As the seasons change, more and more families in Siberia are finding themselves fighting the cold. Recently, Girls Education Nation was able to provide a Basic Needs grant to Elena to help her pay for heat in the apartment she shares with her two elderly parents. Elena is their sole caretaker. We asked her to share some of her story.
During our interview, we were inspired by Elena's life. A lot of her thoughts were focused around the importance of making the right choices in life. She recognized that even though some of her choices were forced (such as caring for her sick and aging parents), she could link where she is in life to her own free will and motivations. "My choices changed my life forever and shaped me as a person," she said, smiling.
Elena spent a lot of her life working as a school teacher. However, at that same time, she was also actively engaged in the breeding of livestock—cows, goats, and even birds. According to Elena, it was "a very serious physical and mental burden for me as a woman." However, nothing could stop her from being the full-time support for her family and responsible for raising her children.
“I have lived like this for 25 years,” she said . When we asked if it was difficult, she remarked, "I am a Russian woman."
In the early 2000s, thanks to her financial literacy skills, Elena was able to acquire 10 land plots in a suburb of Minusinsk. By 2005, Elena made the decision to pursue her most difficult life mission—logging in the taiga. This challenge was largely due to the fact that this industry was associated with hard physical labor, and has always been considered a "man only” industry in Russia. However, the stereotypical barrier did not prevent Elena from finding success and growing her enterprise in just a couple of years.
With the money she had saved earlier, she bought several thousand cubic meters of wood, equipment, beams and high-quality chainsaws, as well as all household items for the workers' living. For 10 years, this business brought Elena not only money, but also satisfaction from a job well done. “I learned so many new things about how to do business, how to communicate with people, and about logging too, of course,” says Elena. Leading an all-male team, she was respected as a manager because she understood that trust within the team is the most important factor of a successful business.
However, working round the clock for decades in a highly physical industry had a negative impact on Elena’s health. A few years ago, she landed in the hospital. After several surgeries and a physical rehabilitation period that lasted more than six months, she found herself in a difficult position.
Everything she had built did not survive her extended medical absence.
A new manager was never hired, and without a manager, unfortunately, the business could not survive.
For Elena, these years of life have become the most fruitful and happy. She does not regret anything, but only dreams of regaining the opportunity to make new challenges in life.
“I believe that challenges are directly related to personal independence and self-sufficiency. They are the ones who shape life. Blind trust in someone's plans for your life is not at all the road to personal happiness. Believe in your abilities and just be yourself,” says Elena.
Girls Education Nation is proud to continue working with Elena to help her restart her venture in a sustainable way, so she can continue caring for her parents and her health, and be independent for years to come.