When accompanying your husband on a work trip to Africa, how do you not only manage to stay married, but also start your own charity and business? How can you avoid walking on and ignoring another person’s suffering? How can you be generous and share your energy with those around you? How can you find ways to continue to do good?
We talk about this and more with Yanina Dubeikovskaya, who has a PhD in Philosophy, and is the organizer of the Kalingalinga Girls charity project and founder of the Free Africa business platform.
– Yanina, as destiny had it, you found yourself in Zambia and ended up living there for four years, visiting 11 African countries. What does Africa mean for you now? How do you see it?
– I would say that Africa is a world that is perpendicular to ours. And I really mean perpendicular, not just parallel. When you begin to live on this continent, it is as if you discover a new dimension, both in the outside world and within yourself. I think tourists also feel this, though not as strongly.
Africa has transformed my experience of life – the way I relate to the world, my relationships with others, my opportunities to change the environments around me and people’s destinies. It is a completely different world. A completely different balance between humankind and nature, society and the natural world. And then there are the huge cultural differences between the people living on that continent. And, as long as you have an open mind, it’s an experience I think everyone should have.
– I have been following your Kalingalinga Girls volunteer project for a long time. What was it that motivated you to set up the project? And what does it mean for you?
– The project is extremely dear to me. That is why, even now that my husband’s placement in this country has ended, I intend to stay involved with the project and will come back several times a year.
I had the idea for the project during my second year in Zambia. After about six months, I suddenly realized that most of the people I was talking to were going hungry. It is very hard for us to understand that there are people on this planet, including children, who have got used to the feeling of hunger. They communicate with others, they carry on working, and just live with this sensation.
The project just started itself, really. Every person who thinks about charity work needs to answer this question – both for other people and, most importantly, for themselves: do you have enough energy, and enough money, to be able to give of yourself to others. Because generally, it’s not an easy thing to do.
– But more often than not, philanthropy doesn’t come from people who have more than they need…
– That’s true. You realize that you can do some meaningful, substantial things that change the quality of people’s lives. In our case, the ability to change the course of a child’s life. The child begins to relate to others differently, to smile, to think, to explore beyond the confines of the fairly basic culture that they grew up in.
I have been shown photos of girls who were found in Kalingalinga, a poor district of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. It’s a kind of ghetto, which used to be the home of the servants who worked for the British population during the colonial period. The colonial regime is now a thing of the past, but these districts are still there. They are still poor, and the residents have a low standard of living. So, there is a great opportunity for helping people here.
I met football trainers who coach the local boys. And now they are also working with the girls as well. Back then, my son was 16 and my daughter was 13. And I decided to go take them with me, and go to these children on Sundays and talk to them, teach them and try and expand their worldview and outlook. These children didn’t have any televisions, computers, smartphones or Internet access. They lead a fairly simple lifestyle, and it’s incredibly hard for them to break out of that vicious cycle. And this is not just only because there is no money, although that is a very important factor, but also because the girls don’t have any role models who can show them that it is possible to learn, to get a profession, to travel… These are the children we took care of and… who we got involved with.
The girls are very lively and positive, and they radiate energy and joy. And it’s hard to reconcile that with the idea of a starving child. You can see how excited they are about the very least thing that you can do for them. These Sunday lessons became a great event for them! Then we started to expand our activities, rented premises, and brought in more girls, and now there are 100 of them. We started to raise money so we could teach girls whose families cannot send them to school.
– I know that this August you organized your first volunteers’ camp.
– Yes, we found sponsors who are ready to fund the teaching of our girls. Now we have 55 of them.
We also have mothers’ groups. They sew clothes that we can then sell, either online or here in Russia. For many of them, this is a unique opportunity to earn money through their own work.
I am very happy that I didn’t just walk on regardless. Zambia is a religious country, and people have high moral standards. There are many vey kind, caring people who really want to help others. In some ways, I did this for my children. And the results were way beyond my expectations. My children began to experience real pain in the face of another person’s hunger.
I am confident that anyone who wants to raise their children to be truly human should come to our camp or support our project in some other way.
– You are the founder of the Open Africa business platform, which has been running for just over a year. What was your goal in creating this platform? What has it achieved in this relatively short time? And what are the plans for its future?
– This business platform is a logical extension of the Kalingalinga Girls project. In Zambian families, it is normal to focus on boys’ education. Girls are often sent to school for just one year, so they can do the exam and complete the minimum possible middle education. It is considered quite enough if they can count to a hundred, write and read a little.
In order to feed all the girls in the project to eat and teach them and help them develop, we need money. We are very grateful to all our donors. But, unfortunately, we do not have regular donors. And we plan to give the girls the opportunity to have a profession, for example, to work as nurses. We need to think ahead.
Raising money for this purpose was my main goal in setting up Open Africa. The platform provides Russian with services to help them enter the African market, including consultancy services, helping them find partners and market research. Together with Business Russia, we organized the Open Africa Forum.
I am convinced that Africa is the continent of the future. And not just because of its growing population and economic growth, but in terms of the opportunities it offers for medium-sized businesses. In Africa, big businesses are closely linked to politics and governments. But for a medium-sized business, which can set up production there and bring its own technologies, for example an IT or construction business, there are a huge number of opportunities.
The idea is very simple – to get businesses involved, and help them, while linking this service to our work as a charitable organization. For us, the first swallow of our spring was a company that makes fruit freezing equipment, which is now building a plant in Zambia.
– Many wives go with their husbands on long work placements. But they certainly don’t all use their time like you have done. You have a unique gift for transmitting your energy to everyone around you. Even your children help you with the Kalingalinga Girls project. Where do you get your strength from?
– Thank you for your kind words and for your appreciation! I believe that it is my mission to give to others. A lot of energy flows through me. I am also convinced that when you give a lot, you receive a lot back. All my life, I have practiced Chinese energy-based gymnastics. And also, I am surrounded by a lot of happiness, a lot of good, a lot of positivity. You just need to let that positivity into you.
Unfortunately, people are often not prepared, psychologically or mentally, to let this energy in. For many, it’s a kind of balance sheet – they want to take more and give less. But it really doesn’t work like that. You take in the energy like a funnel. And then, when you are full of energy yourself, you can transform it, strengthen it, concentrate it and focus it. Sometimes I surprise myself. I suppose I just take in a lot of energy, and I know how to use it.
– “Seek out opportunities, and stay on the light side” is a phrase I read in one post on your social media page. It could easily be a personal motto. What phrase does Yanina Dubeikovskaya treat as a guiding principle?
– Not just that one. Also:Let evil stop with you. You should let everything in, and then transform it and allow only good to come out.
Now there is another thing I have come to understand very clearly. Through our actions and thoughts, we leave many traces behind us in this life. And these return, and impact not just ourselves, but also future generations. The more you take on, the happier you will be. The more difficulties and challenges you are able to transform into happiness and fulfilment, the better you will be able to fulfil your life goals. I get a lot of energy from my children, and also intellectual insights, even though I have a doctorate in philosophy.
I am also sure that, pious as this may sound, goodness is something that needs to be practiced. Not just talked about or preached, but actually practiced. Every day, you need to stay on the light side of life. And really, that something you can always do. Unfortunately, it is far from everyone who takes this opportunity. After all, goodness is essential not just for its recipients, the girls, but also for its givers. I believe that charity work is a way of transmitting goodness. At my time of life, I find it very important to do something concrete every day – to teach, feed, help businesses, create resources or build sustainable business models…
What has Africa given you? What has it taught you?
– It has taught be to be grounded, it has immersed me in absolute physical reality. In my case, the transformation has been a flow of energy down to the lowest level. The energy generated by hunger, of an uncertain life, of poverty, has taught me that you have to physically deal with this level of existence. And with your skills and abilities, you achieve a lot there. Africa is where you meet reality.
You say that few of those who travel to Africa get involved in projects like this. That’s not surprising. People are really afraid of opening up, it is very hard to leave your comfort zone. It is much easier to cling to your stereotypes and hide from the fact that you are small and dependent on nature, and that there are people around you who want to eat, and people who can be taught to do something. I’m certainly not judging anyone. Each of us has our mission, our own path. Africa has taught me, without losing touch with my inspiration and ideals, to work at a completely material level and build sustainable change for people at this level.
– What do you miss most, now that you have left Africa?
– I really miss the girls, and my team. Of course, they send me videos. On Mondays, we give self-defense classes. One African jewelry pays for the education of twenty girls. We teach them fighting skills – sometimes their lives may depend on their ability to defend themselves. On Wednesdays, young mother come in with their babies on their backs, and sew or play chess. On Fridays, the mother of the girls who study with us come in. On Sundays, we have a Sunday school for a hundred girls. I know many of them very well, as I have watched them grow since the beginning of the project. They are very different from the girls who don’t come to our classes – they can express themselves, they are confident, and they smile.
I also miss Victoria Falls. That is a place that brings me a huge amount of energy. I have been to Mount Kilimanjaro, and climbed up to the height of 6 000 meters. But still, the place that gives me most energy is Victoria Falls.
– Yanina, thank you for a very interesting and informative conversation. May your projects grow and flourish. You are doing very important work.
P.S. Any readers who want to support Kalingalinga Girls can contact our editor, and we will let you know how you can help
Interviewed by Yulia NOVITSKAYA, writer, journalist and correspondent for “New Eastern Outlook”.