THIS LAST ONE FROM AUGUST 2005
Ukrainians and Russians in Moscow with common goals: to learn to train foster parents and to learn alternatives to violence. See our Alla Soroka, top left, (with the teddy bear!), and Arina Litvinenko, second to the right of her.
After four trips to Moscow, our people will have the skills needed to train foster families in Odessa. This training for us comes cost free because we in exchange are training Russians to have the skills of Alternatives to Violence in their work with children, youth and families.
On our last trip to Odessa, This Child Here sponsored workshops led by Bill Kennedy, from Maryland, below left talking with Pearl von Herder, his interpreter: public speaking, business management, business idioms, and conflict management. Here are attendees on the first day, all high school students. If you want to know what high school students look like in Ukraine, scroll down. Bill donated his time to this effort, classes were held at The Impact Hub, a center for business and non profit training in Odessa, Ukraine. Bill, a Russian speaker, has led classes like this in Kiev, Ukraine, and in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia.
In late August, we went to the beach at Kobliva, a town about an hour east of Odessa. Vova who works for The Way Home is tireless with kids, as he launches them in the air to splash into the sea. Alla, our Project Manager and Natasha who recently joined our staff, stroll the beach; Below are the faces of a couple of girls, the first one had a birthday; Emma is a volunteer for The Way Home from Germany who works at their kindergarten program. More kids, staff and my face also below.
“World Without Rage”, it reads in Russian, from the Camp for Peace, White Sail, designed and directed by This Child Here at the beach near Odessa, Ukraine.
From July 15-26, ten families displaced by military action from the eastern regions of Ukraine , gathered by the Black Sea for a camp they labeled: White Sail. The camp was designed and directed by Alla Soroka,Project Manager for the work of This Child Here, with the idea to create a safe space in which people can feel at ease, rejuvenate, relax, and strengthening family relationships, but the idea goes back to Soroka’s conversation with Roland A. Rand, a Quaker from Estonia with the dream of a peace camp for people in Ukraine.
Funding for the camp came from This Child Here, Presbyterian Churches (USA), British and European Quakers through Friends World Committee for Consultation – Europe and Middle East Section; and Beyond Our Borders of the Unted Methodist Church. Photos were by Oksana Harkovenko (below) Camp was held at the Recreation Centre in Syčavka just outside Odessa, Ukraine.
“One evening we planned a disco, for the young, but adults came too. We had a good DJ. He made music for youth and children and it was loud. We turned off the lights so that no one hesitated to dance. We brought yellow balloons to start the fun! Children were running one after another to burst someone’s balloon; others fought with balloons like swords, dancing. When it was late, the DJ it was time to go to bed. No! the kids did not want to. So he said all must lay on the floor and now there will be something slow. We lay on the carpet in the hall. Soft music began to play; it was lyrical rap, a poem about love, difficulties, pain and life. It was quiet….. We closed or eyes, and it seemed to me that we all thought about the same things, we were good and sad at the same time. It seemed there were no adults and no children. We were all adults and children, our souls open to something that was happening, something good, something that brought us together. Then Sasha switched on the light, and all shouted at him, but he laughed and said it was time to sleep. – Alla Soroka, Camp Director (photo below)
“The first few days I went into the sea, I was crying from happiness – it was precious to feel human again.” -The family Lyaschenko
“We were unique in this experience. I was glad for the time to be in the lives of these people; to be privy to such events is happiness. As a wise person once said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness!” We lit it together!” Alla Soroka, Camp Director.
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.