As part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Aberdeen being twinned with Gomel in Belarus, Yuliya Kolas and Sviatlana Kolas from Home-Start Gomel joined Home-Start Aberdeen for a week to swap ideas and learn from their work.

While Home-Start is an idea that started in Leicestershire in England, it is a movement that has now spread across the world.

Georgette Cobban , Sviatlana Kolas, depute Lord Provost Cllr John Reynolds, Yuliya Kolas, Luidmila AziomaGeorgette Cobban, manager of Home-Start Aberdeen, recalls that she first met with the head of maternity services and head of gynaecology from Gomel in 2009 when they visited Scotland.

Georgette told them what Home-Start was doing in Aberdeen and they felt it was something that would benefit families in Gomel. In April 2010 a group returned to Aberdeen and spent a week with Georgette and her team to see how they worked.

Gomel is a city of half a million people in the east of Belarus, a country in Eastern Europe that borders Russia to the east, Poland in the west and Ukraine to the south.

Aberdeen has been twinned with the Belarusian city since 1990 after it supported Gomel following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster that happened just 125 miles away in neighbouring Ukraine.

Like Home-Starts around the world, Home-Start Gomel is based on volunteers providing support to families with young children in their own homes.

Yuliya, who is also the director of the local Family Social Care Centre in Gomel, and Sviatlana, who leads up the psychology section, described what volunteers at Home-Start Gomel do. “They visit families at home twice or three times a week," Yuliya says. "They usually stay there for one or two hours depending on the need of the family. If there are more children they stay for a longer time to give some help. They give the family someone to listen and talk to.”

With families in Belarus earning very little money, and poverty a real issue, volunteers play a big role in making sure families have the basic things they need to support their children: toothpaste, nappies, food, school equipment.

And, like many Home-Starts, volunteers in Gomel also help families build a network of support. “Our volunteers make parties for families so that they can meet and talk to each other so that they can make friends,” says Yuliya.

“The families support each other and exchange ideas. If a child from one family is older than another child in another family they pass on items they might need.”

The team from Belarus visited families supported by Home-Start Aberdeen, as well as attending various groups providing different kinds of support.

“It was very interesting to learn about how Home-Start work in Aberdeen,” said Yuliya. “We learnt new things about how we can assist families. The project focused on teaching young mums to cook was very interesting, and seeing volunteers teaching baby massage was very interesting as well.”

Georgette explained that these were very new projects for Home-Start Aberdeen as well. But it is the kind of work that means Home-Start Aberdeen has been named a finalist in the 2015 Elevator awards to celebrate entrepreneurial organisations in the North East of Scotland.

One of the biggest challenges facing Home-Start Gomel is extremely limited resources. Belarus is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and the local Home-Start has to rely on local people and business to support it.

Georgette, who visited Gomel in 2012 said, “They have no access to grants or foundations. Raising money is very much based on the kindness of enterprise. It is something we’d like to help them look at, because the most difficult things for them stopping them expand their Home-Start project is finances. We have so many trusts and grants that we can apply to, but that just doesn’t exist in Gomel.”

Although Home-Starts across the UK have faced increasingly challenging financial situations, for Yuliya one of the things that stands out in the UK is the support for Home-Start in local communities. “So many people have such big hearts here,” they said. “They just want to help others.”

By coming together in this way and sharing knowledge and skills across boarders and cultures, Home-Starts Aberdeen and Gomel have shown that the benefits to families and children of Home-Start’s work is universal.