Martina de Courten, flight attendant from Embrach, Switzerland

"A huge leap of faith"

Martina de Courten and her family hosted 10-year-old Makcim from Belarus for one month in early summer 2015.

"We sat together at this table covered with delicious food, and suddenly Makcim and Nils had disappeared to play football. Without asking and without being asking. Children want to be alone when it gets boring around adults. It would also be like this with friends in Switzerland. But we were with our son Nils in Belarus for the first time to pay a visit to our guest child Makcim, who had been at our home with us for one month, and his family. It was a visit with friends. The parents gave us such an incredibly warm welcome, tears of joy flowed all around. Now we were sitting at their grandparents in a simple wooden house, experiencing a hospitality that simply wiped away all linguistic barriers, prejudices and clichés with a warmth and interest in the other.
Our first encounter with Makcim was marked by mutual uncertainty but also a dash of adventurous spirit. We had deliberated long and hard in our family and with friends if we should attempt this adventure: hosting a child from Belarus for one month. We thought about the huge leap of faith that the parents of this child would place in us, whether it's even possible to take a child from what is a foreign culture to us and with whom we could only converse at a very rudimentary level. Other parents who had already hosted guest children dispelled these concerns. They spoke about enriching experiences, a reward for the risk they took and the incredible gratitude that came their way. And that's how it was. When we picked him up from a boy scouts' hut, Makcim handed us a letter from his parents in which they thanked us and told us a little bit about their son. We then drove home and let him decide if he wanted to sleep in the guest room by himself or in Nils' bedroom. He opted for his own room. We then went out to go swimming and play football. Anton, another guest child who was living with my friend nearby, also joined us, but the two hadn't met before.  We were with them and our own children a lot over the next four weeks, but we also left them alone, such as when they did football training. Anton and Makcim were allowed to play along in the football club of my friend Cécile's son. Makcim is a bright boy, he was always very respectful and polite, and even managed to gradually exchange a few words in German. He oriented himself mainly to Nils, who is the same age, copied him at the table when there was something to do such as clearing the plates, and sometimes followed him wherever he went. Nils had school during these four weeks, so it was good that the Belarusian children staying with different families in the region had three trips a week together in this time.  Everything was organised perfectly. The Hardwald Aid Association, the people who helped and the Belarusian translators did a great job. Makcim was obviously comfortable with us, but it was also evident that he thought a lot about his family. He once phoned his mother and tears ran down his face, and I'm sure that he secretly shed one or two tears of homesickness in bed. It would be like this with any child. The four very intense weeks flew by in a flash, and as the day of departure approached, we all had a lump in our throats. We didn't know that we would see each other again, and we all shed tears when we hugged for what we thought was the last time. I reluctantly let Makcim pull away, he had grown very close to my heart. I asked myself if we shouldn't make such visits longer, but the goodbye came at the moment before the emotions would have become too deep. So it really was the right time. Makcim lives in another world, and he also belongs there. Had he stayed longer, it might have torn us up little by little. It quickly became clear to us that we wanted to find out how and where Makcim lives, and so we drove in autumn to Belarus to discover a new world and visit people who gave us such a friendly welcome. I'm already looking forward to Makcim's younger brother. He would be warmly welcome, but it's up to him if we wants to come to us in Switzerland."

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