AWO Christmas Fair
The weather outside is frightful, but the Christmas shopping is so delightful at the 18th Arts and Crafts Festival hosted by the American Women’s Organization
Photos by David Greene
The buzz of a market welcomes me as I arrive at the Park Place Hotel, a kaleidoscope of matryoshka dolls of every shape and colour, vintage Christmas decorations from the 1960s, oil paintings, amber earrings and necklaces, Christmas postcards, shawls, gloves, hats, scarves, and even carpets; shoppers chatting in English, Russian, German, French and Chinese as they look at the items on display.
Christmas is in the air at the Park Place hotel.
“I am healthy already. Now you may save another child,” says the cute short-haired 5-year old Alina, as she smiles at everyone from the poster by the entrance. Alina’s is a success story. She is a survivor of cancer. Nastenka foundation’s employee, a young woman named Lyuba, tells me that Alina just came to the hospital for a medical check. Her treatment was completed a year ago, and she has been healthy ever since.
A blue eyed angel
Angels have always been one of my favorite Christmas decorations. Paper angels, porcelain angels, ceramic angels, silver tinted glass angels, clay angels and, the last but definitely not the least—the doll my Mom and I dressed up as an angel once upon a Christmas time…
The Arts and Crafts festival has been associated with the name of a very special angel.
The name is Nastenka. In fact, this angel was an ordinary Russian girl, with blue eyes and a sweet smile. When the girl was a year and a half old, the doctors told her parents that she had cancer. A battle began for her life, chemotherapy upon even more intensive chemotherapy, five surgeries, including kidney removal, only weakening her health further. Little Nastya, born May 29, 1995, died on August the 9th, 1998, at the age of 3.
A teacher of Russian for foreigners in Moscow, Jamilla Alieva was tutoring some of the American Women’s Organization members. When they found out about her son’s illness, they united efforts to help.
As Jamilla shares her story with me in the Park Place hotel lobby, I am amazed at her warm, positive and hopeful attitude. She tells me how she first saw the striking difference between the opportunities European hospitals and charity organizations offered cancer patients, when her son was going through a treatment course in Holland. However, the doctors were unable to save his life. And Jamilla wasn’t able to leave the pediatric cancer hospital in Moscow after that. Together with professor Georgy Mentkevitch, she started the Nastenka Fund to give children with cancer a chance to live.
The American Women’s Organization offered their help and encouragement by donating the proceeds of the Arts and Crafts Festival to Nastenka, to enable them to effectively help Moscow’s pediatric cancer hospital. Needs are many. This year the money was raised to buy very expensive and absolutely essential infusion pumps.
Over the past few years, the hospital has changed for the better, giving more children a chance to become a survivor of cancer and live a long and abundant life. The AWO Arts and Crafts Fair is the major resource of finances, but there are other contributors as well.
70% of the medical equipment in the hospital has been bought with sponsors’ money. Whenever the hospital needs new equipment, Nastenka does everything to get the word out and raise the necessary amount. At this point, there isn’t one big sponsor who would be able to donate large amounts of money on a regular basis, and both individual and corporate sponsors are needed.
Spread the Sunshine
While quality medical equipment and medications are literally the matter of life and death, positive emotions mustn’t be underestimated. “Spread the Sunshine” is a program which includes fun activities for both the children and the parents.
Birthday parties, concerts and performances are organized with the help of professional actors as well as volunteers. It makes the children forget about their pain and medication for a while, and gives the parents a chance to rest. “Beauty days” are held for the mothers who haven’t had the time or energy to take care of their makeup or hairstyle, being there for their child day and night.
As the Arts and Crafts Festival was at its close, I bought two small vintage Christmas decorations just to remind myself, as I celebrate Christmas this year, that there are children who didn’t make it to Christmas, those who will be celebrating their last Christmas, and those for whom this Christmas will be also the celebration of victory over cancer, and that there is great work being done to help more children become victorious. And anyone is welcome to join the good fight.
*Special thanks to Megan Moats, Samantha Harris, Arlene Treutle-Levine, Pamela