Others involved with Beyond Borders may have questioned their motives and reasoning for applying by this point in the game. I honestly haven’t doubted my commitment (yet), while there are a few ‘what ifs?’ worrying me, I strongly believe that I will not regret my BB experience. I initially applied to the program because I had always wanted to participate in some sort of international exchange while in university, and it seemed like the perfect combination of education, travel, and service opportunities. In addition to a personal curiosity towards social action and justice (I’m an SDS major, after all), I figured I would learn more in a three month placement overseas than I could ever gain in a classroom.
I can safely assume that we all hope that our experiences this summer will make a difference, and that we will in turn be positively changed. Maybe even have a significant impact on a community that is not our own. I joke about wanting to save the world, and there is truth in that. I realize that I am just one person, I will only be a part of Internat life for a mere three months, and that I will not be able to overcome the intense social stigmatization of the disabled that exists in Ukraine. Who am I to think that I can move mountains?! I have high hopes, and I fear that they will come crashing down while in Ternopil.
I know better than to assume that I can single-handedly save the girls of the Internat, let alone the rest of the world. I know that I will become angered by and frustrated with the strong stigmatization existing in Ukraine, so strong that anyone with a disability is not to be seen in public. I know that my heart will break, while I am in Ternopil and again when I return home, for those who have been abandoned and who lack a family. I know that I will become attached to some of the girls more than others, and that there will be days when I will not want to go to my placement because of my frustrations. I know that I will feel like I am not contributing, that my time there is pointless. While I know it is going to help me, expecting the negative aspects ahead of time, I occasionally want to ignore this awareness – just let me be naive, let me go into this with the best of intentions and high spirits, intent on positive change. Let me be naive, assuming that my work will be valued and that others will find it beneficial.
But – Myroslaw told Jessica and I that we are ‘building on success’ (...No pressure, right?!). Since his first visit to Ternopil a few years back, progress has in fact been made. Myroslaw is personally responsible for the existing partnership between the pedagogical university in Ternopil, the Internat, and Beyond Borders/St. Jerome’s University. He has been a source of invaluable encouragement and advice, for which I am incredibly appreciative (as is Jessica!). In the four years that BB students have worked in the Internat, social stereotypes have taken baby steps forward. Ukrainian students at the pedagogical university were stunned that Canadians had come to love the ‘unlovable,’ and according to Myroslaw, are slowly beginning to work together with the Internat staff. This is absolutely huge in a society where parents intentionally abandon their disabled children – simply for being born imperfect, 'defective'.