We are horrified ... but calmly. With our heads we understand that yes, this is not good. But cultural distance prevents us from taking it too close to heart. Our brain says: «Don't worry. It is far away. In a culture alien to you». But when we know from the news about our neighbors who do not feed their child and he lives almost in a dog kennel this terrifies us much more.
And it does not work at all when you meet these children face to face. Small children, who were raped and subjected to unthinkable torture by their own relatives. It is impossible to close from this. Here he is – a child. You see him, his stomach swollen with hunger and tiny spider like hands and legs, his gruesome wound. You look into his eyes and realize that the wound in his soul is much deeper. And that is – he is no longer a stranger. He is yours and you are responsible for him.
Shock number two is the Kenyan healthcare system, which exists formally, but in fact, even primitive medical care is not available to people. And the rare help that is available to someone is of prohibitively low quality and cripples more than heals.
And the third thing: culture, another culture, which turned out to be dearer to me than my own.
People in Kenia are very positive – open, sincere, simple. The standard of living is extremely low, but people are optimists. Representatives of Slavic culture on the contrary have a feature that I do not like. It's obsession with negative. Everything is bad: country, government, laws, taxes, husband... Adversity and troubles are the essence of any conversation. And in Kenya, no matter how bad they do people smile. When you return from Kenya to Russia, you can feel it clearly.
– I want to ask a question about your children. They spent most of their lives in Africa, never saw snow, did not go to the kindergarten. Have you got any regrets that the most important period of life they spent outside their native culture and you deprived them of something very important? After all, emotional intelligence is formed in the first three years after birth.
– I don’t want to answer unequivocally, but it seems to me, and I judge just by my children, that upbringing in an alien culture is not an infringement, but enrichment. They are not taken out of the context of their native culture, because in Kenya we are a team – Russian families live in the neighborhood, communicate in Russian. At home we have our own cultural microclimate, authentic atmosphere. At the same time, our kids are growing up in close contact with Kenyan culture, which is different. And this stimulates emotional and mental development. Children learn to communicate with everyone. They know Russian, English, Swahili. At this age, this is a very positive development factor. There is definitely no conflict.