Sunday, May 28, 2017

Schools of Hard Knocks

Thank you statement
This is the week that most Ukrainian school children look forward to; the last week of school.  Many of our activities this past week involved visiting schools and attending Last Bell. Last Bell is a ceremony that acknowledges particularly the graduating class.

We visited the Sanitorium school which has served children with health problems for 70 years. Lydia, the director, has been there for 50 years and says that this year will be her last. She developed a close relationship with Menno Simons Christian School from Calgary, which has funded many projects ranging from supplying new toilets to ping pong tables. Menno Simons has definitely made work easier for Lydia.  Lydia says the children keep her young.  She certainly does not look her age, and she is a vibrant and highly respected director.  But the school numbers are going down because the government wants to move away from specialized health-oriented schools.

Molotchna River
On Friday the 26th, we attended 4 last bell ceremonies. Vinogradanoya school is a small kindergarten school combination in a town on the western side of the Molotchna River.
The river provides a idyllic reminder of a time when our grandparents, as boys and girls, no doubt let their imaginations soar with ideas of travelling across lakes and oceans.  The kindergarten class in the school is anticipating a new wave of youngsters this fall. So much so that they have asked us to help them with finishing an extra playroom and sleeping area. The teachers are pleased that the parents are doing their part in bringing in more children. Ironically, nearby the school is the most impressive stork's nest in the Molotchna area.

Nearby is the Preshib Orphanage. This school is also facing a declining enrollment.  The social service authorities plan to amalgamate this school with the one in Tokmak.  Regardless of the realities, the children and teachers still put on an impressive Last Bell ceremony.  To see a husky graduate place a final-year kindergarten student on his shoulder and take her around the yard, ringing the bell that one hears above the applause, is a powerful moment.

While at the Preshib event, Ben met a impressive young man who was a graduate of an orphanage in Crimea.  Zhenya is an entrepreneur who has a heart for children in orphanages.  He is a salesman for a sports shoe company and comes to this area at least once a month.  He always visits the orphanage here, and either gives them shoes or pays the costs for the children to attend sporting events.  He is a great supporter and sponsor of this orphanage.

The other two Last Bell events we attended at the Russian and Ukrainian schools in Molochansk very much reflected the "new" Ukraine. Both events were dramatically more nationalistic.  In the Russian school, the Ukrainian colors were prominently displayed.  In the Ukrainian school, they remembered an alumni who died in the war. There was a military presence at the Ukrainian school, and students in the "Quest" program displayed their marching skills.
All in step

The Ukrainian school highlighted their school sports activities including a demonstration of karate students breaking old possibly-Mennonite roofing tiles. No harm done; there are a lot more of these tiles around.

The Russian and Ukrainian schools in Molochansk have generally always had a friendly rivalry.  This year, the grads of both schools got together for a final picture. It was great to see both groups come together.

Both Lil and I fondly remember finishing school and getting into summer.  However, that was short-lived when we were called to the summer school of berry-picking, where our mothers were the teachers, and our sibling were our co-conspirators in avoidance tactics.  On Saturday, Ben went out and picked strawberries.  His mother always felt that the only thing better than picking strawberries was sitting on a swing on a warm summer evening.  So Ben found a swing, took the strawberries, and remembered his mother in her childhood country.
Yummy, even without ice cream

To contribute to the work of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, you can make your donation to “Friends of the Mennonite Centre”.  All cheques should be mailed to George Dyck, Treasurer, 3675 North Service Road, Beamsville, ON, L0R 1B1.
If you wish to donate online, go to the website, key in “Mennonite Centre Ukraine”, and click on the Search button.  Then click on “V” for “View”, and “P” for “Profile”.  Then “Donate now”.
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We thank you,
Ben and Lil Stobbe


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