Sunday, September 30, 2018

Winging It

What makes our work here a whole lot easier is that our two Directors, Oksana Bratchenko and Olga Rubel are both fluent in English and are willing translators. If left on our own we would be like passengers without a pilot, going down quickly. Or so we thought.

Well, this last week they were both gone for the week, as well as Ira our chief cook, who has a rudimentary knowledge of English.  She was on holidays, and Maria the School Principal who speaks German fluently was also gone for the week.

And so we entered the Mennonite Centre on Monday morning and promptly used up our entire Russian vocabulary by the 5th step inside the door. But then we soon found that our staff, while hesitant to speak English, understood more than we expected. We  retreated into our office and decided to learn Russian the easiest way possible.  In 3 easy clicks we were into our Google Translate app. Google Translate is a lifesaver.  In a short while we were having morning coffee break with staff, speaking into the microphone and having the words come out in Russian.  For the most part everything seemed to make reasonable sense.  Then our first test came when a lady came into the office to inquire about the status of her son's student aid application.  We quickly got the spelling of his name using Google Translate on a document she had, and then Ben went to his computer and found his name in the student aid file.  We were then able to tell this mom the amount that he was receiving.  She was astounded and delighted, and so were we.
The next day one of our former student aid  recipients came in to give us a gift in appreciation for the support she had received as she pursued and obtained a law degree.  Her English is very good and so we could hold a conversation with her and she could translate for staff, and everything went well.

Since we arrived here in Molochansk, there have been 3 occasions where we have been shopping on our own and people have offered to help relay our wishes or questions to the shop owners.  One of these helpers was a 13 year old girl who astounded her mother when she told us "I can help you" when we were trying to find glue at the store.  She immediately pointed to some glue which was near the counter, and we made our purchase.  Afterwards we had an encouraging chat with her.  I don't think that either her mother, or the clerk, had ever heard her speak English with foreigners.  She was very composed and her mother looked very proud.  The other 2 occasions involved young women who had been involved in international trips and had well-perfected their English abroad.

On Friday, we had the usual seniors' lunch at the Mennonite Centre.  Because this was the last Friday of the month they honoured the seniors who had birthdays in September.  Honouring includes giving gifts like chocolate bars, and reading poems.  Then the seniors started to sing various songs.  It seemed to be a very joyful group; about 60 altogether.  I asked our staff member how many of the seniors were over 80.  In fact there were at least a half dozen including two that were into their 90's.  The lady in the photo below and her husband fled Donetsk during the war with the separatists and ended up in Molochansk.

We have always enjoyed a good working relationship with other Mennonite organizations here in Ukraine.  This week we met with Pastor Alexsiy (who is overseeing the seniors home in Kutusovka), staff of the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporozhye, and board members from the Mennonite Benevolent Society from Winnipeg (who have for many years supported the Mennonite Family Centre in Zaporozhye).  It was good to get together and compare notes and discuss future challenges.  Here we are having lunch at the Mennonite Centre.
So we didn't crash with our language difficulties this week but we did bring smiles and some good laughter with Ukrainians with our efforts.  Don't worry, Olga and Oksana, you are still very much needed!

If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: or follow our daily activities on Facebook at:


At 1:51 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Good to hear how resourceful you were in bridging the language barrier and how helpful local persons, even the young, in coming to your aid.


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