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Five Years of Gift of Life. Making Helping Others Easy and Fun

Gift of Life’s five-year anniversary is a significant event in the Russian-British charity world. Founded in London in 2011 as a partner foundation to Podari Zhizn, one of the biggest Russian charities, Gift of Life continues to grow and develop, and proves every day that cultural differences and state borders are no obstacle to good deeds.

The charity’s birthday is not only a celebration, but also a time to look back on what’s been accomplished so far. Over five years of fruitful work, thanks to the support of its donors, partners and volunteers Gift of Life has gathered over £2,400,000 and helped 200 children in Russia. The reason it has been able to achieve such impressive results is a combination of unending faith in human goodness, the excellent reputations of the foundation’s founders, directors and patrons, and the smoothly-coordinated work of a small team of dedicated charity workers.

From numbers to children’s lives

Millions of pounds, hundreds of packs of expensive drugs, dozens of medical consultations – there are no dry numbers in the field of medical charity, especially when it comes to fighting oncological illnesses. The 50 surgeries, the 29 consultations with leading foreign specialists, and the 1,207 packs of anti-tumour and chemotherapy drugs, including 458 packs of the powerful modern medicine Erwinase – all are for the sake of the lives of children, filled with both pain and hope. In the words of Podari Zhizn’s co-founder, famous Russian theatre and film actress Chulpan Khamatova, “Our UK sister foundation [Gift of Life] is a lifeline for us and our children. It is the essential source of all help for children who need Erwinase and other medicines not registered in Russia, as well as surgeries by foreign doctors.”

This is why, on the 13th of January 2013, during a charity gala Gift of Life gathered donations for a full course of Erwinase for Rita Khairullina. A professional young sportswoman, member of the Russian triathlon team, winner of many Russian and international competitions, Rita began treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2010 in Moscow. Traditional Asparginase-based therapy resulted in a serious allergic reaction, and had to be cancelled. But twelve packs of Erwinase, paid for by Gift of Life, brought her into stable remission. Today, Rita feels healthy, is studying journalism at Chelyabinsk State University, works as a professional photographer and hopes to return to major league sports and ascend to glory. Hers is a true success story, proof that even the gravest oncological illnesses can be cured, and an inspiration for patients and donors alike. Stories like hers, of the successes of Gift of Life and Podari Zhizn’s young charges, need to be spread far and wide.

Compassion knows no borders

Rita was able to tell her story in person in 2015 at the Gift of Life charity gala, with the help of the famous British actor and friend of Gift of Life Stephen Fry, and of film actress and foundation patron Justine Waddell. A foundation with Russian roots needs British patrons and co-founders to help it be more involved in the life of the British community and to strengthen the bonds between British and Russian cultures. As Fry rightly observed, “Compassion knows no borders and it is wonderful to see how Gift of Life brings together so many people from different backgrounds (within the British and Russian community) with such tremendous hard work and generosity to bring hope to children and their families facing the toughest time in their life.”

Waddell came to Gift of Life out of a genuine desire to help, and an active interest in Russian culture and Russian language (in which she is fluent). In addition to participating in the foundation’s traditional January galas, she also helps it with other charity events that gather funds for children’s treatment. For example, last November, Waddell supported an initiative by foundation director and co-founder Lyuba Galkina, helping to conduct a Mad Tea Party at the Jean-Jacques Soho restaurant with a reading from Alice in Wonderland. The total gathered by the annual Mad Tea Party event, taking place on the 25th of November across the globe, from London to Tokyo, was over £10,000.

As well as Waddell, Gift of Life patrons include the world-famous British singer Katie Melua, Princess Catherine Galitzine, direct descendant of Catherine the Great, and Prof. Ray Powles, one of Britain’s leading specialists in leukaemia treatment and bone marrow transplantation. In addition to promoting the foundation’s image, each patron uses their talents and creative and professional experience to attract donations. Melua has performed at two of Gift of Life’s traditional New Year galas, and donated her own autographed guitar as a lot for a charity auction – it fetched £13,000.

Princess Galitzine contributed in her own way, donating a unique lot (which went for £10,000) to the recent 2016 auction – a two-day tour of St Petersburg, visiting a variety of notable landmarks of both the old and new sides of the city. While Princess Galitzine, whose family lived in St Petersburg until 1919, was born and grew up in England, she knows the Northern Capital like the back of her hand. In the late 80s, she moved to St Petersburg to study sculpture and make many contributions to the world of art.

Talent, art and sports give the gift of life

Today, Gift of Life is well-represented within the media of Russian London. More and more compassionate people trust the foundation and seek to help it, and the number of its donors, partners and volunteers keeps swelling. It is this active, engaged audience that leads Gift of Life to conduct its various balls, auctions, concerts, exhibitions, tea parties, sports events, professional classes and artistic evenings. The foundation is planning to expand beyond the borders of traditional fundraising formats in order to make everyone involved with Gift of Life feel that they are being heard and needed. After all, charity is always a two-way process, full of mutual interest and the exchange of experience, new ideas and emotional warmth.

This year, Gift of Life intends to prioritise special events, regular fundraising initiatives and developing volunteer fundraising. The Gift of Life team believes that these things have huge potential, and the evidence backs them up. As well-known Russian and British theatre and film actress and Gift of Life and Podari Zhizn co-founder Dina Korzun comments, “The foundation is growing, and we are working hard to organise more events, and increase the scale of volunteer fundraising, so that we aren’t entirely dependent on the success of any one event.”

It’s been a long time since Gift of Life limited itself to one big event. In addition to the recent January gala dinner, which was able to gather £400,000 even in these challenging times, and the aforementioned Mad Tea Party last year, the foundation has successfully realised a number of interesting and significant projects:

  • “Wings of Everyday Life”, an evening of classical music and poetry with Chulpan Khamatova and Gideon Kremer, together with the Kremerata Baltica, held in Covent Garden (sold out, raising over £17,000);
  • The sale of Vladimir Dubossarsky’s painting “By the Sea” with the assistance of the famous Christie’s auction house (£28,000);
  • An artistic evening with Seva Novgorodsev (£2,000 raised through ticket sales and donations);
  • An evening of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry at the Russian Embassy with the support of Ambassador of the Russian Federation Alexander Yakovlenko (over £5,000).

Events like these draw the community’s attention, generate tangible funds, and thereby help achieve the foundation’s central objective of helping as many sick children as possible. “Spring is here – now is the time to get involved in sports initiatives in aid of the foundation, or to dedicate your birthday to helping children by asking guests to donate instead of buying presents”, suggests Dina Korzun.

One great example of volunteer fundraising through sports is the experience of Sergey Ionov, 27-year-old trader at Morgan Stanley, father of two and expert marathon runner. In 2015, Sergey ran the Diagonales des Fous, one of the most difficult and prestigious races in the world, with a 164 km length and a total elevation gain of 10,000 m, to raise money for Gift of Life. His fearlessness, excellent physical training and kind heart brought the foundation over £2,500. Two years earlier, Sergey raised a grand £6,000 for Gift of Life with a truly glorious 250 km race along the challenging and treacherous shores of the Amazon.

Ionov’s story may make sports volunteer fundraising sound like a real trial of endurance. But all it takes is to take the first step and find a comfortable rhythm, and the rest will follow. That’s how Svetlana Dimakova, tourism manager for Bicester Village, combined two volunteer initiatives to run the Thorpe Park 5K Run on her birthday and gather £480 for Gift of Life by asking her friends in advance to make donations instead of presents. Gift of Life is deeply grateful for such wonderful expressions of kindness.

The cycle of good deeds will never end

Gift of Life’s regular donors enthusiastically support its fundraising initiatives, and keep coming up with their own events to run in order to gather funds to help children in need of treatment. From exhibitions to tea parties and artistic evenings, their imagination and generosity know no bounds. For example, in December-January, the GRAD Russian art gallery held Vadim Levin’s personal photo exhibition “Impressions of Iceland”. Levin and GRAD passed on all proceeds from the sale of his photographs and albums to Gift of Life.

The art collectors Natasha Tsukanova and Igor Tsukanov provide support for major events on top of regular donations. In January 2014, the Tsukanov family invited the London Philharmonic Orchestra to perform at Gift of Life’s charity gala, unquestionably enhancing the celebrations.

Irina and Vladimir Tsarenkov, who have supported Gift of Life since its very foundation and have always been attentive to its needs, held a Mad Tea Party at the St Petersburg Gallery last November and gathered funds for the purchase of vital medicines.

In April 2015 the poet Alla Bashenko launched her new book Atlantida-Atlantis. Bashenko and her talented friends Dina Korzun, Louis Franck, Alesia Mankovskaya, Jose Gandia, Tatiana Isaeva and Irina Karatcheva created an unforgettable festival atmosphere at the Bag O’Nails Club. The evening was a great success and gathered £4,000 for Gift of Life, for which the foundation is profoundly grateful to Bashenko and her friends.

Alina Uspenskaya and ArtSocial have also helped Gift of Life a great deal, gathering a significant sum to pay for the treatment for 16-year-old Darya Grebennikova. The fundraising took place during the “Collecting Contemporary Art: Conversation with Francesca Gavin and Eugenio Re Rebaudengo” event at a London restaurant.

The Gift of Music chamber orchestra was Olga Balakleets and Ensemble Productions’s beautiful present to the foundation last July. Seven talented young musicians performed for the evening’s guests and gathered funds to give their peers in Gift of Life’s care a chance to regain their health. There is nothing more touching than seeing children help other children.

These examples of kindness inspire and give rise to new positive initiatives. An endless cycle of good deeds binds Gift of Life and all its friends into one big family. On this special day, its fifth birthday, the Gift of Life team would like to express its heartfelt gratitude to all its supporters, patrons, directors, donors, colleagues and volunteers. Gift of Life would accomplish far less without your daily help and dedication. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and faith in the success of our common cause!

Happy birthday, Gift of Life!

It’s easy to help

At Gift of Life, we understand how important it is to make helping simple and convenient. That’s why we accept donations through electronic transfer, online via PayPal and JustGiving, or by setting up regular monthly payments from your bank account. To find out more about means of donation, please see the Donate page at http://www.giftoflife.eu/donate/.

And of course you can always use your time to help Gift of Life by becoming one of our volunteers. Just write to the foundation’s volunteering coordinator Marina (marina@giftoflife.eu) and join our circle of friends.

For Gift of Life’s news, initiatives and events, please see Gift of Life Facebook .