7.30.2009

my Ukrainian Bucket List.

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It's close enough to Friday as I write this, meaning that my time in Ternopil is rapidly drawing to a close. I have merely one week left in Ukraine, before Jessica and I fly out of Lviv and into Vienna. After a few days of exploring Austria, I'll be heading home sweet home - absolutely crazy to think about!

There are a million and three things that I would love to accomplish before next Friday, but chances are I'll run out of time (and probably money as well). As I'm a big fan of lists, here is a glimpse at what I am affectionately referring to as my 'Ukrainian Bucket List.' Enjoy.




1. Buy (or make?) an appropriate thank you gift for Slava - something that she will actually use and appreciate, not something that will collect dust in one of the many shellacked wardrobes in this apartment... I am going to recruit Ira for help with this project ASAP.

2. Two words: Gelato. Mafia. We've been hearing delicious rumours about this little cafe from our tutors since May... our Ternopil experience would be incomplete without a visit.

3. Visit the family dacha. I need to represent the Vos family well, and prove that I do have a green thumb (even if it's a stretch). If nothing else, it will be a yummy experience - fresh berries and vegetables galore.

4. Go bowling with Olga and Yevhan. Another thing that we've been meaning to do with our tutors since May. Nothing like the last minute, eh!?

5. Host an Internat concert. We have rearranged concert plans several times, and will end up having a casual performance and a small party with the girls on Monday. Videos to be posted later, definitely.

6. Eat an entire "roll" of Морозово. Ukrainian ice cream (otherwise known as 'Морозово') is packed in the same fashion as sausage. Jessica and I plan to eat an entire roll of ice cream at some point in the next week (preferably while watching Saved By the Bell or Flight of the Conchords).

7. At least one evening per week, Jessica and I get together to catch up with the gang from Bayside. Zack, Slater, Kelly, Jessie, Lisa, and Screech have been a major part of our lives in Ukraine; it's sad, but we reference these characters as if they are our friends back in Waterloo. The two of us are determined to finish watching Season Three of Saved By the Bell over the course of the next week. (You know your life is rough when this is a task on a to do list...)

8. My Opa has a massive collection of license plates from all over Canada, the US, and the rest of the world. I'm pretty positive that I've yet to see any plates from Eastern Europe gracing the walls of the greenhouse barn, which still houses all of his license plates. I've talked to some of my people, who know people... but I still might have to beg, borrow, or steal a Ukrainian license plate for Opa. Not sure how I'm going to explain it when I go through customs in Lviv. Have I mentioned how intimidating these ex-Soviet guards are? Is anyone else familiar with the term 'KGB...?'

9. Finish taking pictures and videos of my Ukrainian life - and somehow organize (and minimize?) the hundreds of photos I've already taken over the last few months. I'm hoping to also copy the Internat documentary that our friend Vera, a journalism student from Kyiv, has put together to show everyone back home. It will also hopefully be used as a great resource for Beyond Borders or anyone interested in future placements.

10. Finalize my Vienna plans. I've booked a hostel (Mom, it seems safe, no worries) and have a few ideas of what I'd like to see and do in Austria... but am definitely open to any other suggestions from anyone that has visited the area before!

11. Have an order of Krapka fries, one last time. Given my reputation as a French fry connoisseur, me and my taste buds have ventured into many strange little restaurants in both Ukraine and Poland in search of the perfect fry. Turns out the ultimate Фрий (fries) were on the menu of our neighbourhood bar, Kрапка. Random fact of the day: in Ukraine, I have to pay for ketchup seperately. It's not free. It's been an issue.

12. Somehow bid farewell to the people that I have met and grown to love and appreciate here in Ternopil. My Ukrainian 'family' consists of Slava, who has graciously opened up her home and her life to an overwhelmed Canadian kid; her sons, Ihor and Olleg, their wives, Iryna and Tania, her granddaughter Ira, and her sister, niece, and grand-nephew Nazarycik. Other people who have been a huge part of my life here are our friends and tutors, Olga, Yevhen, and Oksana; our translator, Orest; Gayla and Paul, the American missionaries; Jill, another American with a heart of gold; the church community of Calvary Chapel; and The Davids (David Alenga and David 'Kenya'); Miri - the Third Musketeer and fellow partner in all activities Internat-related; and countless others who have welcomed us here.

Veka.


Века (Veka) is, like Deanna, grouped with the second-youngest class of girls. She is eleven years old, and is a big fan of hugs. She knows that despite my tough appearance (right?), I'm actually a softie deep down inside. She caught on to this little known fact quite recently and has been hunting me down for more hugs ever since.

Veka is a nickname, as her full name is Veronica. And not surprisingly, there are several Vekas/Veronicas currently living at the Internat (as well as several Yulias, Jannas, Iras, Natalias... the Ukrainian name database seems limited, no?).

One of Veka's trademarks is, unfortunately, drool. I like to think of this trademark as simply one aspect of Veka's charm :) She has big, gorgeous brown eyes, lips that would make Angelina jealous, and an all around sweet persona. Veka is non verbal, and to communicate, we rely on charades. She is not particularly social; she tends to sit alone or hover behind the rest of the girls. She is shy, but we have seen her begin to progress relationally over the course of the summer.

Veka enjoys being outside, whether in the park or sitting in the courtyard. The animal puppets were a hit with Veka, in addition to the bubbles Gayla and Jill distributed last week Tuesday.

7.29.2009

Deana.


Діяна (Deana) will be ten in September, and is part of the second-youngest class of girls. Deana has Down Syndrome, and her parents often visit her, in addition to taking her on holidays [according to the Internat documents that we viewed a few weeks ago]. The fact that Deana does have parents who haven't officially lost custody of her and even take the time to visit her is rare. In this way, she is one of the lucky ones at the Internat as she has somewhat regular contact and exposure to family life. Many girls have been abandoned at birth, are unaware of their parents whereabouts (or even their parents identity!), have experienced the death of one or both parents, etc... the circumstances for each girl are unique (as well as heartwrenching).

Deana has a raspy voice, and she is a fast talker. When I see her, our conversations tend to be abrupt - they sound something like this: "Dobrahdenjennyfuryahksprahvay?" She's got drive and spunk, which is great to see. This gives me some hope - maybe (just maybe) she will not have to live in an institutional setting for the rest of her life.

Deana is always on a mission, always on the go. This is especially true at the Internat park, when a particular swing (The Best Swing... emphasis necessary, as use of this swing can be very competitive) is free. Deana literally bolts over to The Best Swing, and it seems to be her happy place. She'd swing all day if she could.

Deana is very social. She has strong motor and communication skills. Besides swinging, she also loves to pick flowers (I was presented with a huge bouquet of daisies yesterday).

7.28.2009

Vera.



The last of the malankas (eight girls in total) is six year old Віра (Vera). Vera is Miri's 'little buddy,' she is also a little ray of sunshine. The picture above is of Vera in action: she is absolutely full of smiles, always laughing. Once this girl gets going with the giggles, it is tough to calm her down...

Vera is one of the most high functioning malankas. She has strong motor skills, a large vocabulary, and is very talkative. Able to communicate with all three of us in addition to those around her, Vera is inquisitive, full of questions. She seems to know what is going on with the rest of the girls in her group, whether we are in their classroom or playing in the park outside and shares this information with us (though our Ukrainian is of course, limited).

We did not see much of Vera for the first two or three weeks of our work at the Internat. According to the documents, both of her parents have passed away, so we are unsure where she was - she appeared out of nowhere (we are generally not provided with updates on the girls' whereabouts if we do not see certain girls for a period of time).

Friendly and full of enthusiasm, Vera is content with her environment. She looooves spending time on the teeter totter and hanging upside down on the monkey bars with Znyjana. She prefers the park to the classroom, and is a positive influence with her fellow malankas.

7.25.2009

Merma.



I affectionately call Марусія (Maroosia) by a nickname: "Merma." Now, Orest has told me that merma is a Ukrainian word that refers to an old, unattractive woman. I had no idea - this nickname was not meant to be offensive for Maroosia, it is just the result of me asking her what her name was. Her verbal skills are weak, yet she was able to answer quietly, "Merma." And so I refer to Maroosia as Merma, as an innocent term of endearment.

One of the eldest girls of the Internat, Merma is 26 years old. She is a child at heart; her abilities reflect this. She adores anything that is soft and cuddly, whether it is a stuffed animal or another person. I've often been the target of her bear hugs. I sometimes feel as though I have a shadow, when Merma is trailing behind me when we are outside in the park or in the courtyard.

Merma is taller than me, and I don't think that she realizes how strong she is (for example, the bear hugs - I've been squished as a result of these on several occasions). She tends to scrunch up her face to express her moods, whether she is happy, sad, excited, or scared. For the most part, Merma is non-verbal. She communicates by various gestures and sounds, and once in a while uses the few words that she does know.

Merma is also fascinated by random objects, just as several of the other girls are. Objects may include string, paper, a broken toy, or a scrap of garbage. She was especially ecstatic on our animal theme day, when I gave her a chicken puppet - her face was priceless. Merma also loves bubbles, holding hands, and her pink tshirt :)

7.23.2009

Vaselena.


Васельіна (Vaselena) is fifteen years old, and to be brutally honest, I wasn't all that fond of her at first. I found her antics to be rather obnoxious, and thought that she was acting out on purpose due to a need for attention. I did not want to fan the fire (or as Gayla would say, "Don't feed the dray-gon...").

But think about that need - ALL of these girls are in desperate need of attention. I've said it several times before, that because of the way that the Internat is structured, negative attention is still attention. And negative attention is still better than recieving no attention whatsoever. So, let me reintroduce you to Vaselena.

At fifteen, Vaselena is grouped with the second class of girls. I have yet to see an angry or upset version of her, as she is always in the best of moods (sounds impossible, but it's true). She is an intense and energetic girl, and she is LOUD. Vaselena is easily excited, and the smallest things seem to thrill her - for example, painting her face, a hug, stickers, bubbles. Things that may seem insignificant to me are treasures to Vaselena.

Vaselena does not have an extensive vocabulary or particularly strong verbal skills, but she makes up for this by the wide variety of noises that she makes. She tends to be the first person that we hear when we arrive in the morning, and she gives us a royal welcome daily. The three of us thought that the girls would be used to us, maybe even bored of us by now. Nope. Every single morning, we hear a mix of crazy noises and see Vaselena bolting across the park, just about bowling us over with her hugs.

We were able to recognize Vaselena from the pictures taken by previous Beyond Borders alumni. She has a twinkle in her eyes that never disappears, and a smile that is too big for her face. Her blonde hair is buzzed short, and is all limbs - very tall and lanky. Obviously very mischievous, Vaselena also is incredibly affectionate ...to the point where it could be borderline inappropriate. I often scold her, trying to convince her to stop swatting my butt (I appreciate the flattery and all, but really, it's getting old) or to simply let me go.

Vaselena has so much energy, she doesn't seem to know what to do with it. It is a shame that there is not more organization or programming at the Internat, where this restlessness could be channeled positively and productively. We have initiated a few different ideas with Irena; the problem is working around The Director (side note: capitalized intentionally... he is very mysterious and also rumoured to be very corrupt. I feel as though I am introducing an evil character in a fairy tale, like Ursula the Sea Witch or the Wicked Step-Mother).

Lastly, Vaselena's favourite place appears to be the park on the Internat grounds. She seems happiest when she is outside, hanging upside down on monkey bars (or anything else, for that matter). She also loves using the swings (another important side note: swing time can be quite competitive - this will be discussed/explained in the future).

"just dance."

video

video


On a lighter note (in comparison to the latest Інтернат news, at least) - we're still hoping to go ahead with our concert plans, to be held during the first week of August. As Lady Gaga would say, when times are tough, "Just dance, it'll be okay..."

As of this point, we haven't heard whether or not community visitors will be allowed to attend. But if worse comes to worse, it will be a great chance for the girls involved to dress up and perform for the staff [as well as the rest of the girls who are not necessarily participating].

I managed to get ahold of some footage of recent dance practices... the choreography is supposed to be top secret and all, but I'm posting a sneak peak for you since you may not be able to fly in to Ternopil for the big day. Enjoy!

7.21.2009

Інтернат emergency.

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While we were in Poland, Internat staff discovered that Marina, 23, is five months pregnant. We were told about this 'emergency situation' (their reference to Marina's pregnancy) once we returned to work last Wednesday. Thankfully Orest was with us that day, translating through the chaos... we would have been lost without him amid the confusion.

I'm sure some of you (most of you?) might be thinking, How does a girl get pregnant at an isolated, all girls orphanage?! I'll explain what I can, which isn't actually a whole lot. I encourage you folks at home to read Jessica's blog, as she has posted her reactions to this situation and explains it well.

There is an Internat for boys that occasionally partners with our girls' Internat. When these boys reach a certain age, they are 'graduated' or transferred to an old age home. The old age home that they move to happens to be around the corner from the Internat for girls. According to Bogdan, a certain young Casanova named Sascha frequently visits our girls. Sascha has had relationships with several girls; some of these relationships have also resulted in pregnancy. Yet these pregnancies were discovered early on, and were immediately 'taken care of' (read: terminated, aborted).

Bogdan has done his best to discourage Sascha from visiting the Internat. But as Sascha is bigger and stronger than Bogdan, he can easily intimidate him, usually pushing him around and by making other threats of violence. There is only so much that Bogdan can do. The staff of the Internat also need to be held accountable for ensuring a safe and secure environment for every one of the girls who call the Internat home.

In the past, all girls of a certain age were regularly checked for pregnancy on a monthly basis. As mentioned earlier, if a pregnancy was discovered, an abortion would immediately follow. Marina's pregnancy had not been 'discovered' as these monthly checks have not taken place for the last four months. Others noticed Marina's fuller figure as she worked in one of the gardens recently, and sure enough, Marina is approximately five months along. This is why Internat staff refer to the circumstances as 'The Emergency,' and girls over 12 were made to take pregnancy tests right away.

The Internat director has since sent Marina away, to an orphanage in a smaller village. We have been told that this other orphanage is worse off: the conditions are poorer, and the girls there have less resources/support then even our girls do. Marina left the Internat at some point over the weekend; the last day that we saw her was on Friday. Apparently, the director was also upset at how far along Marina's pregnancy is - for it is too late to abort, and he had suggested giving Marina some sort of drug that would kill the baby. (Again, I am just explaining the circumstances going on the limited information that we have been given.)

So, it was decided that the best 'solution' for 'The Emergency' was to dismiss Marina. We have also been told that she will have a C-section and will have her tubes tied (I apologize for not knowing the appropriate term here!). I am unsure as to whether they intend to schedule the C-section soon, assuming that the baby will not survive, or if they will allow Marina to carry the baby to term and then place the baby in yet another orphanage. Either way, Marina does not have a voice in the whole scenario, over her own body, her own child, or her own life.

This unexpected turn of events has led to a million questions, with very few (if any) answers. We are no longer allowed to take the girls into Ternopil for further excursions, we assume that this is to limit outside contact and to keep a tighter rein on the rest of the girls. We have instead held mini-excursions for small groups of girls within the Internat campus, to make up for the fact that we can no longer visit the city with them. At this point, we are not even sure if we will be allowed to invite our host families, friends, and other community members to the concert we are holding in August.

As Jessica writes on her blog, the three of us are completely, absolutely overwhelmed with this situation, how it has been handled, and the issues that are related.

We debated posting this story on our blogs, but I firmly believe that in order to improve conditions at the Internat we must shed as much light on the circumstances as possible. If we do not share their stories and experiences, they remain hidden and any future change is impossible. Awareness is something, a step forward, and is at least better than sweeping the ugly bits under a rug.

I hope that there is truth to what I said to Jess and Miri on Monday, "The more light that we can shed on the Internat, the more accountablity we hold them [director, staff, etc.] to."

7.20.2009

the latest.

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I know it's cliche and all, but the time in Ternopil has flown by. I honestly can't believe that in about three weeks, I'll be home again. Readjusting to Canadian life. Reuniting with friends and family. Eating pizza pockets again, and cereal, and spinach dip, and salt and vinegar chips... As much as I love Slava, I'm a little sick of omelettes.

Anyways -- I wanted to provide a reallyreallyreally brief update on Ukrainian life, an aside from the recent Internat profiles that I have posted. This week we have begun planning a concert with the girls, and we hope that we'll be allowed to bring in people from the community to watch the performance. We're hoping to make up an audience of our host families, tutors, university contacts, church family, and anyone else that we've managed to connect with over the last two and a half months.

Trying to organize the girls, maintain their attention (not to mention my own very short attention span!), and choreograph a dance definitely keeps us busy in addition to our regular Internat 'routine' (I use the word routine very, very loosely!). Tomorrow Gayla will be visiting again, accompanied by her friend Jill. Jill is a teacher visiting from the States, and will be here until the beginning of August. It's a relief knowing that there are people besides us who are consistently supporting the Internat; definitely a blessing.


Photo credit: Jessica Vorsteveld.


Before we left for Poland, a small celebration had been planned at the Internat by Bogdan. Bogdan is a grandfather figure to all of the girls, and has been a great resource and help for us. He provides keys to the auditorium, rigs up the stereo, takes the girls berry picking, and is generally a positive figure in their life. (Another blessing.) He also plays the accordion, and has recently been hooked on the Hokey Pokey (and makes me sing it constantly). Bogdan's party was a good time, a great midweek boost for the girls as well as ourselves.

Nastya.



Настія (Nastya) is ten years old and is (surprisingly) grouped with the malankas. The thing is, she has clearly outgrown this age group as she is often babysitting the smallest ones (i.e., Olya, Irka). She spends the rest of her time trying to keep up with the second group of girls. The only reasoning I have seen for considering Nastya a 'malanka' is that she sleeps in the same bedroom. (The 'malanka' bedroom is the largest, and has ten beds in it. The rest of the bedrooms, which the older girls share, only have four beds.)

Nastya also functions at a much higher level in comparison to the other malankas. She does not have any obvious delays, disabilities, or handicaps that we know of. She has excellent communication skills (despite sometimes using her words to aggravate us with a snarky tone!). She is clearly very bright, but unfortunately, the Internat structure does not offer any formal education or any other outlet to channel this energy.

While Nastya doesn't fit with the malankas, she doesn't quite fit in yet with the second (read: next oldest) group of girls either. My guess is that this is because most of the girls in this class are between 11 and 13, and Nastya is a very 'young' ten. She's almost there, but not quite... as if she is hovering between the two groups until she figures out the best way to fit in with the others. She's just trying to keep up. I think this aawkwardness explains the split in her behaviours - often she acts out, sassily sticking out her tongue or mouthing off, generally obnoxious. The rest of the time she behaves more appropriately: happy, energetic (and especially eager to ham it up if she sees a camera). Like all of the girls, Nastya is in dire need of positive attention and someone to nurture her. And because of these circumstances, any attention - even if it is negative - is still considered better than recieving no attention at all.

Nastya is tough, maybe from being bounced around between age groups and not having a sense of security. She has an attitude. She is fiesty. She has become so much friendlier since our first few visits, and enjoys being involved in any sort of activity. Nastya especially loved the picture frame project that we did last week (craft supplies courtesy of my Auntie Cheryl back home, much thanks!).

7.19.2009

Lecia.



At age 26, Льесія (Lecia) is one of the eldest girls living at the Internat. She grouped in the seventh (read: oldest) class of girls and is quite independant. She displays a strong sense of responsibility as she completes routine tasks - which may involve supervising the 'malankas' at naptime, tidying up after lunch, or mopping the hallways.

Lecia made quite the impression on us during our first few visits, as she was one of the most enthusiastic dancers (and always sported her trademark green track suit). Her moods change quickly and drastically, as Lecia can go from upset to calm to mischievous within a span of ten minutes.

Lecia's verbal skills are minimal, but her communication skills are fairly strong considering. Through the combination of the words she does use, the sounds (and grunts) she makes, and her various facial expressions, we are usually able to understand whatever message Lecia is trying to convey. She also has a sly sense of humour, and despite our limited Ukrainian vocabularies, we have been able to joke together (Lecia usually shakes her finger at me when this takes place).

For the most part, Lecia seems to be content... especially if we give her a few moments of undivided attention. She roams the Internat hallways in her free time, and once followed us to the bus stop. Lecia will be 'eligible' to live at the Internat until she turns 35, due to recent changes in age policies.

7.18.2009

Inessa.



Інеса (Inessa) is 17 years old, yet looks as though she is only 11 or 12. We have been told that she is the only Jewish girl of the Internat. When we first met Inessa, two things were memorable about her:
1) her constantly runny nose (Miri dubbed it 'Niagara Falls'), and 2) her hyper-nervous actions. She seemed afraid of us no matter how we tried to reach out, no matter how we tried to connect.

Several weeks later, Inessa's nose is constantly runny. But now she allows us to clean her face. She is still extremely nervous, always pacing, always breathing heavily and rapidly, and always waving her hands. But now she will accept a hug, and begin to calm down when we rub her back. Overall, her actions are much less frantic. Best of all, we get to see her truly light up - her shy smile is absolutely huge. It has been amazing to see her slowly (but surely) become more and more comfortable with us.

Inessa seems to be grouped with the girls in the fourth classroom, although that is only my educated guess. She can often be found pacing the hallways of the Internat, and prefers to be on her own. She is non-verbal, and makes a few simple sounds which tend to accompany excitement.

A related anecdote: lately, Inessa has shown signs of an innocent crush on Orest, and stubbornly stays by his side on the days that he translates for us. Inessa will wait patiently outside a door if Orest disappears into a room - for more than an hour at a time. (It's kind of adorable to witness). Orest has a good rapport with her, and its further proof of how far Inessa has come out of her frightened shell since the early weeks of our work!

7.16.2009

Zoreana.



Зореяна (Zoreana) is seven years old, and has a few 'Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde' qualities. Some days she will be in a fantastic mood, eager to play with anyone and everyone. On other days she takes a turn for the worst - is snappy, mouthy, hitting people as well as spitting on them. With Zoreana, we never know what we're gonna get.

It took Zoreana a few days to warm up to us; initially she would not respond to anything we would say or do. She seemed to be oblivious to anything else going on around her, and would sit and stare into nothingness. By now, Zoreana's definitely come out of her shell (has she ever!) but can still be a bit of a space cadet, removing herself between activities and her own world.

She is also incredibly mischievous, often seeking attention. (Keep in mind that at the Internat, negative attention is still attention, and is better than being ignored.) Zoreana is grouped with the 'malankas', and more often than not seems to be bored. She is perceptive and smart, but is not stimulated or challenged. The lack of programming at the Internat means that the girls do not have consistent opportunities for growth and/or skill development.

7.15.2009

100 words or less: Krakow edition.

Trains. Tylenol. Trams. Tourists. Toast (lots of toast). Hocus Pocus Hostel. Unlimited coffee. Nutella. A tram party. Rynek Glowny. Auschwitz-Birkenau. Haunting. History. Florianska Gate. Flamethrowers. Wieliczka (salt mines). Wawel Castle. Walking tours. Kazimierz. Kebabs. Mmm... Kebabs. And panini. And pretzels. Pizza at midnight (the best kind). Exploration. Cloth Hall. Main Market Square. Dancing. Nightlife. Cafes. Architecture. Adventures (so many adventures!). Fellow Canucks. Speed limit debates. Sunday markets. Hostel friendships. Golonka. Nuns. Tons of nuns! Nowa Huta. Buses. Borders. Hours and hours, happily wandering. Wanderlust.

7.10.2009

good morning, Krakow!

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A quick post from POLSKA...

We - the three musketeers, Jessica, Miri, and myself - are currently exploring Krakow, Poland. We managed to take a few days off from our work at the orphanage, and this journey has already proved to be an all around great 'boost' from our routines in Ternopil. A chance to clear our heads, relax, explore, and escape for just a few days is bliss.

Last night we wandered around the main market square, enjoying the street theatre festival and all the characters out and about. One of my favourite things about Krakow this far is the aromas floating out from the little pastry shops that are absolutely everywhere... I have yet to cave in, I'm sure that before today is up I'll cave and snack on delicious Polish donuts.
Today will be spent wandering around the city, and tomorrow we have booked tours to the salt mines as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sunday's plan involves free museums and the Wawel Castle, and we hope to return to Ternopil at some point on Monday.

To say that I have been bitten by the travel bug is an understatement... God's handiwork is found in every nook and cranny, in every new city, in every new acquaintance. Life is beautiful, breathe it in.

Mmm... Wanderlust!

7.07.2009

Irka.



Іра (Ira) is the truly the littlest girl at the Internat. According to the records, she is five years old; initially, we had been told that she was only four. The three of us all know her by a different variation of her given name Irena. I know her as Irka, Jessica knows her as Irenka, and Miri may refer to her as Ira. [Side note: for simplicity's sake, as well as the fact that there are several Ira's at the Internat, I'll refer to her as 'Irka' here.]

As the youngest (the baby of even the 'malankas'), Irka is rarely short of attention. A few of the older girls look out for Irka. Ira (15 years old, and one of several Ira's!) often watches her in the malanka room. One of the Yulia's has been playing with her lately at the park (they both love the swings). Nastya is either holding her or scolding her, and I've also seen Alina (aka the infamous 'Alina-Boss') calm Irka down at nap time. Today, some of the girls had even placed her into a crib for their dolls (see? never short of attention!).

Irka is non-verbal, but not at all quiet. She has quite the growl, and it is surprisingly loud, given her petite size. Watch out world, when Irka is frustrated! She's definitely not shy about sharing her emotions. When she is upset, she crosses her legs and then puts her face down to the ground. She tends to rock herself (and growl) at the same time.

Always on the go, Irka is spunky and can be aggressive. She is affectionate, and I'm no stranger to her slobbery 'kisses' - she opens her mouth and digs her chin into my face (or leg, or arm... whatever is closest at the time). This is accompanied by her little fist twisting my nose off, so that I can no longer breathe well enough to wrestle her away.

7.04.2009

Janna.



Джанна (Janna) is 22 years old - the same age as me. More of a peer than a child! As she is in her twenties, she is one of the oldest (or is it eldest?) girls at the Internat.

[Another side note: while going through the records on Thursday, Luba explained that the girls are now able to stay at the Internat until they are 35 years of age. This is a fairly recent amendment to the old procedures; in the past, girls were only able to live there until the age of 25. This policy change took place in 2007 - so all of the girls are still 25 or younger, but have future security and care for at least a few more years. However - back to Janna.]

Janna is very trusting and soft spoken, a sweetheart. She tends to appear out of nowhere - she must have a sixth sense for when we are about to start an activity because she is always ready to involve herself, it doesn't really matter what we happen to be doing. Despite her relatively quiet personality, she has been so open to us and is friendly and patient, with us and with the rest of the girls.

This past week, Janna and I were able to spend a bit more time together preparing the strawberries on Canada Day. She followed me back into the building, and understood my request for some sort of container for the berries. She was SO eager and excited, she ran to the kitchen and ran back, berry-bowl in hand. She gathered Lesah and Yulia (note - not the Yulia previously introduced to you... there are quite a few Yulias living at the Internat!) to help. Within minutes, we had a great little production line going, mostly due to Janna's enthusiasm for the task. In no time at all, we were back outside distributing juicy strawberries to the whole gang.

Janna does not demand or seek out our attention, and displays a calm, gentle nature with everyone. She is content to be in the background, soaking it all in. Her enthusiasm this past week made a simple task a fun experience. I'm sure there will be more of these experiences over the remaining weeks.

7.03.2009

Yulia.



Уюлія (Yulia) is ten years old, and is in the second youngest group of girls. [Side note: the girls are usually grouped by age/size/ability into different classrooms, but the 'malankas' are really the only group with a name.]

Yulia is difficult to describe, because it is so hard to get close to her. She is non-verbal, but does make a variety of noises. She is always by herself, and it seems as though she prefers her own company to anyone elses. Maybe this allows her some form of escape.

Every day, Yulia can be found sitting on a small chair in the corner of her classroom, alone. The other girls in her classroom give her space to do as she wishes, which is generally to sit in peace. I greet her and ask how she is doing (ie, 'Priveet, yak sprahvay?') and am patiently waiting to garner a response from her. She may be stubborn, but so am I! Most days she doesn't even glance in our general direction when we come through the door.

Yulia finds comfort by rocking herself, and this is a common practice for many of the girls - especially the girls who are unable to communicate well or do not really enjoy the company of others. I make her angry when I am near her for too long, and she especially hated my camera (I had a bunch of shots of her hand, swatting me away). Because Yulia distances herself from everyone, it is tough to coax her into participating in most of our activities. Maybe, just maybe, over time she'll warm up to us. I don't want to invade her space, but want to reach out to her in some small way.

7.02.2009

a reality check.

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This morning we had the opportunity to go through the files of each girl at the Internat, through the help of Luba (staff) and Orest (translation allstar). Personally, I had been surprised when Irena (supervisor) gave us permission to access these documents - girls who have spent time at the Internat in past summers did not seem to have a lot of background information on any of the girls.

These beautiful, beautiful kids have arrived at the Internat through a wide variety of heartbreaking circumstances. Compiling records on nearly seventy girls, and finding out how they individually arrived at the Internat was a huge task. Again and again, Orest would translate stories of dysfunction and brokenness, of pain and loss.


"Her parents are dead."
"Her mother is mentally ill."
"Their mother was in prison, and their father is dead."
"The custody rights of her parents were taken away by the authorities."
"Both of her parents are alcoholics."
"Her fathers whereabouts are unknown."
"Her parents were junkies."
"Her mother abandoned her when she was born; the abortion had been unsuccessful."


I don't think that I can comprehend these realities just yet. There hasn't been time to process what each girl has been through, how they have been affected by things far beyond their control. Maybe it isn't real to me right now. Maybe it won't even really hit me until I'm home. There is so much more that I'd like to say and express about this experience, I hope in time I'll find the right words.

7.01.2009

oh, Canada!

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Appropriately enough, our second Internat 'theme day' celebrated all things Canadian. We incorporated as much red and white as possible into our activities - Miri brought fresh strawberries from the bazaar (because they are red, therefore festive), and enough make up supplies to paint maple leafs (maple leaves?!) on the girls' faces and to do some festive manicures. We also had a few small flags, and obviously we each wore red and white (this was done without any organization, by the way... we're proud of ourselves).

Orest, Miri's host brother and our translator, also visited the Internat today. He made his first appearance yesterday, and all the girls adore him (not much testosterone around these parts, eh!). He helped us with our Canadian festivities today, and we definitely appreciate having him around.