Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sometimes you go from famine to feast out here in Molochansk. But not in our eating, as we seem to be growing from borscht to blinyi (wafer thin pancakes) to varenika. However in going from things like no internet to Skype, and this week from no doctors we could relate to, to Drs. Art and Marlyce Friesen and Dr. Ed Wiens, we moved to an abundance of good health care. Having doctors converge around the breakfast table savoring “Benbucks” coffee is a little like having a traveling evangelist move in for a week of spiritual medicine. You know it is ultimately good for you but the stories they tell can be a bit scary! Fortunately these gracious doctors were wonderful company, well-skilled in the medicine of laughter.

It was from a meeting with these doctors that we heard the words that we have been waiting for, for three years. We were having dinner with local mayors and doctors who administer our Medical Emergency Fund. We were talking about how we can get more money so we can increase their monthly medical allowance. One of the hospital administrators said, “we don’t want to always rely on North American donors—we want to find a way to partially fund our own emergency medical needs.” Others agreed, and a discussion followed on how they thought they could help earn their own way. As Ukraine continues to develop and mature, this is the message we need to hear. It was a defining moment for all of North Americans. As Dr. Art said later that evening around our dining room table, none of us will likely be here in 15 years, but they will.

And that got us to thinking—where else can we see evidence of Ukrainians taking the initiative? More places than we initially thought:

We saw it at the Udarnik School (formerly Neukirch), where the principal showed us the Mennonite artifacts they are putting in their new school museum—items ranging from a Mennonite waffle iron to spinning wheels to a wonderfully built cradle. They were as excited about these as they were about their new computers. We saw it in their plans to put up a monument to those in the surrounding villages who were taken away under Stalin’s reign of terror.

We saw the initiative of Zoya, who takes time off from her job to work with the Canadian and Ukrainian doctors from the Christian Medical Association, as well as organizing community medical clinics and dispensing medications. For ten years she has never missed holding a monthly community clinic somewhere in Ukraine.

We saw it in the classy translator, Olga, who is both competent and caring. Olga, who once played for a professional volleyball team, seems at ease comforting little old ladies in church with her guitar and later singing delightful Ukrainian love songs at our dining room table. She seems so modest and only after some pressing did she reveal that she has a teenaged son whose 6’10” high-jumping achievement is ranked 3rd in Ukraine for his age group. She moves effortlessly between Ukrainian, Russian, and English.

We saw the initiative of Marina, the school principal at Dolina (formerly Schoenau), who has started a day-care/kindergarten programme at her school, relying initially only on the funding from Lorne and Hilda Epp’s church in Saskatchewan, and then shaming the community to start kicking in funds in January/08. She found old beds from the soviet system, cleaned them up, and 16 years later they are back in use.

At the end of the week we joined MEDA, the Mennonite Economic Development Association, in meeting with 4 businessmen/farmers who have established greenhouses to grow seedlings and citrus fruits right here in Molochansk. They have the business, their customers need credit, and MEDA has been approached to assist. Their grapes and grapefruit-sized lemons were amazing.

Finally, we saw the merging of the needs of the Molochansk Hospital with the interests of the Wiens family. You see, the Molochansk hospital desperately needed to improve the bathing facilities for their patients, and the Wiens family wanted to make a donation to honour their mother. It was a win-win situation. They take the initiative, we make the investment.

Ben and Linda



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