Since my first contact with Mirjam, Boas and the children back in Autumn last year I have managed several short visits but finally in June I was able to stay for a longer period. During this time I was able to meet other friends of the home from Sweden, local officials and the Lions Club in Kiev which gave me a better insight in to how the home is supported. They all seem to have two things in common – love for the children and deep desire to help.
At first I found it difficult not to compare what I saw with, what I assumed from my privileged background in the West , are the standards one should expect. Unsurprisingly the main areas of comparison were sanitation, health care, child care and education, roads and general poverty. My initial reaction was how far Ukraine still had to go to meet the norms of our 1st world standards. However I as spent more time and met more people it became clear that in many many ways Ukraine is ahead of us. Yes there is still much they could improve but there is a lot they still have that we lost many years ago in our love of consumerism.
I will list a few:
- Everybody in the country grows their own food and any excess is sold either at the roadside or in the local markets. Even the big cities have markets where home-grown food is sold. It is eye-opening to see one lady selling just a basket of strawberries at the large market in Odessa where she is alongside all manner of stalls or individuals selling local in season fruit and vegetables. No air miles or organic worries here! And everything tastes as it used to!
- The hospitals may not have the money or equipment we are used to but they are in the communities and the communities provide genuine care and compassion to the patients. I was privileged to witness this first hand in the way they cared for the homeless Sasha. The community spirit our government is so desperate to restore in the UK is alive and well in Ukraine.
- Finally they have a respect for purchases. That is a clumsy way of saying they are not in our wasteful disposable world. No doubt the powerful capitalist forces will put tremendous pressure on this way of life but at the moment the culture of repair and reuse are a joy to see.
They may live in what we perceive as, in some cases abject, poverty but if you look beyond this there is a quality of life that is in danger of being lost on the road to consumerism.
Mirjam and Boas have great respect for the good things in Ukraine and they are bringing up the children in their care to have a pride in their country. They have experienced the worst side of poverty and abuse in this beautiful country but they have resisted the urge to import the standard western solutions. They are continually pushing against the old systems that need some change whilst celebrating and promoting the things that are good. A very difficult balance and often both confusing and frustrating at times.
When I first found the Childrens home I had a nieve view that just providing a safe shelter, food and warmth was all it took to look after these children. I now know it takes much more and that it starts with love and care. Not the desire to love and care but the action of loving and caring. I had my own experience of frustration and the temptation to walk away because the solution was so far from my reach with the homeless Sasha at the hospital. I wanted to help him as anyone would. But he had nothing, his feet and hands were crippled through frost bite and his mind had reduced him to 11 years old. What could I possibly do that would be of any long term help for this poor man? In reality nothing. Mirjam gave me a way – “you can only care”. So we cared and bought him some essentials which he clearly appreciated, though I suspect it was the care not the things he appreciated most!
We can all provide some care and love at some time to some one in need!
Mirjam and Boas have devoted their lives to this belief and I have the utmost respect for them.
For myself I have started on a journey which is tied to Ukraine and the Childrens home and I will be returning in the Autumn to continue it.
Thank you Mirjam and Boas, Oksana, Victor, Nadia, all the children for allowing me into your world for a while – it was a pleasure and a privilege.
You might want to read homeless
Stuart’s pictures during his visit at Friends House