December 11, 2008


Today was another hard day in Ukraine.
I don't want to complain but my heart is heavy and I think I will feel better if I write a little. We went to visit a Hospice Home with two women who are from a large Humanitarian Fund here in Donetsk. During the hour long car ride we had an opportunity to talk about various organizations that we have both worked with. They asked us about our impressions of Ukraine. I found myself reflecting on the difficult things I have tried to understand about this Country. I shared my impressions of how the Elderly and the people with Special Needs are not treated with much respect. We were soon deep in a conversation about "invalids" (which is the word they use for anyone who is handicapped in any way, even the elderly). They wanted to know how the "invalids" in America are treated.
It made me reflect on what it was like for children born with Special Needs when I was a child in school. They did attend the public schools but they had their own "special" classroom and we never interacted with them. I remember they were often referred to by a term by mother never allowed us to use. Retards. I remember that they always rode a special bus to school ever day. Sometimes children would make fun of them as they walked to their bus after school. It brings tears to my eyes to think that this is how we treated children with Special Needs in my elementary school. There really was no mainstreaming. There was no Americans with Disabilities Act. We really had no opportunity to interact with these children and had such strange ideas and beliefs about their mental and physical capabilities.
Which makes me wonder about the way people here in Ukraine view the "invalids". Maybe things will change here someday.
So many times I get frustrated that the people here don't understand the capabilities of these so called "invalids". I can't understand this mentality of "shipping them off" to homes to be forgotten. I am appalled that the "invalids" in the orphanages and baby houses have no toys. There seems to be the belief that they are not "teachable". For example, we are going to visit an Orphanage with the missionaries for Christmas and want to bring games to play and leave with the children. When Olga, (our interpreter) asked what the mental ages of the children were we were basically told "they are mentally delayed so they won't be able to interact with you".
In a facility of nearly 100 children the Director felt that only 30 of the Children could play with us
Long Sigh here.............................
Maybe there is hope......
As I reflect on what life was like just 40 or so years ago in America I am amazed at how much has changed. Having worked in the field of Special Education I have seen how from the moment a child with any type of disability or delay is born the parents are given options that were not offered to parents 40 years ago. Maybe there is hope that one day things will change here too. I thought about the day I saw a mother struggling to get off a Marshruka with a very large child who clearly had a cerebral palsy in her arms. There are no accommodations anywhere in this country for wheelchair or strollers. So a trip to the doctor requires that a parent carry their handicapped child to the bus stop and hold them in their arms on a crowded bus and then walk to the doctors office.
I have a whole new appreciation for the "Americans with Disabilities Act".
So, that is how our day started........
Then we arrived at the Hospice Home.
It is a home for the Elderly and people infected with HIV or people who have cancer. It is run by the Provaslavic Church. We were greeted by a Priest who volunteers his time at the Home. He introduced us to some of the guest. One elderly woman was brought there after a severe beating by her son that left her with broken arms and legs. Another lady was dropped off at the front door by her children who took her belongings and her passport so that they could continue to collect her pension. Another persons family who left him at the home never came to visit however after he died they came to collect papers that would allow them access to some property the man owned. They didn't even pay for his burial. In the winter the Home opens it's doors to people to come in out of the cold during the day. These are local residents who do not have heating in their homes so they just come to sit and stay warm.
Perhaps that is why I have been feeling like I have this incredible weight on my shoulders. Feeling like I just want to cry.
Today was another day that I found myself just wanting to sit and hold someones hand. When I found myself walking with Angels on earth. I am filled with gratitude for the people we have met here who are committed to making changes even when they have so much resistance and so little support.
Today was a day I found myself filled with gratitude for the loving family I grew up in and the family I have waiting for me at home.
Some days I look around and I feel a bit overwhelmed. There is so much pain and suffering. I feel frustrated because the numbers of people who seem to be involved in trying to make Ukraine a better place just feel so small and insignificant. I feel like I am once again looking at a beach filled with starfish that have washed ashore and I desperately want to save them all. I want to call out to the strangers walking by, "come, don't you see, they are everywhere, come help, please, they are going to die if we don't do something,"
So my plead to you this beautiful Christmas season is look around you. Find someone who needs your love, or your time, or talents and reach out in Christlike love to them. We can't save the world but we can make it a better place by reaching out to one another. If you would like some ideas of how to do this go here. This is a new sight I found and it is filled with wonderful service ideas. Bless you all.

7 messages from friends and family:

Jan said...

That was so beautiful Melinda. I just felt your sweet spirit through this post. I will do this for you because of your example. I will start looking around more. Have a lovely day.

dixiewhitehead said...

What beautiful sentiments! I am touched by your passionate caring. I hope you are making a copy of all your posts so you can put this all into a scrapbook when you get back home. I bet you'll want to remember your feelings, painful as they sometimes are, in the future.

When I'm in tune with the spirit and listening with my heart I am more aware of how I can reach out to His children that need my help. I need to do better and be more aware. Thanks for the reminder.

Byron and Olya said...

you don't know me, my name is Olya and I was born and raised in Ukraine, though have lived in US last 5 years. I cannot express how grateful I am for the time and service you're putting in for these people and country who are tenderly dear to me. I truly thank you for all that you do for them and I hope I will be able to go back there and serve them as well.

Mammamia said...

What a beautiful post. I think my sister may have been in touch with you she's been doing the email recently. But please let us know if you think of anything we can do to help, and by we I mean our website and our readers.

Who and how can we rally to do something? Can we somehow collect: Toys, books, blankets or something else for you to give to people who need them? I don't know right now how we'd get things out there, but I'm sure if we put enough heads together, we could find a way.

~Melissa~ said...

We share the same tender heart, and these types of post make my heart hurt, all that suffering you must witness is surely exhausting.

But you are making a difference in a way that will keep on creating change for generations. Just like your children had different experiences in school with children with special needs than you did, so will the future generations in Ukraine come to view "invalids" differently because of your impact.

Mother Goose said...

i am so saddened and enlightened at the same time by your post. you know that has to be a tremendous fear as people begin to lose their independence and need to require the assistance of others or their loved ones. I am surprised that as parents they don't try to teach their young a different way. Thank you for this. I am so grateful for so many things and the facilities that we have to help "invalids".

Anonymous said...

I found a Wonderful site on Isaiah!
The site has free lessons on every chapter.
Very well done and in the author’s own voice.
Every Isaiah Chapter has the Analytical Commentary of Isaiah. Enjoy this personable verse-by-verse commentary of Isaiah by well-known Hebrew scholar Avraham Gileadi.

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“It is my testimony that this man has been brought forward and trained at this time to help those inside the Church into Isaiah, and those outside the Church, Jew and Gentile, through Isaiah into the Church” —Arthur Henry King, author, former BYU professor and London
Temple President.

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“Dr. Gileadi’s work will render obsolete almost all the speculations of Isaiah scholars over the last one hundred years . . . enabling scholarship to proceed along an entirely new line . . . opening new avenues of approach for others to follow”—Professor Roland K. Harrison, Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada.

“Only one who is truly at home not only with the Hebrew but with the ancient manner of biblical thought could have produced such an insightful and ground-breaking book”—Professor S. Douglas Waterhouse, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

“Avraham Gileadi’s unsealing of the Book of Isaiah will forever change people’s
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“Avraham Gileadi’s books and tapes take the casual observer of Isaiah’s words and transform him into an enlightened and lifelong student of the Word of God”—Allan and Nancy Pratt, LDS mission president, Toulouse, France.

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Saints in Ukraine (put music on pause)

My music

click on the photo to see the captions

Armenia Trip

Our last Zone Conference

Some of the faces we will miss

Our trip to Mariupol

March Zone Conference in Donetsk(click on photo to view a larger version)

Missionaries helping the International Relief Development unload a container from America

Health Fair click on the photo to see what is coming up

To listen to this talk you will need to put the music on pause first

Sometimes we forget what divine gifts we have been given. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Look at the fun equipment we got to deliver to this internat for Special Needs children

Europe East Area District Meeting


OUR APARTMENT (this is not an average missionary apartment)




Click on photo to see more photos of the Open House at the Kalininsky blg