Monthly Archives: May 2009

The power of the apology

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Yesterday, I saw a most amazing thing happen here in Ukraine.

One of our favorite kids here at the orphanage – Mischa – was hanging out, making some bracelets with one of the other kids.  I just happened to be in the room, working on an email.  

Mischa speaks no English at all, but for some reason, communication is not a big deal.  He has helped us completely with this building project, and has even started attending some of our group’s meetings.   As far as I know, Mischa, unlike many of the kids here, has nowhere to go for the weekends, so either he has no family – or his family is so bad he chooses not to go. Mischa has had the chance to be adopted twice, however he has turned it down, as he knows his little brother will be entering this orphanage next year, and he wants to be there to protect him.

We have a community snack area in a little “café” that they have built for the kids.  Throughout the day, we’ll leave food out for everyone to share.  Mischa had a very nice chocolate bar that he had added to the snack collection.  But it was wrapped, and no one had opened it.

Carol, one of the wonderful people we are working with here, wanted chocolate. And wanted it badly.  After a while, she opened the bar and had some – putting it on the counter.  When she realized that it was Mischa’s – she assumed that it was not to share and proceeded to drive all around this little Ukrainian village where we are staying in search of a replacement candy bar.  Which, she couldn’t find.

So she came in the room with Oksana, one of our English speaking friends here, and proceeded to apologize to Mischa.  Mischa didn’t quite know how to respond.  He kept saying that it was no big deal, but it was obvious that he really didn’t understand what Carol was doing.  She finally made him look her in the eyes as she said “I took your candy bar and it was wrong.  I’m sorry.”  He smiled, but I really think that was simply because he’s Mischa.

I followed Carol and Oksana out of the room to say that I thought it was a really interesting exchange, but Oksana just simply said “I don’t think he’s ever been apologized to by an adult before.”

And I couldn’t imagine it.  This kid is 18 years old. He has been nothing but helpful and kind and just straight up fun to be around.  He’s become a part of our little family here, and to think that he’s probably never had someone older tell him that they were wrong I just can’t fathom.  No one has respected him enough to say to him that his opinion mattered.  That he had a voice.  And that he was right.

It was a candy bar, and he was planning to share it anyway.  But that’s not the point.  Hopefully our little crew has been able to not only befriend some of these kids, but that they will know that we genuinely love them, care about them, and believe that they have a voice – an opinion – a face – and have a true purpose in this world.

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Superstitions…

So there are a few proverbs that I’ve learned since I’ve been here in the Ukraine:
First – There’s something about that you can’t chase 2 rabbits. (Sort of a you can’t have your cake and eat it too reference….). Thus the advertisement…which I completely didn’t understand until someone explained it to me.  (Sorry there are 2 of these…don’t really know why there are 2!)

Second – Never put a mirror by your front door. (Because your money will come in the front door, and reflect back out)

Another – Girls can’t sit on the ground, as it will freeze their ovaries. I have no idea where this came from.

But this one really bothered me.

Never say nice things to a baby. As children need to earn praise.

I think this may explain a lot of what I have experienced here in this country. There is a harshness about the people here that I’ve never experienced before. In general, I’m not sure, everyone just seems a little sad.

I know some of it is simply their dialect – the harshness of the language and the preferred volume of speech just makes everyone sound angry.

But

There’s something about the kids here.  In just 3 days, they have blossomed into happy, loud, typical teens.  They seem to be desperate for attention and a little unconditional love to keep them going.  I know I’m drilling these stats in, but they have a 10% suicide rate among orphaned teens.  60% prostitution rate for girls.  70% crime rate for boys.

Something is very wrong.  But maybe it goes back to being as simple as being told as an infant that you were worthless or ugly or sub-par.   I’d like to try an experiment and see if simply encouraging children changes things.  If we start building these kids up from the start, if people gave these kids encouragement from the moment they are born and let them know just how amazing and precious they are…

It’s probably a bit idealistic, but maybe, just maybe that can be a little teeny amazing change in the world.

First 2 Ukraine blogs…

Here’s some short blogs from the first 2 days of the Ukraine trip….

We have arrived!

It’s been a really long, but wonderful day. Turns out our 8 hour flight didn’t have TV, those little air vent thingies and sadly 1/2 of us got to experience several hours of someone with very stinky feet! But we landed and safely got a mountain of marshmallows through customs without a hitch.

We met with Markus and some other fabulous people for a briefing (Thanks Carol for yummy sandwiches!) and headed for the orphanage. Which is huge!!! Currently we are playing cards, soccer, trying not to nap (except for Danny, who is passed out in his bunk) and getting ready for dinner.

The people here are wonderful, and we are so excited to get started remodeling some of the rooms, and getting to know the kids. I’m really excited to start making coffee too!

By the way, this is being typed on a Russian MacBook. There’s lots of extra notations on the keys, and I have no idea what they mean. Will try to get a picture of it on here too.

More updates next time we find internet.

Team Ukraine

First Day Update

Hurray! Daniel, who truly makes our team international, has made it to the orphanage so our family is complete. (He didn’t have movies on his flight from the UK either)

Markus received some staggering statistics.

10% of teens that come out of the Ukrainian Orphanage system commit suicide before their 18th birthday

60% of the girls end up in prostitution

70% of the boys will enter a life of crime

Only 27% will find work.

Wow.  A really sobering look at just how important it is that we help out these teens.  So far, the ones we have met are amazing.

We’re still awake.  Not sure how!

Hugs and Kisses-

Team Ukraine

Made it into town!

We weren’t able to get the principal to let some of the girls walk into town with us, so some of the team and 2 of the students headed into town to buy supplies for s-mores.  We had brought along over 40 bags of marshmallows, so we were good on that front…we needed to buy cookies and chocolate!

With an exchange rate of 7.61 to 1, this was not a very expensive venture.

The people are fascinating – I wouldn’t call them friendly by any means – but the city is old and beautiful and I can’t wait to explore when we have more time.

3 bags of coffee, 2 bags of cookies, 6 chocolate bars (3 look amazing!), bubble water and gum = less than $20.  These kids might get more s’mores than they bargained for…

Tuesday in Ukraine

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It’s Tuesday and we have begun our work projects. We’ve spent the morning covered in dust, plaster and whatever fell from the ceiling. We are redoing a hallway and 2 rooms in the orphanage – so we’re basically ripping everything off the walls and ceiling and starting over. It appears there have been many layers of paint and paper in these rooms, so the task has been very fun.

A few of the kids have come in to help, and Sasha has proved to be a natural at photography. Stephen has been letting him document the process, and Sasha has quickly become a part of the Faceless Team.

One thing that is interesting is that the guys tend to hang out quite a bit, but the girls seem to be a bit harder to find. I believe tonight we are going to pull out the badminton (sp?) and play some ping pong and see if we can make some friends.

Markus told us yesterday that most of the kids in this school are social orphans – meaning they have families, but for one reason or another, the parents or extended families don’t want the kids. So they live here and the state takes care of them. After seeing the kids around and having a few of them help us move in, maneuver the building or tear wallpaper off the walls, I just can’t imagine how that happens. We’ve been told the reasons are often the economy, alcoholism, just the inability of the parents…but that just breaks my heart. Now it seems even more crucial that we figure out a way to get to know these kids and let them know that they are special, interesting, loved. If our team, along with the wonderful folks that we are working with on the ground here, can let these kids know that they are loved, and they are part of a huge family that is pulling for them, then this trip, and the others like it, are more than worth it.

And I already know that I’m probably getting more out of this week than I could possibly ever give.

We have a new mystery to solve…this morning at breakfast we had noodles, an egg, bread with cheese…and coffee. The coffee looked black, but was sweet and tasted like it might have had cream in it? How is that possible? We will find out.

We hope to head into town at some point today to get some more power adapters and maybe try one of the hazelnut snickers bars that we have been hearing about. This is the town we are staying in – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasylkiv

Hello Ukraine

Just for the record – Aerosvit Airlines doesn’t have movies (but they have video screens), music (but they have earphone jacks) or air vents…air vents would have been nice when the guy across from us took off his shoes. Hum….. But Kyiv looks like an amazing city and I’m looking forward to the week ahead!

Ukraine

Monday morning I’ll be landing in Kiev and heading to Vasylkiv Ukraine for a week that I’m sure will once again give my brain and my spirit a much needed reality check… Hope to be blogging and posting pictures, but not sure how much internet access we’ll have. FacelessInternational.com will have an area with pictures, video and posts (Video thanks to the wonderful people at Flip Camera!). I’m checking in with excitement, a teeny bit of apprehension and a whole lot of stress today.