Real Life Stories, Volunteer with Us

Volunteering as a “butterfly effect”

Gift of Life volunteer, photographer and videographer Valentina Korabelnikova shares her story and explains why it is so important to help those in need and where to start if you’d like to volunteer your skills and professional experience.

Click to read Valentina’s interview in Russian

Valentina, how did your volunteering with Gift of Life begin?

In 2016 I was invited to edit a video for Chulpan Khamatova and Ekaterina Skanavi’s musical and literary charity evening, “The Children’s Book of War. Diaries 1941-1945.” That is where I heard about the UK foundation Gift of Life, which helps severely ill children in Russia.

The more I learned about the foundation, the more I realised how tangible their help is. Gift of Life solves a very important problem: it buys foreign medicines not registered in Russia for cancer and life-threatening blood diseases and delivers them to children in Russian hospitals, giving them a chance of recovery. Every year hundreds of children with the most severe diagnoses need treatment with such medications, and the right therapy is not always available in Russia.

For many, Gift of Life’s help is their only chance of survival. When I found out about this, it had an immense impact on me and I felt I couldn’t stand idly by.

You have been living in the UK for a long time. What motivates you to support children with cancer treated in Russia whom you will most likely never know personally?

I was born and raised in Russia. Many of my relatives and friends are there. When I go to Moscow, I see many talented people who do not want to emigrate, but instead focus on creating interesting projects in their home country, getting involved in exciting start-ups and innovations that change the world, despite the setbacks around them. I sincerely love this, all this Russian melancholy juxtaposed with the will to fly to space.

Cultural change begins where there is a collective push to help those in need. This works as a “butterfly effect”: you help an unknown child, give them a chance, and the next thing you know the mayor of a small town like Yakutsk turns a good person, on the side of right. The connection seems indirect, but I believe this is how it works.

In London, there are many people around me who believe in sharing experiences, knowledge, and resources with people living in Russia. However, I find it dispiriting that with the sanctions on Russia and all the politics, many feel alienated and as if they were some kind of militant “other.” The work of the foundation is even more valuable to combat this as it overcomes fears and prohibitions for the benefit of ordinary people.

You’ve spoken very aptly about the exchange of titles and experience. ‘Skilled volunteering,’ or intellectual volunteering, is very popular in Britain. You are constantly helping the Foundation as a photographer and videographer. What advice would you give to those who also want to donate their time and skills to the charity? How do you juggle your work, family, a little daughter – and volunteering?

It is important to understand that even a small act of kindness matters. For example, it won’t take long for me to make a simple video or do a photoshoot. At the same time, it will take hours for an amateur, non-professional in the same field of photo and video production. And they will suffer with the technology provided. A small gift of my time and expertise is hours of benefit for the foundation and ultimately the children it benefits.

Moreover, the foundation always arranges remarkably interesting events, and I love working on them. And, of course, the money saved goes towards helping children and is spent on medicines and medical care. I have confidence in Gift of Life; its staff never demands too much, and at the same time they are always happy and grateful for help. This creates a positive work environment.

So where is the best place to start?

You can start with a proposal to do what you are good at: you can draw something, photograph, edit, translate, or help create content for a website. Write an email or a message to Gift of Life, tell them a little about yourself and offer your help.

There are so many things to be done, I am sure there will be a place and role that will be useful to the charity and enjoyable for you. At the same time, it’s important to understand your boundaries and not expect too much from yourself. Even a few hours a month of skilled labour is far better than nothing. And I think everyone has a couple of hours for something this important.

Can you talk about a project or event that stands out to you from your entire time helping Gift of Life?

The charity concert of Teodor Currentzis and musciAeterna at the Southbank Centre in January 2017 will stick out in my memory for a long time. It was a grand performance by an orchestra of nearly one hundred musicians, who gathered in a hall of nearly 2,500 spectators and raised over £600,000 for Gift of Life.

I was amazed that so many wonderful artists, celebrities and ordinary people would use their spare time and effort to help children beat cancer. This struggle seems to be just as difficult as it once seemed to overcome long distances by land and sea, and then intercontinental flights. Both here and there one has a purpose, a destiny, and you need to do your best to get to it.

How would you explain in simple words, such as to your child or a friend who is uninvolved with the charity, why it is important to help, share your skills, time, and donate?

We are one. We influence each other with our thoughts and our actions. Ideas tend to repeat themselves in the heads of different people. Imagine the world you would like to live in. Would you like to have access to help in case you are in trouble? If this is what you want, then you should start helping others now.

Do what you can. This is how you start the mechanism of support: people will see that you are helping, and they will also think about helping someone in need. And on the day when, God forbid, trouble comes to you, you will not be alone.

Loneliness and volunteering are two sides of the same coin. Do you feel that you are not alone in helping the foundation?

Yes, and it’s great to know that you are not alone in this fight. I would really like to see friends of the charity grow in number, so that we get together more often, communicate offline and live. Fortunately, with the easing of lockdown in the UK, this is becoming possible.

Most importantly, I hope that more and more children will recover. And every life saved will bring those who help them together. We are not isolated beings, and together we can do so much more!

If you want to volunteer for Gift of Life, email a short cover letter and a CV to Thanks for the support!

Translation: Karina Zakharyan