Bowlers Hit the Lanes to Help Orphans

MTA competitor at last Wednesday's tournament at the Samolyot complex sending a ball toward his remaining pin.
Yelena Rybina's bright orange T-shirt and matching radiant smile stood out in the dimly lit bowling alley. "Super!" she said, the energy palpable in her voice, when asked how her team was doing. Her four teammates, dressed in identical orange tops, cheered loudly as each ball hit -- or missed -- the pins during a charity bowling tournament last Wednesday at the Samolyot entertainment complex in central Moscow.

Among the other five teams, each of which paid 15,000 rubles ($545) to enter the competition, spirits were just as high. After all, it is not often the afternoon can be taken off work to go bowling – and for a good cause, too.

"This is a great way to get involved," said Ivan Maurakh, one of the founders of the company Open Forum.

The money collected will benefit the three charity funds that organized the tournament, Big Change, Rostok and Alfavit, all of them dedicated to improving the future prospects of children living in orphanages.

Rybina, playing on the Renaissance Insurance team, is herself one of 142 students who have passed through the Big Change Educational Center in Moscow since 2002. The school makes it possible for youngsters who have grown up in orphanages to improve their education, pass secondary school exams and embark on a career.

"They leave the orphanages with such a low level of education; some can't read or write. Some are on a primary-school level," said Irina Ryazanova, executive director of Big Change.

Many students believe meager government pensions are their destiny. But when they finally pass their exams and start their first jobs, Ryazanova said, she tells them: "Your government benefits are over. Congratulations!"

The Rostok charity helps kids from orphanages learn how to live independently. In addition to supporting workshops for children at the Belskoye Ustye orphanage in the Pskov region and training for the orphanage staff, the charity also runs programs, such as host-family weekends, that allow the orphans to get a glimpse of the outside world.

Yelena Tolstaya, who runs the Alfavit Charitable Fund, shares the view that orphans have the ability -- and the right -- to take control of their lives and become productive adults. Working with four orphanages in Moscow, Alfavit funds education for those who wish to continue their studies after leaving orphanages.

Events like the bowling competition give a much-needed financial boost to Alfavit, Big Change and Rostok -- and they are also useful for the companies that take part. Alexei Kudrin, one of the Renaissance Insurance team members, said the event gave him and his colleagues the chance to interact with insurance brokers, who also sponsored teams, in an informal setting.

When asked who would likely win the tournament, Kudrin did not get a chance to answer. A bowler from a competing team screamed, "Friendship! Friendship is the winner!" This was followed by the clinking of beer bottles, and the players toasted each other.

The intense competition between the teams did not seem to hurt the playful mood of the afternoon. A steady flow of drinks fueled the tournament into the evening, and players joked about each other's bowling skills over large plates of salad and fried shrimp. The winning team, Open Forum, took home a prize of flowers and a bottle of wine.

Ryazanova said the charities were likely to plan more fundraisers together. "When I ask a company for money, they hesitate. When I invite them to go bowling, it's a whole different thing," she said.

For more information, contact:

Alfavit: Yelena Tolstaya. 254-4728, elena@alfavit.org.

Big Change: Irina Ryazanova. 949-3490, iryazanova@bigchange.ru.

Rostok: Laure Trebosc. 951-8729, rostok-bu@yandex.ru.