On a recent summer night at a small church in Raleigh, North Carolina, a group of 22 children and teens from Belarus joined seven local churches to do something the Eastern European visitors were not accustomed to doing: community service. The students are used to being on the receiving end of aid.
These students were there to do more than package meals for children in need of food and nourishment: they were learning a lesson in serving others.
“In Belarus, they don’t have community service,” said Chandler Ellis, the president of Overflowing Hands who has sponsored meal packaging events for the past 10 years. “This is so powerful. They can see how they’re making a difference.”
The students worked alongside church and community members, scooping rice, sealing bags, packing boxes and dancing to American music. Language barriers did not get in the way of their shared mission of helping those in need.
These students come from Belarus, which is a small, poor country that once was part of the Soviet Union. They are not orphans; the students come from both stable and unstable homes. Some have enough to eat; some do not.
Roy Noel, a board member with Overflowing Hands who orchestrated the event through Restoration Church, explained that many of these students who come to the U.S. during the summer have health issues caused by the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster in 1986. Overflowing Hands brings children and teens to the U.S. for six weeks each summer to improve their health with clean air, clean water, healthy food and access to medical care. Health care professionals estimate for every six weeks the children are out of the radiation, they gain two years back to their lives.
Ellis explained, “Many of these students face challenges and they have to decide to rise above those challenges. We empower the kids. We teach them they can decide to make their lives better.”
What do the kids think? Galina, a teenager, summed it up: “It’s cool we’re helping people. There is less hunger.”