Thursday, March 15, 2007

People Profiles: Liliya Gennadievna Kondrashova

Since I am fortunate to get to spend a lot of my time in Vladivostok meeting and working with really awesome people, I thought I would write about some of them on my blog, so you can get to know them too. They are an important part of my life here, after all!

Liliya Kondrashova works as an education specialist at the Institute of Marine Biology (Russian Academy of Sciences). Together with the director of IMB’s museum, Natasha, Liliya coordinates a number of programs for kids and university students. Their big program for this spring is a competition for middle-schoolers called “A City by the Sea,” which gets kids to think about the sustainable development of Vladivostok – a timely topic, given a recent announcement from Putin that the Vladivostok region is about to receive about $25 million in federal investments for economic development in the near future. Kids find out about the competition through their schools and their peers, and participants do things like determine how much trash their families (and schools) produce, how much water they consume, etc., find out about new environmentally-friendly technologies, and think about options for future development in Vladivostok. The program also involves university students, who lead a seminar called “A Lesson for the Future” for all the kids who participate. These university students are awesome – sincerely interested and committed volunteers.

Liliya and Natasha are incredibly vibrant and full of enthusiasm, and they are also great specialists. It’s fantastic to watch them work with kids. The programs they coordinate are realized only due to their own enthusiasm, and often on their own monetary resources, too. This year over 150 school kids have signed up to participate in the “A City by the Sea” competition. The winners get a trip to Popov Island in the Far Eastern Marine Reserve in May.

Liliya herself is from St. Petersburg, and her parents still live there. She moved out to the Russian Far East about 20 years ago, and up until the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when they moved to Vladivostok, Liliya and her husband lived in a small village (about 200 people) near the coast. Here Liliya started the village school and ran it herself. Since then she has had quite the interesting professional career, from working in for environmental NGOs to teaching in Russian schools (she has also hosted U.S. Peace Corps volunteers!), but always staying committed to environmental education. In the late 90s Liliya traveled to the U.S. through an exchange program she organized largely herself and visited a number of nature centers in the Southeast. Her dream – in addition to moving back to a little village by the sea, after her 10-year-old son Dima grows up – is to build a Marine Nature Center for kids in Primorye, which in itself would also be a green building.

Liliya has taken a lot of interest in me ever since I arrived here; she is very talkative and very cosmopolitan, and I have learned a lot just from our conversations – on topics ranging from literature to movies to education to what to do in life and more. Last Saturday (March 10) Liliya invited me to participate in a “Lesson for the Future” seminar and afterwards invited me over to her apartment for dinner (as well as searching through her home library and checking out her husband Sergei’s pictures and films about scientific research on both land and sea in Primorye). This was really nice. Liliya lives at the top of one of Vladivostok’s many hills, and normally she would have an excellent view – except that it was again snowing on Saturday. Not only does Liliya have a view, but she also gets plenty of wind, which means the air quality is much better (those exhaust fumes get blown right away!). Since we were already having a storm on Saturday the wind up there was truly nuts, however, but that just makes for all the more adventure. When Liliya and Sergei walked me home that evening it was truly a scene from the classic American concept of Siberia (or Dr. Zhivago) – 50 mph winds, snow no longer actively falling but literally swirling from drifts on the road and ground, packed ice underfoot – so you just put your head down and try to keep walking :-). After all, when will I get to experience something like that again?

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