The other day I was reading a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. In one chapter Bob talks about a concept he refers to as being “secretly incredible.” He says that our heroes never wear capes or get plastered all over the news, and they don't strive to. The people worth looking up to live a life that is anything but typical, a life filled with love and passion, and they don't care who knows about the great things they accomplish in the lives of others. As I read Bob Goff's stories of heroes in his life who fit the bill of being “secretly incredible” my mind turned back to people I have met in my own life who dedicate themselves entirely to others while asking for no recognition in return, heroes who need no cape. I met many people who fall into this category as I visited the Ministry Centers in Ivanovo, Kostroma, and Vladimir, but there are two I met who came foremost to my mind as being “secretly incredible.” Andrey and Mikhail are two members of Orphan's Tree who I have mentioned in previous posts, but the time and dedication they put in to helping older orphans grow and thrive through their work at the dachas are stories deserving to be told.
I met Andrey Selivanov just hours after landing in Moscow. The weather had been warm enough for short sleeves late afternoon in the city, but as I stepped out of the car five hours later in front of the Vladimir dacha, the night's chill hit my bare arms with a shock. Andrey stood waiting outside the car, bundled in a warm coat and hat. He had a warm smile on his face and looked as at home in the Russian countryside as anyone I could imagine.
After shaking my hand, he looked at my goosebump riddled limbs and with a fatherly smile said “Shawn, this is not very appropriate clothing. You will freeze I think.” He turned and began to send one of the kids to fetch me a coat before I informed him I actually did have some warmer clothes with me.
My first encounter with Andrey painted a perfect picture of the dacha leader. He always put others first without ever asking for anything in return. Andrey lives just down the tiny village's single street from the dacha and dedicates most of his time to the kids visiting. Along with Masha—who comes from Vladimir to assist him—Andrey occupies the visiting orphans with nearly every task under the sun, teaching them to tend the dacha's garden, split wood, cook, perform maintenance on the buildings, he is can do it all and loves to teach any kids willing to learn.
By the time I woke my first morning at the dacha, Andrey was already hard at work in the morning cold, harvesting the dacha's potato fields alongside the four orphans staying at the dacha. All morning Andrey and the grads dug through the field, intent on finishing the harvest that day. Later in the day he goes with them to pick mushrooms in the surrounding forest to come back with hands stained black from the mushrooms they found.
“We teach the kids who come here to work hard and be independent. We want to offer them a place to escape, but also help them learn responsibilities,” Andrey said.
Andrey is a man with a passion for life and seemingly more hobbies than I would be able to count. He loves carving and woodwork, as the various figurines and sculptures around the dacha illustrated, and can often be found squaring off in intense games of chess against an older grad named Kolya. What's most impressive though, is Andrey's desire to share his passions with anyone he meets.
Andrey has taught several kids who had never been on a bike before to ride and talked fondly of his hopes to teach one of the orphans to swim during the summer. Even during my short stay at the dacha, Andrey was constantly teaching me the daily tasks that the orphans already knew. He instructed me in one Russia board game and another game that involved throwing a stick to knock over small pieces of wood (he claimed the pieces of wood were supposed to represent soldiers). Always calm, Andrey had the demeanor of patient father as watched me fail to knock those soldiers over again and again.
Andrey's work extends beyond the dacha itself as he and Masha also often take visiting orphans on outings to Vladimir or other surrounding cities. He leads the kids on a variety of activities such as tours of historical attractions, or teaching them to ice skate or cross country ski in the winter.
Andrey's passion does not just stop at teaching those around him, however. He's the type of person who takes a genuine interest in others, their stories, talents, passions everything. Andrey spent a good deal of time questioning me about my own life, and honing in on interests we might share. When he heard that my family is heavily involved in Oregon's timber industry, Andrey immediately sat down across the table and sparked an in depth conversation about my own experience with wood products and my knowledge of woodwork (which is actually very little). He was eager to learn all he could from me. Andrey also carried a small notepad wherever he went, and whenever I used an English word he was not familiar with, he whipped out that pad and asked me to spell the word out and explain the definition to him. He was always happy to help translate as best he could and bridge the gap between the Americans and orphans.
I spent less than two days at the Vladimir Dacha, but it only takes a second to see Bob Goff's words come to life in someone like Andrey, a man who gives all of his heart and energy into teaching and inspiring the orphans who come to the dacha. And it is just as easy to see how in love he is with his work. Andrey is someone who has no use for a cape and wants no praise, but I believe he is pretty heroic nonetheless.
Later this week I will continue with the story of my time at the Kostroma Dacha and my encounters with its own “secretly incredible” leader, Mikhail Makhov.