Sunday, September 02, 2007

Weekly report – September 1, 2007

This week ended on a high note with the traditional First Bell celebrations held on September 1. This is the celebratory opening of the new school year which gives special recognition to the new 1st graders. The preliminary speeches will feels very much like the stale bread you get as a pre-meal filler at a restaurant, and take up most of the time. Eventually you get to the traditional highlight when a boy in the graduating class saunters across the courtyard to the frilly, nervous Grade 1’s, picks the cutest little girl, and effortlessly lifts her onto his shoulder. She is given a decorated bell, holds it close to the boy’s ear, and rings furiously. Then the graduating class walks across the courtyard to take the hand of a Grade 1 student, and they fall into step behind the boy and the bellringer, circling the applauding crowd. Mothers and babushkas of the graduating group dab tears from their eyes, possibly wondering where the years went, and mothers and babushkas of the Grade 1’s smile proudly, delighted that another one is off to school. It’s a ceremony rich in tradition and full of meaning.

At the Russian school opening the bread was not that stale. The Mennonite Centre was given special recognition for the work we did this year in replacing the crumbling school steps. At the Ukrainian opening Linda was seated with the VIP’s but unfortunately was seated rather close to those amplifier and speakers which the Mennonite Centre had so generously provided to the school a few years back! She did, however, enjoy hearing the three trumpets the Baergs have brought over from Abbotsford. They were played with skill and enthusiasm. So you, dear friends, have provided steps to the future for the Russian school and an amp and instruments to celebrate the future of Ukraine.

Another highlight this week was the visit of a farmer from Vasilievka. Over the past several months the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) has been planning a project for the Zaporozhye area. On Thursday we had a non-stop day of visits, requests, student scholarship interviews, etc. There literally was a line up outside the office. After a challenging interview with a mother and student, in walked Vladislav Sergeyenko. He has a big smile and is quickly talking Russian to Slava, our Ukrainian Administrator. Ben thought he might be a Russian father wanting for a scholarship for his son, and Linda thought he might be a father requesting funds for a sick child. Then Ben heard him say “MEDA” and knew that there was a MEDA group coming over to visit. You must understand that Slava doesn’t translate simultaneously but usually has a long discussion with a fellow Ukrainian and then gives cryptic one-sentence summary of the conversation, so we find that it is necessary to jump in, stop the discussion and ask Slava what’s going on. And so Slava said, “yes, this is about the MEDA visit.” Suddenly Vladislav said a few words in perfect German, and we realized that we could translate for Slava! It was glorious. Slava quickly went out to get coffee and goodies and we held court with our friend. This MEDA project is very exciting—they are using the expertise of a few local farmers to start a small-scale vegetable and fruit growing processing. Right now this is still in the planning stages and while we are not directly involved this is something well worth supporting.

This really represents what the Mennonite Centre is all about—a place where Ukrainians can meet North Americans and plan their future.


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