Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rent or Buy in a Foreign Land?

The cost of living continues to rise in Ukraine. In 2002, I moved to Ukraine, uncertain what direction my life would turn. By April 2003, I moved into a one bedroom apartment. I lived there for ten years and four months. After two years of marriage and the death of the landlord and his wife, our rent was increased enough to push us beyond our comfort level. It was time to move.

The logical place to move was closer to Sveta’s family. We moved from the growing tourist city of Illichevsk, 62,000 population, to the much larger, but less expensive city of Mykolayiv 500,000 population. We lived with Sveta’s parents for nine months. During that time, we found a small house with three rooms, under construction, and for sale as-is. It was the best deal that we could see that was in our price range. We bought it in November, and began reconstruction in February.

In ten months time, our contractor was able to complete the following changes and additions. All walls were out of plumb. The were corrected. The house was rewired to meet our needs and modern-day lifestyle. A septic system was installed. The water line connected with the house. The gas line was connected to the main and then to the house. Larger, new window were put in. A heated floor system was installed. One room was altered into a bath/laundry room with a wall separating the house front door and entryway. All household plumbing was completed. Many smaller details were completed to bring the house to the stage that Sveta and I can complete the remaining work on our own.

Here are seven before and after pictures:

 Things are different here. This room was built to be the kitchen. There was no indoor bathroom in the design of this house. We had to make legal changes on documents to make this the bathroom and the middle room the kitchen. I was very happy that construction did not get beyond the point of floor, walls, and roof. We were very blessed to have a contractor in Sveta’s family tree.

 The kitchen window was much too big, but that was an easy fix. Gas line, electric and water, everything is ready to go. The sink and wash machine will be moved to the bath/laundry soon. We are enjoying living here while we continue the process!

 The back section will be a closet. This bedroom is big enough to include our desk and maybe a bookcase. We are in the process, paycheck by paycheck!

The biggest factor, as I see it, is that I am a resident of Ukraine, similar to the American “green card.”

Now, an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine would make life so much better.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Vika - A Success Story in the Making

This is the story of Vika K.  She was born in the Odessa region of Ukraine on November 6, 1989.  Ukraine declared independence on December 26, 1991, twenty-four days after the break up of the Soviet Union.  Vika’s early days are somewhat of a blur.  We have a few details of her first seven years.  At age 3, Vika’s mother and her current boyfriend in Odessa left her with her grandmother one evening and went out to drink the night away.  With this regular behavior of her mother, it was just a matter of time before Vika was removed from her mother’s custody and placed in a shelter.  Her mother’s boyfriend was quite attached to little Vika.  In no time, he stole Vika from the shelter and took her back to her mother.  In spite of his feelings for Vika, his own health was in jeopardy.  He died not long after.

To avoid the authorities, Vika and her mother moved to the village of Big Valley, about 20 kilometers southwest of Odessa.  Her mother soon found another guy to be her drinking buddy.  There were a number of alcoholics who gathered in a house that became the “home” of Vika and her mother.  This house, as you can guess, was not in very good condition at all.  For a child, much less a preschool child, it was just not acceptable.  The house had no windows to keep the cold out in the winter.  There was no way to heat the house either.  There were no kitchen or bathroom facilities.  It was a place to hide from life, but certainly not a place to live.  For Vika, it was very dangerous, even life threatening.

By the time that Vika had reached age 7, the people in the community of Big Valley were talking about Vika.  They were talking about her living among alcoholics.  It was 1996.  Life in Ukraine was still very difficult.  Rebuilding a country after 70 some years of oppression left everyone looking out for themselves.  People could talk and talk, but what could they do.  Who could afford to add one mouth to feed at their table?  Who had enough compassion to take this child into their home?  There was such a man.  His name was Victor K.  He went to this “house” one day and took her away from this terrible environment.  He brought her into his home to live with his family: his wife, two daughters, and two sons.  Vika’s mother didn’t put up a fight. She didn’t even object.

As time went along, Victor invited the mother to visit Vika at his house whenever she wanted.  It was seldom that she came to visit Vika.  She truly had no interest in her daughter.  She was controlled by the bottle.  Not long after, the house where the mother and her friends drank together burned down.  Had Victor not taken Vika, she surely would have died.

There was a building, maybe a house, on Victor’s farm land.  The mother and her boyfriend asked if they could live in this building.  He allowed this.  Also, he gave them work to take care of the cattle.  He would pay them in food and clothing only.   They were content with this arrangement.  It continued for 8 years.  During this time Vika’s mother, although she was living so close, showed no interest in her daughter.

Vika attended school in the village.  After school each day, she would come home and eat a snack.  Then, immediately she would go with her brothers to the field to herd the cattle.  Her life was not an easy life.  Life in Ukraine was not easy. Vika had an opportunity to live a “normal life” in the village.  Even so, her past would haunt her yet.  She had no legal papers documenting who she was.  This meant that she could not move forward with her education.  She could not even get a job without documents.  She baby-sat for income.  What else could she do?

Finally, in 2007, Vika’s documents were found after an exhaustive search through the public records in Odessa.  Vika is now “in the legal system.”  She has a chance to make a life for herself.  Unfortunately, she still needed help.  She found friends and spiritual guidance in the Illichevsk Baptist church. Maybe it was in 2004 that she made a commitment to Christ.  She has become very involved in the church activities.  She sings in the choir.  She has a very strong and beautiful voice.

Vika has the desire to improve her life.  Through the kindness of others, she has made it this far in life.  Now it is up to her to go the next step.  She has taken the examinations for University.  She passed the exams and has been accepted into the program.  Now she will need funding.  She cannot raise enough money working to pay her own way.  How will she go to the next step in her success story?

She applied for the Mission Ukraine Children’s Hope, (MUCH), Transportation Scholarship Program. After four long years of working in Odessa, and attending the university on the “session system,” (three weeks of lecture, twice a year), she graduated with a teaching degree.

Later that year, she married the son of the Senior Pastor of her church.

The following year, Vika gave birth to her first child. She and her husband Vitalik are very happy and are carving out a life for themselves.

It has been a difficult life for Vika. Some good people stepped into her life and gave her opportunities to move her life forward. She made her life a success through hard work and faith in God. She began her life as a burden to society, and now she gives positive contributions to her church and her society.

Sixty dollars a month made this life-changing opportunity possible. Two, three, or four sponsors could send a youth to higher education for $15.00 (four sponsors) to $30.00 (two sponsors) a month. Education is not so expensive; lack of education is devastating. Consider becoming a sponsor with MUCH and together break the cycle of poverty in Ukraine.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What About Education? Part 9

Graduation without computer skills )-:

Great beginnings!
In 2006, I planted a seed of inspiration. MUCH completed the Sweet Dreams II mattress and bedding project and now it was time to think of another project that would motivate the children to reach for higher goals. While meeting with the administration at the orphanage, I asked if they would be interested in starting a computer laboratory for the children. I suggested that it would take some time to raise enough money for to buy three or four computers. They began the investigation process.
When I returned on my next visit three months later, I had approval of my Board of Directors to begin the project. To my surprise, they had purchased six computer systems. The federal government had given grants to the orphanages of Ukraine, thus, they decided to use some of that money to begin the computer program. When they confessed that they did not have any money in the budget to pay a teacher, I asked what it would cost to have someone teach one computer class a day. I was told $20 a month would be enough.
This spark of encouragement, agreeing to provide this stipend, moved the idea into second gear. One of the teachers found a class to learn how to teach computer skills to mentally challenged children. When I asked this man about his background in computers, he told me that it was limited. I further asked where his aptitude would come from. He answered, “I am a teacher. I will learn it, and then I will teach it.” I later learned that his degree was in teaching the Ukrainian language. Yet, he had been hired to teach art and woodcraft. He is truly a man who lives who he is, a teacher.
They now have seven computers and a PowerPoint projector and screen. They are teaching the children graphic art, word processing and other Office programs, and a number of other skills that will help them compete in the 21ts century. They are also using the computer classroom to facilitate other classes and programs.
Our part in the computer classes for the children remains small, although we continue to sponsor this program. We are seeing great changes in the children. Instead of going outside and getting into trouble, or sitting in front of the television for hours, many of the children are going to the computer room to practice their skills. Games are available, and, of course, many of the children like to play the games. Even so, for these children, hand eye coordination, speed skills, keyboard skills, and organized thought processing, will develop abilities that will make them more marketable in the job market.
What About Education? Part 10, we will look more deeply into the benefits of computer skills and knowledge for these children whose parents, if they have parents, are lost in this emerging country.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What About Education? Part 8

Happy days for today!
Some of us will be looking for work soon!

Continuing our discussion about morality and sex education in Ukraine, we should remember what it was like to be a child looking for answers about sex. In the orphanage/boarding school (OBS) that I focus on in this series, the children have many opportunities to watch movies, which have been approved by the administration, without supervision. Part of the reason that movies containing sex and violence are approved is because it is better to satisfy the curiosity of the children within the walls of the OBS. Unfortunately, there is no discussion or evaluation with the children about what the children see. They are left to make their own conclusions.
In Soviet times, mothers would not necessarily prepare their daughters for puberty and the biological changes that would take place. Imagine experiencing this in an OBS. I have watched the girls grow up over the past ten years and I was aware of the ones who were having difficulty dealing with their growing pains. It was obvious which girls were interested in boys, and which were lost in their self-consciousness. In either case, the girls need good examples and clear understanding of sexual morality.
When we started our program, a number of years ago, the focus came about because some of the children were sniffing glue. As we battled this chemical abuse toward the body, we began to understand other problems that the children were encountering. The program that we support, provided by a local church, reaches out to the children before they lose their innocence, if that is possible in an OBS. There are no funds available in the OBS budget to provide a program like this, so MUCH looks to a local church that already has this type of program. It is a big task. MUCH has been making a monthly donation to the church for someone to come to the OBS to teach the children. The personal attention helps the children, but we see bigger changes because of the program.
Looking at national statistics, I see big reasons to be afraid for the children. After leaving the OBS system, an alarming number of the children become involved in crime, end up in prison, or commit suicide. The very sad statistic is that 60% of the girls become involved in prostitution. There are many reasons for this, many are not their own decision, but the question remains, “What can we do to change the future potential of the children?” MUCH is opening doors to create new opportunities in education.
This church-run program is one of the three programs that MUCH supports at this OBS. In What About Education? Part 9, we will look into the computer program that is piquing the interest of many of the children. Their enthusiasm is on the rise.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What About Education? Part 7

Unless you have seen their eyes ...
 In 2002, I was introduced to the children of one orphanage in Ukraine. After touring the facility and experiencing the hopelessness of the situation, my heart was broken. When I was spoken to, I could not reply. This reaction was only because of what I saw. It was not until many years later that I began to understand the hidden secrets of life for these children in the orphanage system.
A bit of history will shine a bright light on what I will share with you in this article and the next. Stepping back in time about thirty years, during the Soviet Union and shortly after its break-up, sex, having children, and abortion, were looked at quite differently than they are today in Ukraine.
In soviet times, sex was taboo outside of marriage. Within a marriage, as children were conceived, they were a welcome addition to the family. In many cases though, if the second child was conceived too soon after the first, abortion was a normal option. There was little, if any, information available for the general population about sex and contraception. (Actually, all information that was available was controlled by the Soviet Government. The Soviet system was anti-family, focusing on work and reproduction of workers.) Little attention was given to planning to have or not to have children. Abortion was considered a normal solution for unwanted pregnancy. It was not uncommon for a woman to have ten or more abortions in her lifetime.
Today, Ukraine is filled with written information, the Internet is available to everyone who can afford it, and sex outside of marriage is looked at with much more freedom. Abortion is no longer the normal solution, but rather contraception and planning are desirable. Even so, abortion remains a solution in some cases.
With this in mind, consider the orphanage system. It is a boarding school for children from difficult homes and children who have no parents. This system is a government facility. In 2002, there was very little attention given to the children in the orphanages. The children were treated as non-citizens, therefore their education about sex and morality was limited, if not completely absent. When children would go home for the summer break, if they had family to go to, a girl might return to the orphanage in September, pregnant. Few, if any options were available. The doctor or nurse would take the child to the hospital for an abortion.
In this short article, you can see the great need of the children, particularly the girls, in the orphanage system to be educated about sex and morality. What About Education? Part 8 will continue the discussion about the real needs of the children to understand sex and morality. Their future depends upon it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What About Education Part 6

My second focus of outreach during my first six weeks living in Ukraine was the Emmaus Food Program. I began to support this program, operated by the local Baptist church, which reached out to children from difficult homes. Some of the children came to eat without having showered for days, some of the children arrived with lice in their hair, and others appeared in clothes that seemed to be stuck to their bodies.
After interacting with the children for a few years, I realized that no matter how good the program was, the children aged out when they graduated high school and had nowhere to go for help. What was next for them? This was the big question that entered my mind. My evaluation was that the children would continue to live with their parents, and many would follow in their footsteps, using alcohol and drugs to escape the seemingly hopeless situation of their lives. How could this cycle of poverty be broken?
One very powerful answer must be viewed as higher education. In 2007, I had a vision of helping students in financial need who qualified for higher education with transportation to and from Odessa. MUCH began the Transportation Scholarship Program, beginning with two students enrolled in a four-year university program. Transportation to and from Odessa universities in 2007 cost about a $1 a day. In 2012, the cost has risen to about $2.50. One of our students graduated last year, see our January 2012 Newsletter, but it was unfortunate that the second student dropped out of our program. Our third student began university in 2010, and she is doing very well. You can read about her in the June 2012 Newsletter.
Our first student who studied to be an English teacher, has since married, and she has given birth to a baby girl. In the future, she will use her education to help her get a good job, but for now, her education will help her to be a better mother. Our third student is studying nursing, in the area of pharmacology. Each student works through difficult times, but their desires and goals were stronger than the challenges that they faced.
I began to investigate the number of children in Illichevsk who are in need of financial help for higher education. I didn’t have to go far to learn that there are many. My current goal for the school year beginning September 2012, is to add four students to our existing program, which will total five students. To send five students to university, the transportation cost will be about $300 per month.
What About Education? Part 7 will focus on the educational programs at the Marganets orphanage that MUCH supports. These children all have some type of mental or physical challenge. Their ability to learn is different, therefore we want to focus on what motivates them the most and help them to excel. We will look more deeply into their needs in the next section.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What About Education? Part 5

Stretching their money to the limit!

When children graduate from the tenth grade, that is normally the time that they will leave institutional care, they begin a new life that will be much different from that of their past ten years. Depending upon their intellectual capability, they will either continue their education in college or trade school. They may go to work in minimal skill labor jobs, or for the children who cannot function independently in society, they will be sent to a home for the elderly. Here they will live the rest of their lives, that is, of course, unless they have family or relatives who will care for them.
The government has money allotted for each of these children, so there is no neglect in that respect. There is another reason that so many of the children fail to succeed in their lives. There is not an easy answer to this quandary, but in general, the solution is two-fold. The children must be educated to budget their money, shop for groceries, eat healthily, pay their bills when due, and in general, be responsible citizens. The other critical lessons are about building relationships in community. The remaining lessons in life, as I see it, will present themselves to the children as they encounter life day to day.
If these two-fold solutions are not part of the curriculum, how can we introduce these ideas and have them viewed with value? It is a big question. During my regular visits, I was given permission to visit some of the children who had moved on to the trade school.
On one occasion, I offered to take a dorm room of four girls shopping for some food that they could prepare in their room. I told them that they could buy what they needed to last them a week or so. I gave them a limit of fifty grevnya, about $10 at the time. It was interesting to watch them spend the money so carefully. These girls had the beginnings of knowledge and community relationships. Unfortunately, after leaving the educational setting, they chose different lifestyles, not applying what they learned.
What are we currently supporting that is making a change? In one orphanage, we support the computer program, and the music and dance program. These programs are changing the lives of the children in different ways. They both give the children new hope for the future. Developing computer skills is not only cool for the children, but it raises their value in the community. They now feel competitive with their peers. Music and Dance has brought the children into national competition, also raising their self-esteem and self-image.
A third program that we are supporting comes through the local church. This one teaches self-respect and moral values. This is the program that is most difficult to grow in the lives of the children. This is the program that will connect the children with the local community. It will help the children build relationships that will build character in the children.
In What About Education? Part 6 we will look at the Transportation Scholarship Program in Illichevsk. It has taken a long time (ten years), of commitment, but we are seeing doors open, and as we walk through, we are seeing brighter futures for the children.