Znamyanka Orphanage Rehabilitative Equipment Initiative

January 19th, 2009 by Katya

Ever since returning from my Fulbright in Ukraine, I wanted to setup some initiatives for the children in the orphanages especially those with severe disabilities. For a few months now, I have been talking about the need to send rehabilitative equipment to the orphanages, but I didn’t feel like I was generating enough momentum. Then things changed and with the help of a friend and the Paul Chester Children’s Hope Foundation, we were able to organize a beneficial donation. I was so happy that the people I put in touch with each other were so successful. Also, a week ago, I attended a party for a Ukrainian cultural organization and took the opportunity to speak out about the issue. My friend throwing the party was enthusiastic about promoting the project. Attendees were genuinely interested and many people were willing to help, either through donation, thinking about ways to expand the initiative or establishing charity work. The entire experience has reinvigorated me about the initiative. I hope that the project continues to unfold and fulfills the needs of these children. Read about the initiative below:

Initiative to send rehabilitative equipment to Ukraine

With the help of Paul Chester Children’s Hope Foundation, we are organizing a donation of rehabilitative equipment to the Znamyanka Orphanage. Znamyanka orphanage is a level 4 facility, housing children of severe mental and physical disability (Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, birth defects, malformations, mental retardation, etc.). The orphanage is understaffed and hence, unable to provide for the needs of all the children; there are 125 children and only 5 state funded teachers and 2 physical therapists. Children with disabilities need to exercise with adaptive equipment so they can improve their daily functioning abilities. Without the availability of adjustable chairs and additional adaptive equipment, many children can only be bottle fed and remain bedridden. Some children with specific disabilities, require adaptive equipment in order to be fed properly; without this equipment, children cannot feed properly resulting in malnutrition. The donations will be sent to Ukraine via an experienced carrier (Meest) and delivery to the orphanage will be overseen by an experienced volunteer.

Below is some of the equipment necessary:

Secondary Transition chair: Provides bodily support and proper positioning.

Feeder Seat: Positions the child for feeding, teaching, and resting.

If you are interested in helping this cause, please let me know via email. Donations can be made to Paul Chester Children’s Hope Foundation. All donations are tax deductible.

Ukrainian President Yushenko Vocalizes Support for Orphans

December 9th, 2008 by Katya

I was definitely interested in this article I read in the Kyiv Post this morning.

Kyiv Post: Yushchenko: Government should fund foster parents

President Victor Yushenko seems to be stepping forward and speaking in favor of helping orphans. I can imagine that a lot of non-governmental organizations working with orphans are excited by today’s announcement. The president’s statement also introduced foster care. I know there are foster parents in Ukraine (not exactly sure how many, but I may be able to find a rough estimate in Kyiv) and League of Foster Families in Kyiv aimed at building foster care in Ukraine, but up until today, I have never heard the president speak so openly in support of foster care. I hope that the president’s words are not in vain and that this marks the beginning of real change and improvement for the status of orphans in Ukraine.

School is Hard

September 17th, 2008 by Katya

That’s right, school is really freaking hard. Luckily, there’s not much to do here and so, all you can really do is study. However, I have found some time to do cool stuff to do.

This is a picture off the Portsmouth Beach Hotel docks. Nice to swim in the sunset. Behind this is a restaurant/bar where students go to relax. There is even some coral reef toward the end of the dock, but watch out for sea urchins- ouch.

I went whale watching this past weekend. Though I didn’t get to see any whales (Dominica has sperm whales), I did see some pretty dolphins. Overall, it was just great to be out on a boat and relaxing a bit on the weekend.

The Food of Dominica

September 1st, 2008 by Katya

Hello wonderful people!

If you know me, then you know I love food. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved food. Whether it was my mother’s kick ass zucchini bread or my brother’s fantastic seafood soup (by the way, I am putting a request in for some yummy soup this Christmas, pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaase), I have always loved food. Just one more example, cause I think its so appropriate here. I would talk about the tasty dinners I ate with one of my classmates in my advanced literature class in 7th and 8th grade.

So when I discovered that I was gluten intolerant (gluten intolerance is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks itself when gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, is ingested), I was totally bummed out. But over the past 8 mos, I have been trying to eat well and take care of myself. When I encountered a food I could not eat, I found ways to get around my digestion issues and continue to eat well. I still have a long way to go, but I hope to be baking and eating pasta for a long time to come.

Now I find myself in another interesting situation. I am attending medical school in the Caribbean. Its been crazy since arriving. I arrived late Thurs night and I was hungry. I was happy that I packed some gluten free sandwiches to get me through the plane ride, but I was rationing my granola bars and I had to get some grub. I went to a local Chinese food restaurant (for people with gluten intolerance, Chinese food can be a loaded gun since the food is dripping in yummy wheat-full sauces). I explained to the gentleman, that I couldn’t have any sauce (which totally confused him) and if he could just steam the ingredients. When it arrived, it was so bland. All I could do, was cover it in Sarachi sauce.

The next day, I ate the remaining granola bars and I can’t even remember what I had for dinner, but I was starving. Sat morning came as a great relief and I went to the Portsmouth Market at 6 am! I arrived and I immediately started oggling all the different ingredients, many that I had never seen before). I bought so many things, my new Ross bag ripped. I know that as long as I eat local food, I will be fine. Lots of medical students say I won’t have time to cook, but for me, I have no choice. Personally, I see it as an opportunity to experiment and learn about the incredible Caribbean cuisine. Enjoy my pictures below.

(right to left) basil, papaya, celeriac, parsley, Irish potato, dasheen (like a potato)

Also have some garlic, onions, and star fruit

Calabaza (pumpkin), onions, peppers, limes, ginger

Plantains and avocado

Peppers, ginger, string beans, citronella, star apple, basil, cucumbers

Spinach, eggs

Spinach, Caribbean papaya

Star fruit

Ackee (releases a poisonous gas if pried open)

Star Apple

League of Foster Families

July 21st, 2008 by Katya

What I found so interesting about my experience in Ukraine, was how haphazardly I met people doing work with orphans. Like Maryna Mikhailivna of League of Foster Families in Ukraine. I don’t even remember how I came across her contact info (actually, I think she may have contacted me not to toot my own horn). I remember being really satisfied with myself because I felt I came across a great contact on my own, without the help of my mentor in Ukraine, Maryana. When I told her that I had scheduled an interview, she knew who she was and helped me prep a bit.

Ahhhhh, how I miss all those random meetings in Ukraine. I had the address in hand, but finding a building in Kyiv is never so simple. I think I circled around a set of buildings for about a half an hour (I gave myself plenty of time, always one hour ahead of time, 20 min of which I spent shivering in the cold). I asked like five pensioners which building and all told me with certainty it was not the building I was looking for. Ahhhhh Ukraine….

Anywho, Maryna is an incredible woman. Not only did she adopt a child from the orphanages (her daughter was already a teen when she adopted, I can imagine the emotional struggles there), but she is a committed activist. When we met, I asked some pretty pointed questions about the status of orphans. Asking questions about controversial issues is not always the best way to gain people’s trust, but I guess she believed that I was really trying to help out, because she answered my questions

Some of the most interesting things we talked about was the difficulty foster parents have actually fostering a child. The government, it seems, makes is uber difficult for foster families to house children, rightly so, but it seems that the process needs to be streamlined because according to Maryna there were many families trained to be foster parents but most of them, were bogged down with paperwork and beauracratic processes. I found this sort of demoralizing since there were people who were willing to help and family structures would be so beneficial to these children.

Maryna also told me that some of the children in foster families have physical disabilities (when I asked about mental disabilities, she basically said, any child coming out of an orphanage is going to face emotional struggles- I agree). She requested my help in trying to raise money for medical care and surgery. If anyone reading this would like to help out in this regard, please let me know.

I was really impressed with Maryna’s activist spirit. One project in particular was starting an academic journal that would focus on orphans. She said that the journal would address the psychological and physical conditions of children as well as the social and political concerns.

If anyone is interested in learning more about League of Foster families, please contact me.

Stay cool everyone, drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruit (basically, the only food aside from salsa I can tolerate in the summer).

Quality of Life for disabled orphans: Isolation

July 10th, 2008 by Katya

Pulling up to the orphanage, I was surprised that this was it. I could barely make out the tiny sign explaining the “internat” (orphanage). It struck me that these buildings were constructed to hide and isolate these children from the communities surrounding them. Out of sight, and out of mind.

Good quality of life varies from person to person, however, I believe that a good life is being a successful human in harmony with my surroundings. I know this may sound very Buddhist/zen to you, but I feel its a good summation of all the different components which make up a good life.

Now, when I start to measure up an orphan’s life to my standard of good living, I observe many incongruities. The isolation of children from a community halts the act of being in harmony with one’s surroundings. Growing up in an isolated environment shatters a child’s capability to attach to other human beings. Also, unable to interact in society, orphans lack an understanding of certain norms and behaviors. As adults, these children would likely become the victims of manipulative individuals reinforcing their inability to form attachments and drive them to further isolation.

Isolating orphans has very dire effects on children with mental and physical disabilities. By keeping disabled people hidden, individuals do not have to interact with disability and lack of interaction leads to ignorance. People are fearful of what a person with disabilities is like. When Djerela organization built dorms for adults and teens with mental disabilities, neighbors protested. People were afraid that the new occupants would cause trouble and upset the peace.

Fear builds in the place of acceptance. Maybe this is why I chose to write about isolation as my first analysis of the quality of orphans’ lives. Parents who are fearful that they cannot care for a child with special needs give that child up for adoption. Many Ukrainians voiced their concern that people with disabilities are mocked and so are better off protected from the mainstream.

A disability movement has already begun in Ukraine, but I want to see more. I would love for acceptance to take the place of isolation.

My prolonged absence

July 8th, 2008 by Katya

I know, I went MIA there for over a month.

I’m learning that blogs are hard to keep going. Coming up with new content and writing about what I already now takes time, which always slips away from me, but I’m trying to be more diligent.

I guess one of the things I battle with when it comes to doing something volunteer based (do good-er activities) is my projects get sidelined when I have other things I need to do. And it makes me feel oh so bad!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean the kids in Ukraine are like on my mind, all the time.

My answer to this dilemma has always been to schedule my time better, but lately, that just hasn’t been the case. And now with impending medical school, jeez…. OK, but I’m not throwing in the towel. I have a lot of stuff I want to share with everyone out there willing to read about it, so hang in there with me.

I hope everyone is enjoying the sweltering heat. I periodically stick my head in the freezer to cool down. Check back soon.

“Disabled People Fight for the Rights” from UCAN

May 21st, 2008 by Katya

I just read this on UCAN (Ukraine Citizen Action Network). Its about making tourism in Ukraine more accessible to the disabled community

http://www.ucan-isc.org.ua/eng/success_stories/improved_access_to_services_and_resources/

Social Company in Ukraine

May 21st, 2008 by Katya

I just read about this and I think its amazing.

Ilona Gudvonka is the director of Strumochuk, a not for profit that helps children with disabilities and their families. Ilona and Volodymyr Slobodanyak, a small business owner, work together to form Social Company. Social Company’s profits fund Strumochuk.

Read further: http://www.iscvt.org/what_we_do/civil_society/article/philanthropy.php

Adoption and Unavailable Orphans

May 21st, 2008 by Katya

I admire couples who decide to adopt children internationally (yes, even the celebrities). Aside from the beauracracy and the staggering expenses, couples also deal with the heart ache of becoming attached to a child and learning that child is unavailable because he/she still has family ties with their family.

In ony of my visits to the orphanage, I remember one morning where a Ukrainian family came to take a child home. The grandfather of the child came accompanied by the child’s mother. The two of them met with orphanage supervisors to discuss the possibility of taking the child back. My reaction to a case like this is split. On the one hand, I know that children belong in families and so I was happy this child’s caretaker had returned. Yet, the mother of the child was accompanied by the grandfather (I believe this was necessary to prove to the orphanage staff that in case the mother was incapable of caring for the child, the grandfather would step in as caretaker) which suggested to me this mother was possibly unprepared. Would the child fare well in such a scenario? I hoped so.

I can imagine how hard it is for foreign couples to meet a child, form a connection, want to adopt and then find out that child still has family ties. I believe the Ukrainian goverment is very sensitive to the desires of parents who give their children up for adoption, but try to retain connection with the child. It is also my understanding that the Ukrainian government prefers for an orphan to be adopted back by the child’s original family or a Ukrainian couple. I noticed that in adoptions, some foreign couples are duped into thinking they are adopting a healthy child and then when they arrive in Ukraine, that child is swapped for a child with a physical and mental disabilities and/or is sick and unwell. Or sometimes, the orphanage staff misleads the adopting couple/individual (this applies to both Ukrainian and foreign couples or individuals) into thinking the child they are adopting is free of medical problems.

Working with disabled orphans, my heart goes out to all the disabled children who need to be adopted. Speaking of family ties, there was this one child, B, who had something like CP and was already much older, around 16 years of age. His family would take him on vacation every summer but he would live at the orphanage year around. What made things even more complex in B’s case, was that B was a twin and his twin did not have a disability. Ughh, this stuff racks my brain sometimes. I have mini ethical breakdowns when I think of this stuff for too long.

In B’s case and I’m sure there are other children like him, families cannot handle the responsibility of caring for a child with disabilities. Whether they can actually handle or do not want to, is hard to say. I am sure the difficulty in caring for a child with a disability in Ukraine is a spectrum. All I can say is I want it to change. I want more families to keep their children even when they are born with disabilities. There are definitely outlets and support available to these people in Ukraine. I know because I learned about a lot of them while doing my Fulbright. It is still hard in small villages located in remote areas. But little by little, I think the perception of disability will change if more parents are willing to step up to the challenge of caring for a child with a disability.

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