A visit from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Agency, from left to right: Ellen Smith, Mission co-worker based in Germany, serving also in Russia and Belarus; Karen Morey, a member of Presbyterian Church of the cross in Omaha, NE; Alla Soroka, Project Manager for This Child Here; and Amgad Belawi, World Mission Area Coordinator for Middle East, Central Asia and Europe. We are honored and privileged to have them come to visit and hear about the work we are doing in the Odessa region of Ukraine.
They all look like angels.
but youth and children in orphanages, shelters, along with “at risk” kids in public schools have needs like any other youth person and more so: healthy self-esteem, a strong sense of identity, personal boundaries, and the ability to trust. You see them here above and below along with foster parents from Ukraine we train to take kids in, the staff (bottom) and Project Manager, Alla Soroka, who make the work of This Child Here possible.
I took these photos in Odessa in March: children from eastern Ukraine who know nothing of the politics of war or a crashing economy. Transported from Lugansk, Ukraine to a region called Kuyalnik, they live in what was once a premier health clinic (called a sanatorium) and place of rest of the Soviet Union, located on the edges of Odessa, Ukraine. The Way Home, a Ukrainian charity, funds a kindergarten program. This Child Here, our American non profit pays for English lessons for elementary and high school students. Most families in this location have a member suffering from physical disabilities, but not due to the war. In the background is home, a tall apartment building. According to The Way Home, 32,000 refugees from the east are living in the city of Odessa and 42,000 in the Odessa oblast, or state.
Above: Yulia and I during my speech to the team (gathered above) that does the work of This Child Here with youth and children in Ukraine–all trained by Alternatives to Violence ( now celebrating ten years in Ukraine). Alla in red, our Project Manager, without whom none of this work we do would have been possible.
A scary thing happened on our recent trip to Odessa, Ukraine. Were living on the 6th floor of an apartment building near the large city market. One morning, sitting at my computer in the kitchen, I smelled something burning. Did you light a candle, I asked Yulia, or some incense? It must be the neighbors cooking, she said, but it smells like burning paper. Some time passed, but the burning smell grew stronger. I opened our door. Smoke was pouring out from under and around our neighbor’s door.
Our neighbors apartment is on fire! I took the elevator to the bottom floor to tell security, came back and stepped out onto our balcony to see smoke coming out of our neighbor’s window.
We started throwing things in bags and suitcases, pulling coats out of the closet in preparation for evacuation. From the layout of the building, a large fire in our neighbor’s apartment could block our escape. Then people began arriving, someone had a key and they went into the apartment. There was a lot of smoke, a fire was under the sink and burning the cabinets. It would have been a larger fire except there were two bottles of water stored under the sink. The bottles burst, weakening the fire. Soon things were under control. The fire was extinguished and windows and doors were opened to clean the air.
As anyone who lives in Ukraine knows, bottles of water are kept in case the water to the apartment is turned off, a regular occurance in Ukraine. I remember when I first arrived in Odessa in 2006, walked into my apartment, and wondered why the tiny bathroom was lined with water bottles. The first time the water stopped, I knew why. I saw all those candles too, in the drawer. And I thought. These people like candles! When the electricity went off, I knew why.
So the habit of preparing for one problem accidentally helped with another, greater one: the catastrophic problem of fire in an apartment building.
A few days after the fire, I was in a room with twenty five people, all who have been trained in the programs of Alternatives to Violence. This organization has a global reputation. Members work in prisons, schools, and with anyone who seeking alternatives to violence in their work and lives. They work with the issues of domestic violence, mistrust, and prejudice. Most of them work for This Child Here. We use their skills with youth and children who live in orphanages and shelters. Many of those children have suffered emotional trauma. At the most basic level, we help these kids communicate with each other, support and trust each other.
I told them the story (in the photos above) of the fire, how all that work they do with recurring problems of youth and violence has prepared them and put them in place to address another kind of violence: not rockets, guns and artillery, but the wave of mistrust among people across a country where neighbors are now enemies and nations are at war.
Scenes from a workshop this month in the Teenage Rehabilitation Center of Odessa, Ukraine with familiar faces and new ones, helping kids open up and encouraging self-awareness and reflection on their own behavior. It’s all about about kids adapting to new kids in the center and checking those non-constructive emotions.
On Friday, January 16th, my wife, Yulia became a U.S. citizen. Sixty seven people from thirty nine countries along with family members, stood in a room on the fifteenth floor of the Peter Rodino Federal building in Newark. Like other family members, I stood off to the side to watch Yulia, renouncing princes, potentates, and other sovereignties, singing the national anthem, pledging to the flag, swearing her allegiance to America, a new citizen of a new country with a new name: Yulia Gamble
“I just wanted to see whether I like it or not… And I liked it.”
Beginning in 2015, we will be paying the college education of girl named Zhanna. Zhanna Ismailova grew up in a large family without a father in a small village in the Odessa area, and for a while lived in the shelter of The Way Home, non-profit charity in Odessa. Zhanna loves to cook and planning to study a restaurant business. Last summer she worked at a restaurant in Odessa as a chief cook`s assistant. According to her, she wanted give it a try, “I just wanted to see whether I like it or not… And I liked it!” She liked it enough to take what money she had and pay for a half a year of her education, but soon realized that she could not continue working and studying at the same time. She asked This Child Here for help. We said yes. We will pay her tuition, room and books.
Our thanks to all who support This Child Here, we wish all the best for Zhanna on her way!
This Child Here has been funding Mariam for the past 4 years through university toward her degree in psychology. Here she is speaking to the Association of Psychologists and Psychotherapists of Odessa, Ukraine… From life on the streets, to life at The Way Home, to a lifetime of possibilities.
I couldn’t have celebrated a better gift this Christmas.
May all your Christmas dreams come true,
THIS CHILD HERE: In a world of violence, we are training people to hope and trust.
We read and hear much about violence today: Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Ferguson Mo. Below are the images of those being trained with the curriculum of Alternatives to Violence in Odessa, Ukraine. What will they do with it? Teach youth and children the skills of communication, the gift of healthy self-esteem, the value of trust
I always get a lift when I see the energy of these people and the hope they have for a better world in Ukraine.
See to the bottom where we are improving on some smiles.
Look below and see the faces of Ukrainians training under the Quaker project: Alternatives to Violence. These are the people This Child Here builds staff from for our work with youth and children and for Peacemaking in Ukraine. Their dedication, their commitment, the energy and joy they bring with them, is the engine of our success.
In this time of separation and division, the presence of This Child Here in Odessa, Ukraine, has never been more important; I have never been more proud of those so engaged in it, and we have never been more in need of financial support. Please give with the donate link (just below) on this page or click here for our home address.