Saturday, August 07, 2010

One of the areas of noticeable difference in Ukraine since our first coming as North American Directors in 2005 has been the general improvement in the conditions of the orphanages and treatment of children with disabilities. This generalization is only based on the orphanages and programs we are aware of, here in the Molotschna area. The state-run orphanages such as the one at Prischib and the one near Melitopol have certainly improved their facilities with new windows, better floors, chairs, and even food. The state appears to have made a major investment in these facilities. This Monday we went to Kalinikovka, the site of the Steinbach estate on the southern end of the Molotschna colony. Significant renovations and facility improvements have occurred at this institution for physically and mentally challenged children aged 5 to 18. However, we have been told that the capital costs for the improvements have been supplied by non-governmental groups, not the state. Here again, we were very impressed with the conditions we saw, particularly for the younger children. The renovated rooms were clean and bright. Compared to conditions at the adult psychiatric hospital in Molochansk, this facility was a vast improvement.

Compared to our North American practices, Ukraine still institutionalizes far more children on a per capita basis. While the long term plans should be to integrate them into as normal an environment as possible, at least on the short run we are pleased to see improved facilities. In walking amongst the young children in the former Steinbach estate we were struck by two things: the need and desire of children for human contact and the fact that an estate which once showed prosperity and success can now be used to show care and support for the most needy of children. We just stood among the children and allowed them touch us. They grabbed, snuggled, and rubbed our hands. We did not come out of there feeling despair, but had a new sense of what can be considered beautiful. Staff were very encouraging to the children and encouraged us to be with the children. It is good to see how the original Jacob Dick and Nicholas Schmidt buildings continue to be used for the good of the community and have not been allowed to disintegrate like so many other places. We were guided through the buildings by Yulia Romanova, one of our scholarship students who was doing summer volunteer work there. Yulia, who speaks good English, has a better understanding of Mennonite history than 99% of North American Mennonite young people her age and is a model of the new Ukraine.

On Wednesday we went to another old estate, this one not Mennonite–Count Popova’s castles in Vasilievka. Here we saw an estate consisting of several old castles built in the 1800's. These big buildings also depict wealth, status, and living conditions of the nobility in Tsarist times. Unfortunately they are not really being used and while the state appears to be trying to prevent further deterioration of these buildings, one senses that much more could be done here to make them a centre that would serve the community.

On Thursday, after a particularly long afternoon, we were just ready to go home when two rather dignified-looking women came into our office. They were sisters, and one was a former teacher in the Mennonite Centre which once was a school. Both women would have been pensioners in Canada but they did not reflect the stereotypical “babushka” look of Ukrainian grandmothers. In fact, we have also noticed how that look is increasingly changing as Ukrainian women are beginning to carry their natural beauty and class into their senior years. These women came in confident and smiling, and said, “we want to thank you for being here. I am so delighted that this building is now being used to provide care for the community. My sister just got new glasses here. Those of us who can remember the war years often have nightmares and the best cure for me is to come to the Mennonite Centre and sit on the benches because this is a place of peace. We have a nephew in Toronto. He is coming to visit us next summer and we will bring him here to show him that we have a little piece of Canada right here in Molochansk.”

Sometimes when you improve buildings you also give hope, joy, and good health to those whose lives have been filled with fear and despair. Thank you to all our supporters.

Ben and Linda Stobbe
Friends of the Mennonite Centre
3675 North Service Road
Beamsville, ON
L0R 1B1


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