For almost a month we were organizing our trip to 3 of the Zaporozhye's regional orphanages. In the process, we contacted several potential sponsors, mapped our journey and talked to the Principles of the orphanages we aimed to visit. However, although the date for our visit was increasingly coming closer, no donations were given for its purpose. Several of our volunteers distributed more than 1000 flyers about the event, but nobody responded.
As we lost hope to receive any help from the residents of Zaporozhye, a week prior to the trip we contacted our foreign sponsors. Just a couple of days later, we received more than $1700 from our American friends. The kind-hearted people who donated the money asked to remain anonymous- just wished that children would thank God for their presents.
Now that we had the money, the only thing left was to buy presents and finish organising the event.
All gifts in the flat of one our volunteer - it's like a toy shop!
Two days prior to the trip, an apartment of one of our volunteers resembled a toy shop. We could never anticipate how difficult the task of choosing toys could be. As kids, we were not spoilt for choice on the toys' market. So, for at least an afternoon, we became children again as we admired the variety of all the things available for children today.
We tried to buy things that, in our judgement, would be the most useful for a child's physical and intellectual development. We bought constructors, table games, wooden building sets, sport merchandise, little cars, soft toys, encyclopaedias in pictures, children books and atlases. We also purchased several DVD players and stereos with a build-in radio and an MP3 player.
We were grateful to receive a 10-30% discount from a number of toy shops.
At 8 AM on 9th December 2006, in a car full of presents and volunteers, we began our trip to the first orphanage. We were later joined by Marina, a clown hired from the centre for children's entertainment "Shaky- Land". As it will turn out, Marina will become our own little hero of the day.
Our first stop was a small city called Volniansk, allocated approximately 30 km from Zaporozhye. Volniansk is known for two things- prisons and a cutlery factory. The location for the former is ironic as the name "Volniansk" is closely related to the Ukrainian word "freedom". The city also has an orphanage for mentally-disabled children where more than 200 boys and girls have found their fate.
The orphanage's director, Eugene Vasilievich Lachno and children were incredibly hospitable. Especially for us, they organised a little concert followed by a traditional "bread and salt" tasting. Needless to say, we were much moved.
Volnyansk orphanage was our firts stop
Children in Volnyansk prepared show for guests
Orphans were crazy from clown Marina:-)
Children's eyes with spark of light were unforgettable for all of us
The only thing which made us feel a little uneasy was that some children, who were not taking any part in the concert, were incredibly quiet and practically did not move. Never mind, we had Marina to "shake" everyone up a little bit. Well, Marina did not disappoint! As if by magic, the second she started her performance, children's shyness disappeared completely. Their little faces were instantly full of joy as they clapped, cheered, and the bravest even took part in various competitions-with great prizes at the end! Watching those kids, you forget they are underprivileged. You cannot help but think that any moment now, they will receive their presents and run back to their parents to show the presents off. Unfortunately only half of this statement is true. They will receive their presents, but they will not run to their parents-they have none.
Whilst having a cup of tea with Eugene Vasilievich, we talked about the children's life. In all the time he has been working here, Eugene only remembers a couple of cases when children were adopted from the orphanage. Unfortunately majority of those experiences were futile. After a little while into our conversation, it became apparent how important the job at the orphanage is for its personnel. If you live in a village, to work in an orphanage is fairly prestigious. Thus, the teachers here are highly qualified and children have become masters in sawing, pottery and other craft making. The samples we saw were truly incredible.
Volnyansk orphanage director Evgeniy Lakhno told us about orphans' life
Every group of children received gifts
Volnyansk orphans make different good crafts
It is well known that our life is full of paradoxes. In the Volniansk's orphanage we witnessed another one.
For the last couple of years, the Ukrainian government has been allocating to the orphanage 25 grivnas ($4.5) per day on every child's nutrition. Sometimes children even get treated to pineapples. At the same time, the State does not (at all) provide children with materials required for the only joy in these children's life- their craft. The orphanage's sponsors have to donate the supplies instead.
Seeing how incredibly talented some of these children are, we had an idea to set up an internet-shop where the orphans' work can be purchased, so money can be collected for any necessary supplies and equipment.
Overall, we had a great time in the Volniansk's orphanage. What is more, it warmed our hearts to see how well the orphanage is looked after. The bedrooms as well as classrooms were clean and well furbished with carpets and television sets in several of them. The majority of these things were bought with the donors' help which the orphanage is very grateful to receive.
Eugene Vasilievich asked us, when possible, to help organise leisure activities for the children- concerts, excursions and trips to other cities. We will be happy to oblige.
As we said our goodbyes to very hospitable Volniansk, we continued our trip to the next location- Novonikolaevka village where the orphanage for children with speech deficiencies is located.
Novonikolaevka greeted us with a tractor placed on a high plinth just before the "welcome" sigh to the village. I must say, a "welcoming" tank on a plinth or, in some cases, a small aeroplane is quite common for many Ukrainian villages, but I guess there are not enough of those to go around. Consequently, Novonikolaevka was "reduced" to a tractor instead.
In the Novonikolaevka's orphanage we were very impressed by a well-equipped gymnasium as well as an 18th century little house and a garden arranged in a traditional Ukrainian style. A little house and a wooden church, a well, a bridge and a little mill- all were build by the orphans and the orphanage's personnel with a minimal use of materials.
Novonikolaevka orphanage was our second stop. Cute old Ukrainian house model attracted our attention
Yours truly for a long time was apprehensive to come close to the house as there seemed to be a scary-looking dog guarding it. On a closer inspection, however, it became apparent that the dog was not real- but extremely realistic. Perhaps thanks to this dog, the house and other constructions have not been vandalised.
All those residing in the orphanage take great pride in their little "corner of history". It would be great if other orphanages would follow their example.
Approximately 100 children were waiting for us in the gymnasium. I asked our clown Marina whether she will be able to cope with so many children in the audience. "I would like to see as many happy faces as possible!" she replied.
Novoniokolaevka orphanage director introduced us to about 100 children
Yet again, Marina proved to be the best at what she does. Children were getting wild with laughter. They sang, danced and participated in numerous entertaining activities. At one point, Marina asked 4 volunteers to join her. Just 4? Not less that 50 children run to our clown at the same time! Evidently, entertainment is a dangerous business… As the performance came to an end, we were kindly treated to a meal with the orphanages' Vice Principal - Galina Michaelovna. "An orphanage is not a job- it is a diagnosis" she said. We agreed. From personal experience.
Clown Marina again gave a lot of laugh and joy to orphans
Crazy merry dances - thanks to Marina again!
... and gifts at the end of the show
Before we commenced our journey, one of our volunteers, Svetlana, was trying to convince us that to spend two hours at every orphanage was too long. In her opinion, we could cut our planned time a little shorter. Well, after Volniansk and Novonikolaevka, we realised that 2 hours were not enough. We needed at least a day in each of them.
As we were discussing this and other matters, we begun our trip to the third orphanage- in Gulypole's village.
According to our schedule, we should have been there a long time ago, but we had just left the Novonikolaevka village. It seemed as if we were driving for ages, but Gulypole was nowhere in sight. It was already dark and we were not sure how to get to our desired destination….Abandoned houses, some wild places……..In other words " Guly pole" ( translated as " travel in a field" from Ukrainian) Finally, we stopped. It was a dead end. At that point, we had to admit that we were lost. Luckily, in one of the houses we found someone who could point us in the right direction. We were out of the way by several kilometres.
Due to our earlier misadventure, we were late 2.5 hours when we finally arrived to the Gulypole's Orphanage. By that time children were not expecting to see us. But we came. Ready and willing to entertain. However, we were not the only ones entertaining that evening.
150 children were waiting for us in the music auditorium. Poor Marina, she had some job cut out for her!
In Volniansk we thought children were very happy to see us. In Novonikolaevka we thought children could not possibly be happier. But in Gulypole we were proven wrong. On top of everything, they had music.
So many children, it is a wonder how the auditorium's walls did not collapse! Older boys were improvising by singing hip-hop whilst girls were singing more traditional songs. Little children joined in the concert by showing off their dancing abilities. Even Santa Clause with his helpers in toe stayed long enough to have a little dance. Needless to say, all of them were amazing!
For the first time in my life I heard how 150 children's yelled" Hello!" at the same time.
Again, I ask a painful question: "Where are the parents of these children?"
Gulaypole orphanage - our last 3rd stop. Now more than 150 orphans waited for us
And there was music in Gulaypole, and it was even more joyful then in previous orphanages.
Clown Marina again convinced us in her talent
We can't believe that all thse wonderful children have no parents
When 150 say "Hello!" at the same time - it's very impressive
Probaly, we were so tired in Gulaypole, that even saw ghost in the bedroom. But we were so happy and thankful to God for this great day, that, probably, will change our understanding of life
We were sitting in a little "secret" room which exists in many institutional canteens. We were served a wonderful dinner- borsch with large meat chunks, stakes, dumplings and juice. We should have been back in Zaporozhye a long time ago. Instead we were sharing our experiences with each other.
Gulyaypole is a birth place of Father Mackno, perhaps that is why children there are so active...
Marina was saying that after today, her life would never be the same. Never in her career as a professional entertainer had she seen so much genuine joy in the children's eyes.
Hopefully our team will be increased by another volunteer….
At 10.30 PM we were finally in Zaporozhye. I could not get to sleep, however. Again and again in my mind I was seeing flashbacks of the wonderful day we just had... Oh how I wish there would be more days like this! I wish it upon everyone!
Thank you to sponsors from USA, volunteers, orphanages' personnel, our driver Vadim, our clown Marina, children and God. Thank you all for giving us this opportunity!
We thankful to those, who made this trip possible:
Christian charity organization from USA, who gave $1790 for this trip
"U pharma trade" company from Zaporozhye, Ukraine, who allow us to use their microbus
Clown Marina from Zaporozhye
Igor from Zaporozhye, who gave children's bicycle and clothes to orphans
Irina Fonarev from Chicago for 18 soocer balls
Toys shop "Neznayka" in Zaporozhye for discount 10-15% for gifts for orphans
Orphanage staff and orphans for their hospitality
To volunteers Olga, Sveta, Nadya, Valera, Ira and Albert, who took part in charity trip