Chalk Talk with Pam Back from Kazakhstan
1. What exactly is Interlink?
Interlink is a non-profit humanitarian aid company working in Kazakhstan.
2. Why did you decide to go to Kazakhstan? How many years have you gone now?
I decided to go to Kazakhstan because I love children and have a lot of compassion specifically for orphans, so I felt very drawn to Savva. I have been to Savva three times. (Savva boarding school is home for approximately 180 children situated in a small village near the Tien Shan Mountains)
3. What do you do while at the orphanage?
Our primary purpose at the orphanage is to teach English skills through 90 minute daily classes and lots of free time interaction (the ability to speak English gives the children more opportunity for getting a decent job when they are older). However, I think everyone on our team would agree that our greater purpose is spending time building appropriate, nurturing relationships with the children. We spend a lot of time hugging them, holding them, and playing games with them.
4. What do you see as one of the biggest needs at the orphanage?
I believe the biggest need at Savva is personal connection. The kids have been separated from their families for various reasons or abandoned, and there is naturally a sense of having been forgotten and/or rejected. This year I realized that the adult staff who work at Savva seem to need those personal connections as badly as the children do. I am not sure of all the reasons for that, but seemed pretty apparent to me.
5. How have these experiences changed you?
I think I have changed in a variety of ways. For one, the rest of the world is a whole lot more real to me. I care more about people and what they are going through in other places. More so, I realize my life can (and will be from now on) more than just the typical busy American soccer mom. I love being a mom, but there is more to life than revolving around a busy family schedule. My family is stronger because of making the necessary sacrifices for me to go and do something for people on the other side of the world. We are less self-centered I think. My daughters (ages 12 and 9) care more about others and are dreaming about how they can help. I asked my kids how they think I have changed since going to Savva. They said I am happier, not that I was unhappy before going. They are right; there is just a lot of joy in giving.
6. What are some ways to get involved with Interlink?
A great way to get involved with Interlink is to sponsor a child at Savva through the Kids Connection program. The money you send benefits all of the children at Savva, but the letters you write can actually change the course of a child's life. The kids seem to live for letters from their sponsors; it's that whole thing of needing to be remembered and connected to someone.
7. What has been your favorite memory of your trips?
I have many, many precious memories of Savva! One of the more poignant would be the first year I was there and the big tub containing letters from sponsors was brought out. Less than half of the children are sponsored, but ALL of the kids were present nonetheless, and they pressed in with the most intense looks on their faces hoping to have a letter from someone. When a child's name was called (because s/he got a letter), there was an immediate almost giddy response and a huge smile-it was amazing and precious! Conversely, the many whose names were not called wore an expression of sadness and longing. It was joyful and heartbreaking all at once. Letters from sponsors mean more to these kids than Chrismas presents do to American children.
8. What was your favorite Kazakh meal?
All of the Kazakh food I have had has been delicious, except the soup that had dill pickles floating in it. I think my favorite is probably plov (rice with meat and vegetables) with a side of this salad made of shredded cabbage, carrots, and crunchy fried potatoes. So good; wish I had some right now!