Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Letter

As we approach our final days at the internat, it feels more and more like crunch time. I decided that before I left I wanted to write Hanna a letter. Without reciting its entire contents, my letter essentially explained how I knew I could never understand her whole life, and I know we haven't become great friends over my stay here... but despite everything she did to keep me away, what she really did was make me want to try harder. I also wanted her to know that I would go back to Canada and remember her and talk about her, not just for her giving me a hard time, but for the determination she instilled in me during my stay. So, I gave my letter to Orest who translated it and we were on our way.

When we went to give her the letter, she was very reluctant to come with me so we could be somewhere more private. SHe was saying she was busy listening to music, and ignored us by talking to her friends and turning her back to us. Eventually she caved under peer pressure from her friends to come with me...but they were all very interested in what was going to happen so it became more difficulkt to find privacy. When Orest read the letter to her (because she is illiterate) she seemed surprised and ust listened. Immediately afterward she did not say much in front of me, but left with the letter in hand and laughed in the hall. SHe went back to her classroom, and I thought that was that.

At this point I was feeling again like I had done my part, and as Orest and I made our way outside was surprised to find that Hanna had come back. She did not have any response to the letter still, but simply asked Orest and I a few questions then sat with us outside as we worked on another translation project. It was nothign fancy schmancy, but it was a deal in itself that she came to hang out by me of her own accord.

Since then she pays more attention to me, not necessarily talking to me, but noticing me as I do things and where I go. She gave me the finger when I went to go talk to her the other day, but I think this was more od a joke than anything else. Orest commented that he thinks the letter meant more to her then she lets on, and that she'll keep it.

Another interesting thing to comment on, is that another girl at the internat, named Ivanka, who in the past had never given me a hard time, is now giving me the finger and shooing me away the way Hanna started out. I am not sure if I started a bad trend amongst the girls where they think they will get special attention if they try to bug us... but it is ust something I have noticed.

I am not sure exactly what Hanna thinks of me still, and don't think I will ever come to this realization. But what I do know is that I was honest with her, and hope she can come away from this experience at least understanding my side of the story better.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Change of Plans

Time at the internat seems to be passing all too quickly. Jen, Miri and I had hoped to organize a concert similar to last year's for Monday August 3rd, but because of recent happenings and limited time we have decided to alter these plans. The recent "emergency" has made the Director skeptical of any outisder interaction with our girls. Excursions have been executed completely, the sleepover we had planned for ourselves with the girls has been cancelled, and the idea of inviting the "outside world" to watch the girls perform is not the next card to play.

The "club" room that was to host our concert (complete with a stage and proper seating), is currently unaccessible due to construction, and the stereo system has been taken away. While we were told that it should be accessible by the concert date, we can not rely on this. Practices for our dance routine have been on and off. It is difficult to find, collect, and practice with the same group of girls every day because they all have different duties and are all over the place. When we do practice the girls enjoy it only for a bit, but an abundance of practice also seems to get tiring. All these factors have lead us to reconsider the timing and "officiality" of the concert we hoped to host. Our main intent is for the girls to have fun. Last year it seemed that concert plans got underway early on and were much more spread out, allowing the girls to enjoy their experience at a more leisurely pace. This year it seems that the time constraint puts more pressure on everyone.

We have decided, thus, to have more of a party than a concert. It will still be on the Monday before we leave, we will still get the girls to dress up and perform the dances or sing a song if they like, we will still have Bogdan play his accordian, and will still supply snacks and drinks. The bonus of this is the pressure it alleviates. No longer will we worry about where to host the party, outside should work perfectly. There won't be seats but the girls won't be standing for long and it makes for a perfect dance space. We won't worry about whether the dance routines look perfect, or if the songs are just right...their will be no pressure to achieve will just be loose, fun and on the spot. Also, we will have more time in our final days to focus on a variety of activities while also preparing packages for each of the girls (as per Miri's grant plans).

The biggest lesson to be learnt in all of this is to not feel disappointed with our change of plans. Part of me can't help but feel like without the concert and sleepover and excursions what difference am I making. At the end of the summer, what can I actually say I've DONE? To go ahead with the concert would make it all too much like a chore, like another task to add to my list of ways to "help" the situation. But instead, Pedagogy of the Oppressed reminds me that it is not about "helping" so much as it is about dialogue and truly being with the "other". So with that attitude, I intend to complete my last 8 internat days with as much energy and patience for understanding as I when I entered this experience.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moments to Remember

1: The other day a girl at the internat named Nadya was wearing a cute pink sure with a puppy on the front. The puppy was holding a leash in its mouth...and the caption on the shirt read, "Please take me home." The irony that Nadya is an orphan girl who could thrive in a home to call her own really struck me.

2: Another elder girl at the internat, Natalia, often sits on her own. She is quiet and shy, but sweet none-the-less. Whether people are around, or on her own, Natalia can be heard saying "Ya Mama hochu, hochu," which literally translates to "I Mama want, want." She may not say much, but this speaks volumes to me.

3. Today I was busy braiding the girls' hair. Because I was so distracted with hair, Hanna could have easily passed by without being noticed, but instead she called out my name, waved hello (not the finger!) and continued on her way. It literally made my day.
(p.s. if you have not read my previous post on Hanna, this will seem out of context)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hanna Situation

So I know I just finished one downer of a blog, but I am going to throw another your way. Most girls we meet at the internat receive us with open arms and are looking for love and friendship. Some of the older girls seem to be more impartial to our visits, but Hanna seems to actively dislike us. As Jen has mentioned in some of her blogs, some girls will do anything for attention, even if it is negative. These girls go back and forth from being sweethearts to headaches. This is still does not explain Hanna.

Hanna is 24 years old, and our first experiences with her include us saying "priveet" (hello) and her replying "Dopobachenya" (see ya). When I asked if I could sit near her and her friends, she would say I was not allowed and try to send me away. When waving hello to many of the girls, Hanna would give us the finger. One day while Jen was walking with a group of girls past the gates where Hanna was sitting, Hanna pulled out her lighter and attempted to burn Jen's earlobes.

Each day I have been trying to interact with Hanna a bit, understadn her better, and possibly have her open up a bit more. Last week I went to the front gates where Hanna was holding a small black puppy. I asked if I could pet it, and as I began to Hanna made barking noises and thrust the puppy towards me, startling me as she did so. I was determined not to let her bug me or see that what she was doing was getting a reaction out of me, but rather just to pleasantly pass time in her presence. She quickly got bored of trying to startle me and let me pet the puppy and ask questions. Later, she even saw Jen and I sitting on our own eating lunch, and came by with the puppy allowing us to pet her again. Progress, finally! However, the next day Hanna greeted us again by giving us the finger. I went over to ask where the puppy was, seeing as it seemes to be something we both agreed on, "dead", she replied. That was that for the day.

Yesterday Hanna was at the front gates with a couple of her friends again. I went over to see what it really was that happened here. Initially Hanna was teasing me about my language skills (something she does often), then asked if I wanted to smoke or drink (alcohol) with them. No, I replied, but continued to sit with them enjoying the music. She then proceeded to light her own cigarette and blow the smoke in my face. Again, being stubborn, I refused to let this be another reason for her to shoo me away and continued to sit with her. She bored of trying to irritate me and asked me a few questions instead. When I asked her what she liked to do, she said "have sex." What am I supposed to say to this? Instead of replying, I quickly accepted the interuption of another girl who asked me to dance with her. Hanna seemed to enjoy me dancing, whether she thought it was ridiculous and funny or sincerely impressive I'll never know (I'm leaning towards the first). I wasn't sure whether to write the day off as progress or not, but at least I was trying.

Today Hanna again was giving us the finger, and getting frustrated with my lack of comprehension of the language, calling me names and yelling at me at one point. I understand that to Hanna I might be some rich Canadian kid who walks in and out of that internat on a daily basis knowing little to nothign about her life. This is the frustration for me. How do I reach a girl who I know nothing about, and who knows that I haven't got a clue? She has resorted to sex, alcohol, and cigarettes as an outlet it seems. She has a tough shell to break because she is tough and her experiences have shown her that she needs to be. There are people you meet in life that treat you like crap and you tell yourself not to think about it because in the end they aren't worth your time of day. With Hanna it is different...I can't help but want to keep trying. I know I have little time, and I may not get any further than where I am right now with her, but I strive for the patience required to keep trying.

The "Emergency"

Over the past week, the internat has thrown another curve ball our way. Upon our return from Poland, we asked Orest (our translator) to join us to the internat so we could get a move on with our plans to organize a concert with the girls. However, all the talk amongst the girls seemed to focused on one subject, which they referred to as the "emergency". Apparently one of the elder girls at the internet named Marina (23) who is pregnant. At five months along they noticed her enlarged belly in the field during a day's work while we were gone, and immediately took action. Usually, health workers visit the orphanage monthly to check all girls 12 and up for pregnancy, and if they are pregnant the babies are aborted immediately. The emergency in this situation especially arised because these workers had not come in four consecutive months, allowing the pregnancy to reach 5 months. Health workers were called to the internat immediately upon notification though.

The man who impregnated her originally lived in an orphanage for boys with disabilities far away. The two orphanages sometimes program events together, so the girls are familiar with their boys. When this boy was 25, he "graduated" from his orphanage and was placed in the "old age" home next to the internat that I have referred to before. Here he became a cassanova amongst the girls at our internat, and has apparently impregnated a few in the past as well. Bogden, a grandfather figure amongst the girls, explained this to Orest and also mentioned that he has argued with this man before about staying away from our girls. Unfortunately, this man is bigger and pushes him around, leaving Bogden with little means of stopping him. Marina has now been sent to a different place which is known for being worse to live in. She will have a c-section at 5 months, the future of the baby is unknown, and her tubes will be tied.

The director of the internat will no longer allow us to do excursions with the girls, out of apparent threat of interaction with more men I suppose. In light of this Miri, Jen and I planned a small party with crafts, music and candy for the girls who we planned to do an excursion with on Friday. The whole situation is just really sad. Because of the "emergency", we are still unsure about whether we will be able to invite visitors from outside the orphanage to attend our concert, although we are hoping the Director will be in a better mood later such that we may ask him then.

I have found this information really heavy to deal with, and Jen , Miri and I even debated whether we should keep it out of our blog or not. In the end though, Jen said it right: "The more light we shed on the internat, the more accountable we make them." Before the weekend, when Marina was still at the internat, I was unsure what I could do for her. She became a spectacle amongst everyone, and everyone was talking about her. Jen, Miri and I did not have an especially strong relationship with her, and I didn't want to draw extra attention by trying to comfort her when she hardly knew me...but I also didn't wnat to "leave her to the wolves" so to speak. Now she is gone and I wish I had tried harder to give her someone to lean on. I wonder how she is doing, and in all probability will be left wondering without hearing more about her.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

1 Month left?!

Ternopil has proved to be eventful from the beginning, with dull moments being a rarity. This past weekend, Jen and I spent our Saturday in Lviv perusing craft markets, avoiding downpours of rain, and exploring the historic streets. Sunday was an adventure all of its own. Jen heard of a church in town which integrated both the English and Ukrainianlanguages, so we decided to attend. Here we met a wonderful group of people who seemed to come from all over the world. Many were missionaries who are now permanent residents in Ukraine doign service work, othgers were family visitors, still others were students either studying in Ternopil or passing through town. I can't tell you how many invitations Jen and I received to visit different families' homes for some English food or just to speak english with someone new! It was wonderful.

This also happened to be my first encounter with a student named David. David is from Ghana, a student, is wheelchair-bound, and is a character all of his own. Being both black and disabled gains him quite a lot of attention wherever he goes. It amazes me that he is even able to travel around as much as he does because Ukraine is NOT a wheelchair friendly country, but he is so friendly and seems to know SO MANY people... such that he always has a willing friend to drive him over all the bumps and help him up and down stairs. Nothing stops David. His friends make jokes that his dorm room is more like a common room because people congregate wherever David is. He is an entertainer who keeps you laughing and interested. Just the other day while with David, a man approached him and started to talk and introduce himself. It was fairly eveident how drunk this man was because soon he was shaking hands with David ...then hugging him... then kissing his neck and cheek in greeting. After a lengthy conversation with David feeling uncomfortable and trying to say goodbye, the man finally said he wanted to buy David a present and would return in 3 minutes with it while we waited. Just as soon as the drunk man was safe distance from us, we booted it. Imagine two foreign Canadian girls (who stick out because of their plain clothes and hefty backpacks), with two black men (one in a wheelchair, and the other pushing the wheelchair) trying to hurriedly evade a drunken men while bobbling all over uneven streets... I couldn't help but laugh at the hilarity of the situation because we were probably the most noticed people on the streets.

On another note, yesterday (like many days in Ukraine) was a religious holiday. In order to properly celebrate, there was a party at the internat complete with games, balloons, a campfire and tictechko's (wafer treats)! Bogden, an elder gentleman at the internat, busted out his accordian as we did the Hokey Pokey, and Orest joine din the fun as well. Today was another good day as we planned another excursion with 5 new girls. Morozevo (ice cream) is always the highlight of the excursion!

I am also finding my self very torn with emotions lately. As many of you may have read from both Jen and Miri's blog, we were able to go through the file's on the girls last week...and realized more fully the heartbreak of each girl's past. It is hard to imagine that just one month from today I will be going home. I am REALLY looking forward to this because I miss everyone in my life incredibly...but also can't help but feel like the life I've built over the past two months here is wonderful as well. I know I don't have to say goodbye yet, but I can't help but reflect on how difficult it will be when the time comes.

In the meantime, tomorrow Jen, Miri and I are off to Poland. We plan to stay for the weekend complete with a day's tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Salt-mines, Wawel Castle, and exploring life in Krakow. I am really looking forward to this experience, and will tell more later! Until then....I've nothign more to say for now!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Make-up Mania and a Long Day's Work

This past week I have realized how comfortable with my surroundings I am at this point. My family no longer babies me through daily tasks like boiling my own eggs, making my own tea, or going to the store to buy bread for the house. I may not know every bus route to perfection (because there are a million different ones), but I know the city well enough to risk taking any bus I think goes near the general vicinity of where I live and making it work. I know which grocery stores I can go to for which products, and I am a regular at this internet café. I am able to walk through the centre and recognize some people from the university, and even able to scrape by some basic conversations without one trace of my trusty dictionary.

As far as the internat work goes… this too is really picking up. While I do not know ALL of the names of the girls, I am making strong headway. Learning names is difficult because many girls are non-verbal, others have speech impediments, and there are also many diminutives for each name such that while I may have thought one girls' name was Ira, Jen knows the same girl as Irka, and Miri knows her as Irenka. This past week we have gotten a few of our plans underway, one of these being theme-day Thursdays. What we intended to be an animal-themed day… turned out to be make-up mania. We wanted to paint animal faces on the girls to compliment the animal puppets and animal crafts, however, the girls went so nuts over the make-up nothing else seemed necessary. In the end we had a blast with all of the girls young and old outside all day. A few of these pictures are below.

Also, one girl worth mentioning is a “major” in the house whom we refer to as Alina-boss. She has a lot of personality, and a marked leader amongst the girls. She knows the ins and outs of everything, is VERY helpful with all of our plans, and also respected by the girls. When a younger girl acts out of line… Alina-boss will handle the situation for us, when we are planning the excursion for a few of the girls… Alina-boss is organizing a worker to come along and helping us pick girls who get along. She is pictured below with Miri on our make-up day, and is truly a gem. I will also mention my amazingly long day at the dacha yesterday. The dacha, as a reminder, is a plot of land typically outside the main city where families grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. My family said we would spend our Saturday there, and I did not realize the extent to which they really meant this. I expected to be there for four or five hours… but instead spent from 11am-9pm gardening like it would never end. They seemed very impressed with my work and kept telling me to slow down, but I felt like if I went any slower I would be moving backwards. A good chunk of the day was also spent moving a pile of rocks (BY HAND ONLY) from one spot to another so that they could build a fence where the rock pile once lay. To my dismay, all my hard work clearly reasoned in their minds that I deserved to eat A LOT of food… so at 9pm I got home to a feast (no luck in trying to work off any of the carbs and oil I’ve been stuffing my face with lately!). Below are some pictures from our day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life in the Carpathians

From Monady to Wednesday of the past week, Jen and I were able to the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine. Given the opportunity to join Jen's host family's grandaughter and a friends on a three-day excursion, the two of us wlaked into the travelling situation not knowing too much about how it would turn out or what was on the agenda. The morning of we were dropped off on a bus with two teachers, and approximately 15 sixteen-year-old pubescent teenagers for a fun filled bus ride complete with heat, closed windows (for fear of fresh air), and body odour to the max. Jen and I couldn't help but laugh at what we had landed ourselves into when we first got on the bus. In the end I am really glad to have met this group of (although admittedly obnoxious at times) kids who managed to find a spot in our hearts.

Our final destination was a cottage nestled in the mountains, complete with a river just behind and mountain scenery all around. On our first day we took a hike up one mountain, had our first campfire complete with roasted potatoes and kolbassa, and explored the river just in behind the house. Jen and I were able to get better acquainted with the kids this day, who were every excited to be in the presence of the Canadians. We felt a bit like celebrities as they asked to take pictres with us, or showed us card tricks, or asked us questions about canada or how we liked Ukraine.

The next day we climbed a mountain that made the previous mountain feel like a mole-hill. It was 2061 metres tall, and the path went STRAIGHT up. Going up may have been a cardio workout, but going down was MUCH more intimidating. We could barely see our path mere steps ahead of us because it was so steep, and Jen got a kick out of the way I "danced" my way back-and-forth to get down. As much as the view was beautiful for the top (especially granted that we laucked out with AMAZING weather for the day), I was very glad to be back at the base. In the end what kept me going was not wanting to be one of the only Canadians these people met who was too chicken to make it up and down a mountain. I was determined to keep the Canadian reputation we had built up pristine. The hike consumed the greater part of our day, leaving just enough time for a second campfire that evening and off to bed to catch up on sleep.

The next day we left our cottages early to pop by a ski hill, then visit a tourist-oriented town with many souvenir shopd and a beautiful waterfall. Before heading on the bus and out of the Carpathians, Jen and I were admiring the tethered mountain goat in the front yard, and how extremely dirty it looked. We teased each other about getting near it, and finally made a bet that if I managed to milk it Jen would eat one of its droppings. Well, Jen only consented to this thinking I would never be able to milk her, but with the help of another student (all of whom eagerly participated in encouraging me after understanding what was going on), I got my hands dirty and milked that goat so Jen could see. The idea of eating the terd was revolting, so we settled that one kiss on the head would do. Jen had a huge audience; the teachers, students, and cottage owners all came out to see her successfully land one right on the end of its muzzle.

After our trip to the Carpathian mountains, I arrived safely back in Ternopil with stronger calves/thighs, a solid sunburn on my shoulders/face, a few new friends, and one more check off the Ukrainian to-do list.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nausea and Tourism

After this past week, I am proudly able to check-off a few more items on my Ukraine “to-do” list in order to ensure a complete experience. One thing I am now able to say I accomplished successfully is getting travel-sick. It seems a necessary component to fully experience life in another country for any extended period of time, and one I hope I won’t have to re-visit. I have spent one solid day feeling pretty nauseous and tasting every food I ate twice over, and almost four days now after that running to the washroom trying to ensure that nothing I eat lasts too long inside my system. Can’t say it’s been fun, but I definitely have come to appreciate certain things more. I appreciate Luba, Sacha and Tanya for trying to do everything they can to keep me healthy; the Canadian healthcare system; my parents for calling and receiving phone calls at any hour just to talk and see how I am; Jen’s company on otherwise long and boring days; and home-cooked food.

Apart from this, what was supposed to be my first full week at the internat became a short week of growing slowly more acquainted with the girls and their routine. It has not become any less overwhelming, but certain things are at least more familiar. Slowly I am learning the names of the girls, mannerisms of each, and things they enjoy. To my, Miri’s and Jen’s delight these girls LOVE to dance. Dance parties have quickly become a daily tradition, and some girls express a lot of personality. Suffice it to say that videos will be necessary.

Scott came for a visit on Friday, and it was nice to see him again and meet his wife. You forget how much you appreciate talking to people who knew you before you came here, and I really enjoyed being able to share some experiences with someone who could see it first hand. Scott and Megan were able to visit the internat as well, and left to continue their trip later that day.

Yesterday our group of Canadian students (Miri included this time) spent some time in Lviv. After climbing more stairs in one day than I have for the past 21 years of my life, we managed to see some pretty amazing (and VERY old!) architecture and city sights. It is the biggest city in western Ukraine, only two hours away, and really beautiful to visit.

Today will be devoted to relaxation and preparation for my trip to the mountains tomorrow. I’ve also devoted a solid chunk of time to listening to Harry Potter audiobooks recently, and am thoroughly enjoying them all over again! Because my eye-lids are shutting on me as I write this, I think I’ll take a nap before I head out to do some grocery shopping…pa-pa for now!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another week is officially under my belt, and it surprises me how fast it has gone by. I am ¼ way through my visit, and while I feel loads better with my understanding of the language… I also am very aware that the hard part is yet to come. We begin our work on a full-time basis at the internet tomorrow and I am looking forward to diving into what I came here to do. I will keep posting updates as I will have some stories to share after the week is through.

Jen and I successfully picked up Miri from Lviv on Tuesday, and I got to spend some more time with her yesterday just walking around Ternopil. As an aside, a Saturday in Ternopil is filled with brides, grooms, and wedding parties. We also came across a playground with very sketchy playground equipment. If you grew up in Cambridge, you will probably remember the old rocket ship they tore down from Churchill Park. Every kid was scared for their life when climbing this rocket ship because it was old, and seemed like it was falling over. Finally the city of Cambridge replaced it with one that was safer (and thus less fun). Well… if you thought this was scary…you should check out the slide on the rocket ship I climbed yesterday. I would bet it was at an 80 degree angle from the ground, and it felt like a free fall going down. I actually screamed.

After touring Ternopil further, I came home yesterday and was planning on visiting an internet café near my house. Instead, however, Luba and Sacha decided to go visit their dacha (plot of land that they farm), and I happily tagged along. The plot of land was fairly large, and because of the clouds I didn’t bring my camera but I will take pictures soon. Sacha joked that one day he wanted Tanya and Slaveek to each build a house on this land, one in each corner. For now though, the land is used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, green onions, strawberries, flowers, carrots, and other things that I either could not understand or cannot remember right now. We spent about 3.5 hours there yesterday and I helped to plant some corn, and weed the strawberry garden. We even found two ripe strawberries and split the first taste of them when we got home, yum!

Today I helped Luba make vareniky (perogies) with a cabbage filling. She has been cooking this cabbage since yesterday, and what started out as a very strong disgusting smell is turning more and more delicious with time… or maybe I am just getting more used to it. While making perogies Luba was saying I was such a nice girl, and then mentioned how nice her son was too. I am fairly certain she then suggested we get married...because she was saying how Slaveek and I could come back to Canada together but Alex would be very surprised at this and not like him. I couldn't help but laugh.

I also found out that I get to go to a wedding this summer! Sacha's brother who libves 50km out of the city has a son who is getting married in July. I am really excited about this, it shoudl be really interesting!

On another note, my time at the university is done! Jen and I finished our course on Friday, complete with an oral and written exam, and will pop by the university tomorrow to get our final grade. Our Canadian friends have three more weeks left at the university, and have expressed an interest in visiting us at the internat…so that could be an exciting adventure as well!

I think that will be all for my update at the moment. My internet time will be less now that I am no longer at the university…but I still really enjoy reading your comments and love to hear from everyone! Thanks again for reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some Pictures for your Enjoyment!

1) Jen and I enjoying the Ukrainian countryside.
2)My host family and the feast for my birthday in the dining room of my house.(from left to right: Sacha, Luba, Me, Tanya, Slaveek)
3)Jen and I with some girls from the internat on our first visit.
4)Our group of Canadian students while touring the castle's of Ukraine.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Internat and Castle's

So, since I have last blogged a LOT has happened. I will start by saying that Jen and I have finally been able to visit the internat! This feeling was extremely overwhelming. We were escorted by our tutor Oksana, and took the smallest most crowded bus/van to the middle of nowhere. When we approached the building my nerves were mounting. Soon we met a teacher who works at the internat named Irena (she will be our go-to while working there). Not far behind came running a small girl we learned was named Rosa, whom immediately clung to Jen’s arm and started a train of girls who similarly attached themselves to us for the remainder of our visit. I felt like my skin and arms were high-selling real estate that all these girls wanted in on.
Jen and I got a quick tour around the building, which was in surprisingly better shape than I had expected. Our first glimpse of the girls was a lot to soak in: I saw crying, laughing, little bodies in bed trying to nap, pushing and shoving and yelling surrounding meal time… you could tell that these girls have been through a lot of crap that I’ll never have to even imagine. Some girls were really shy to even approach us… and I realize that while at the internat it will take a conscious effort to tend to each girl equally.
Jen and I returned the next day again to watch a short concert the girls put on, took some pictures…and just enjoyed getting slightly better acquainted with the atmosphere again. We will visit again during our free time at the university on both Monday and Thursday of this week, and start full-time the following Monday June 1! A billion ideas are going through my mind of ways to reach and enjoy time with these girls…and I am looking more forward to this portion of my experience to truly begin.
Saturday was an amazing day. The group was in for an excursion to old fortress’s and castles in Ukraine. The day started off with a phone call home and birthday cake on the bus (thanks to my fellow classmates, THANKS SO MUCH GUYS!). Being able to travel, chat with the group, see amazing architecture and learn more about the history was indescribably enjoyable. Everyone has been so pleasant and I am so grateful to be with such a compatible, humourous, and thoughtful group of students, tutors, and even teachers. The teachers and tutors even all pitched in to buy me a box of chocolates! As if this wasn’t all enough, I got home from my excursion to find that my host family had bought me flowers, a decorative, wooden Ukrainian box (which I will us for small keepsakes and notes), and a glass swan collectible. The insisted on taking pictures of me with my flowers, and I were very happy when I said I wanted to keep them in the kitchen for all of us to enjoy.
Today I slept in, organized photos from yesterday, and was asked to join Tanya and Luba on a trip to the bazaar. I thought the bazaar would be a 30-60 minute trip to pick up some groceries…but when I got there it turned out to be clothes and shoes galore. Before this experience I thought shopping with my sister was the most excruciating way to pick out clothes possible… but today taught me differently. Little did I know that Luba had a friend in every other bazaar booth whom she sat and talked with for a good chunk of time. Just when I thought we might leave the store because she was standing up, I realized she would try on another outfit or two before talking for another 20 minutes. Once I thought we had reached the back of the bazaar, I realized that there was entirely new genre of shoes to explore in behind. Once we had finished exploring literally every table of shoes, we started making our way back out of the bazaar, passing each friend again and stopping to chat or buy something else as well while we did so. I explained to Tanya and Luba that my brain was worn out from not understanding any of the last 4.5 hours on the way home… and when I finally got to my room and unloaded my belongings Sacha came in and gave me a thumbs up and said “Bazaar Super!” in a sarcastic way, laughing at my experience. I think he has learned to avoid this particular excursion with his family.
Shortly after getting home I was out the door again to meet Jen and a native Ukrainian boy who will help us get to and from Lviv on Tuesday to pick up the third girl working at the internat with us this summer. The only real information Jen and I have thus far is that her name is Miri, but we look forward to meeting and working with her for the next few months! More info to come.
Just when I was forgetting that my birthday had even occurred, I came home to find that my family was literally preparing an army sized meal in celebration. And that is where we stand at the moment. Luba has been in the kitchen for a while now…and I see bananas; cucumbers; cake; chicken; bread with tuna, carrots, mayonnaise, and mushrooms on top; eggs; potatoes; and cake. I am most excited for cake, naturally.
This is all I will say for now, as I felt an update was due. Again I thank you for your continued support in reading and commenting!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Feeling More Acquainted

Yesterday was a beautiful and hot day. After tutorial, four girls and I had a basketball session with four other Ukrainian boys. They were really good and we looked like idiots...but they were also very nice and passed the ball to us a lot which made it fun. I even scored two shots for my team!

Last night I got home to find that Luba had made me what looked like milk soup with noodles. It was a very weird taste and the entire time I was eating I wasn't sure if I really liked it or not. Lucky for me though, I got to experience the entire process again for breakfast. Either way, Luba knew I liked milk and made it specifically for me thinking I would love I am sure I will see the meal again.

Also, Tanya managed to get me some English movies on DVD. I thought it was SO generous of her and I already watched one last night called the Ron Clark Story. She also found Autumn in New York, and Ice Age. Today she said she would bring home more for me as well. I think she knows a guy who downloads and burns them for her, I am very grateful.

The two of us also made a trip to a supermarket I hadn't visited yet which is very close to our aprtment. It was nice to find because it seems to have pretty decent selection. I am so happy to enjoy the company of my host family so much and to feel so welcome by them.

On a sadder note, one of our group members who has been ill since his arrival in Ukraine has just visited us at the University today to say he is catching the first plane back to Canada. The doctors here told him yesterday that he had appendicitis and needed his appendix removed today, but when he showed up for his operation they said he was perfectly fine. To make sure he gets proper healthcare though, he will return to Saskatoon. we were all sad to see him go (but probably not as disappointed as he was) and hope he gets better soon!

Today I think another art lesson is in store...more wax dropping Ukrainian eggs I believe. hopefully I will be good enough by our third try that I can make something beautiful. Also coming soon is our excursion to the caves and possibly elsewhere this Saturday!

Things seem to feel more normal here as I settle into a decent routine. I know this again will change as I make the transition from studying at the University to working at teh internat, but even being familiar with my surroundings is a comforting prospect. Each day I am better versed in the Ukrainian language...and all of this seems to affirm that right now I am meant to be here. I am so grateful for all of your comments and continued support, it really makes the world of a difference.

Also, I am reminded of a quote that was spray-painted on the side-walk in front of an apartment building near my own which read: "To the world you may be one person...but to one person, you may be the world"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Touring Ternopil!

Today I woke up and went to church with Luba and Sacha. The church is right by my house. It was soooo confusing. Mass was 1.5 hours long and while it was Catholic they don’t do a lot of what we would do in a Catholic mass. They do the sign of the cross differently, and they also sign the cross about 1000 times in one mass. I felt like an idiot because only certain people sign at certain times and I was just going it at it the whole mass long. Luba and Sacha kept laughing at me…and then explained it to Slaveek and Tanya afterward. Also, there are only enough seats for a few people and the rest of them just crowds in and stands the whole time. Not everyone got communion, but everyone waited in the really long line to kiss a few books/ pictures of Jesus…maybe one was the bible but they were all in glass cases and I couldn’t tell. I felt really weird kissing them especially with all kinds of lipstick all over the glass) so I just bent down and kissed the air close to it. Also, they sing the whole mass through. Only the announcements at the end of mass weren’t sung.

Anyway, by the time mass was over at 11:30, I had to race home and catch the first bus I could back into downtown to meet the group in the centre for 12. Of course I was late and everybody was waiting for me. We went to the museum right away, which showed the history of the Ternopil area. It was pretty interesting and they had a lot of displays, but I think I would have gotten more out of it had it been translated to us in English. Luckily our tutors explained bits and pieces along the way. The group then went to a Ukrainian restaurant and ate. It was our choice what to do next, and because I felt like I had spent so much time away from my host family already I came home right away.

I got home to find no one, so I napped until they came back. We were preparing all kinds of food and I wasn’t sure why…then realized company was coming over. I was hoping to steal away, read and write some blog/ letters on my laptop to make computer time tomorrow more productive…but because I didn’t know how to politely excuse myself I spent the best part of 5 hours sitting at a table listening to jargon and thinking about how I just wanted alone time. It was a little frustrating but more than anything I just wish I could get my 8 hours of sleep tonight.
My host family also let me cut green onions today, and help serving the meal. Luba seemed really proud of me in front of her guests, and the whole family is warming up to me. Luba and Tanya now regularly hug me, and Luba likes to play with my hair.

Yesterday didn’t quite go the way we thought it might either. Apparently last years group overdid the drinking while here and in caution the course instructor asked the tutors to have us home by 11 for the first night. This hindered our plans to dance and go to the discotek so we ended up going to another place called Koza (goat) where we watched belly-dancing and sat around a table and talked. ALSO the rock concert that we were supposed to go to tomorrow night was ACTUALLY tonight. Only two people from the group ended up still going with the tutor tonight.

Another funny story…while we were walking around Ternopil, our tutors were pointing out the different attractions. When we got to the lake the tutor pointed across from us and said, “many people go there to see the wild bitch.” Of course we were all shocked assuming some crazy lady lived across the way….but it turns out that by bitch Michael meant beach. HAHA, we laughed pretty hard and tried to distinguish the difference in sounds for him and then explained what he actually said. He laughed too.

While walking through downtown yesterday the tutors were talking to us about some of the more sad facts about living in Ukraine. Apparently the Soviet government put out a lot of propoganda which has convinced the inhabitants of Ukraine that they are low and must look out for themselves (a good tactic to avoid group resistance against them). He also said that everything he is still completely corrupt. From governemnt to education to business. He also mentioned that everyone tries to occupy themselves with sports and other hobbies to take their minds off of all the crap. He was very politically involved/savy a couple years ago...but found that it dragged him down and has since gotten rid of his radio and television.

ON a brighter note, I was able to purchase a cell phone and call home and Alex. It was nice. I also found out my address and will leave it here for anyone who wants to mail me something!!!

Jessica Vorsteveld
vul. Kulisha 3,28
m. Ternopil

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Experiencing the new

Again I am at the university writing from the computer lab. The past couple of days have been overwhelming, but it is also nice that everything is becoming just that bit more familiar wherever I go. I am still pretty homesick but soaking everything in as best I can.

School is going well, although confusing. the alphabet is completely different...and structure of the language is strange as well. They associate gender with every object (like french)...only they have he, she and it. Also, an adjective is pronounced differently with every noun it corresponds to depending on the gender and number of the noun...confusing!

The university is also a place for good times though. Two days ago the group was in for an aerobics workout, yesterday we crafted our very own Ukrainian wax dropped eggs (pictures later!), and today we are going to a concert (of which sort I am not sure)! We also are lucky enough to have field trips every so often...and next weekend (on my birthday! ) is our first one. So that should make for a wonderful experience... and birthday gift.

Also, yesterday after school a group of us found a supermarket comparable to a Canadian sized grocery store. One big difference is that here the alcohol takes up half the store. What I was really interested in, however, was fruit! I bought an orange, three bananas (fruit that I could peel just for you Joanne), a chocolate bar (even though the diet here is already loading the calories on me well enough), and a notebook for class. All of this cost me $2! I was impressed. I already ate my orange to make me feel somewhat healthier...and it was probably the the best orange-eating experience of my life.

Family life is going really well. Sacha, Luba, and Tanya are doing everything they can to make me feel welcome and I love them for it. Luba made a REALLY yummy meal yesterday. I was half hungry/half nauseous when I got home so I explained this to her. When I saw the food I really wasn't that interested but because she insisted I needed to eat, I tried some. It was halfway between a pancake and a crepe, and about the size of my palm.... served with a hot chocolate type drink. I enjoyed it a lot, and especially enjoyed the idea that today's breakfast would be sweet leftovers instead of salty leftovers from supper last night.

Host family communication is still rough but also going well. Though no one in my family speaks English at all, we have a charades type communcation which seems to suffice in the meantime. Every day Tanya sits with me and reviews my homework and what I tried to learn... helping me with pronunciation/spelling of words. Last night she even quized me on the objects in my room and I was pretty impressed with how far I have come already. Sacha also enjoyed teaching me all the body parts yesterday (many of which I have alreday forgotten... oops)

On a humourous note: the wood furniture here is shalacked to the point where it shines like a mirror. Yesterday, Sacha and Tanya were watching a movie from the computer in my room while I packed up my homework from the day into my backpack(which was on the floor beside the end of my bed). Well, as I bent down and saw my reflection in the wood at the end of the bed, I thought what I was really seeing was somebody else coming out form underneath the bed to attack me and I screamed. Of course I realized my mistake and started laughing...then had to explain to Sacha and Tanya why I was scared and laughing. And once it was finally communicated to them they started laughing with me too. It was probably my best laugh here so far.

Again that is all I will asy for now, but it is wonderful to read your comments and know that someone is actually paying attention to me still. I will try to find out my address soon, and look forward to hearing what you all have to say tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From the University!

So my last post was written while at home, but I will give a quick update while here at the university since last night.

Last night there was a thuderstorm and I lay in bed awake for almost 4 hours. When I woke up this morning I was very tired and Luba again had a feast laid out for me. When I tried to politely refuse pickles, beets and kelbossa for breakfast she pretended she was crying and motioning that I would get skinny and when I got home my parents would cry because I got so skinny. She is really sweet and I am glad she is taking care of me, but I don't know how to politely refuse the food!

Today we started our Ukrainian language lesson, it was pretty overwhelming. It takes work to try to say or understand anything, but it is a comfort to have three other classmates in the same boat as me. Our teacher is really nice and helpful with explaining everything both in Ukraine and English. Sometimes she tries to explain the differences in sounds the soft or hard version of a consonant and says "hear the difference?" and I never do.

Tonight we already have lots of studying and homework...but luckily we will have computer time everyday around now (the time here is 12:45...and I think we get computer time until 2:15 if we want it). We also have field trips once a week, and music, and physical activity classes to come!

Anyway...I'll say bye for now and continue to look forward to your comments! Pa-pa for now!

My first Post from Ukraine!

I know I am farther behind on the update, but I am safely in Ternopil, Ukraine and everything is going really well. Jen and I flew from Tornoto, to Vienna, to Lviv (Ukraine)…then (instead of taking a train like we thought) drove in a bus with 7 other Canadians into the city of Ternopil yesterday.
When we got here our host families welcomed us. I was very confused at first because another Canadian and I were waiting with what seemed like a couple for a taxi to come and drive us back to our home. Instead, we first drove the other Canadian (Alison) and her host mother home then my host brother (Slaveek) took me home as well. He laughed at me when I started to get my own bags as though I was moving in with the other family. But either way it seems like they are friends and we live REALLY close. I should also mention that today I learned I am a 7 minute walk from Jen’s apartment (SO HAPPY) and about the same distance from a couple other girls as well. We have already decided that we will be visiting each other lots to keep busy during our stay.
More about my host family: I am living with an older couple named Luba and Sacha, along with their grown-up children Slaveek and Tanya. Luba is retired, Sacha still works (I’m not sure where?), Slaveek is a surgeon who works 80km outside of Ternopil and comes home on weekends, and Tanya is a professor of German language at the University I am studying at for the first three weeks. They live in an apartment building (ALL the apartment buildings look EXACTLY the same and it is really hard to tell which one is yours) and have given me my own room. I am the fifth Canadian student they have hosted, which I think has made them very understanding of my needs (like resting and alone time). They have showed me pictures of the other students they have hosted…and yes Valerie …the videos, pictures, and note you left me…THANK YOU!!
When I first got here I unpacked my suitcases in my room, and was fed right away. I have learned already that Luba will feed me until I am more than full. I have been eating perogies (verenijke?) and green borscht ( a soup which reminded me SO much of coives… only with boiled eggs as well). Sour cream is put on or in everything, and every meal is served with bread, ground beets, and lemons.
I fell asleep early last night, but woke up at 2 and felt pretty alone and started crying until I fell asleep again. Even though I am still in the crying at the thought of home stage I am really happy to be here and enjoying myself.
Today we went to the University for the first time and met with our teachers, tutors, and it was our introduction towards the other Canadian students as well. The other students studying are here until June 20th, so it will be pleasant company for Jen and I. After our introduction we ate lunch together with some of our tutors (again fed more than anyone can eat in one sitting), then toured Ternopil complete with a boat ride of the lake! It was a really nice way to get to know each other and I am sure the beginning of many experiences to share with this group.
At the end of this, I went to visit Jen’s place then on the way home found a post office VERY close to home which I knew had phones. After struggling to understand the lady behind the counter and knowing my parents wanted to hear from me I tried using the phone to call Canada. To my disappointment, after paying $9 (CDN) I called everyone in the family to get no answer. You guessed it…I cried again
After supper today I thought I would start trying to learn more Ukrainian after a day of speaking English with everyone around me. Luba, Tanya and I sat around my books translating different words and writing them down and also attempting conversation using my dictionary (SO helpful Mom and Pappa..I think I’d be crying a lot more without it!). Slowly but surely I am picking up on things…I was even able to use the Ukrainian words for different people in the family when showing them pictures from home. After sitting at the table for two hours or so, I feel a lot more comfortable with everyone…and was even able to share some laughs while trying to communicate. (p.s. Luba just came into my room trying to feed me again! I keep saying “ni, povniy zhiveet” meaning “no, full stomach”). Also, because my Ukrainian vocabulary is limited my family tries to use the only words I know to create entire conversations…which makes for longwinded, cyclical, and ultimately funny situations.
Anyway, being here is going well and I am looking forward to visiting the orphanage, which Jen and I plan to do later this week once we are better settled. I miss home a lot, and was feeling ridiculously homesick yesterday but today was better. Please, please, please comment on this post because I should have fairly regular internet access while studying at the University and I would love to hear from everyone (assuming people made it this far into my blog)! On the to do list is buying a disposable cell phone as well! Anyway… enough for now but pictures and more on Ukraine/what I’ve been up to later!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ukraine Powerpoint Presentation

This is my powerpoint from an in-class presentation done on my host country and placement. You will find the slides to be relatively uninformative, and this is mainly because I used them more as a reference, so if you are interested in knowing more just ask and I can fill you in with more details! Also, I included the link to a photo journalism contest where I found some pictures for my slides. The 1st place winner focused on street kids in Ukraine, particularly Odessa...but I found the other contestants and their work to be compelling as well. You can check it out at:

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Entering this program, I did not anticipate that the depth of the course content before sending us off would strike me in a meaningful way. I don't think anyone really signed up for Beyond Borders thinking, "can't wait for intellectual training in RS 283, and 383!". Your entire mindset is focused on those sweet 3 months in a new and exciting country, and the countdown starts from the beginning. Before discovering our placement, all we want to know is where we'll be placed...and once we've been placed, all we want to know is when we can go, and when we find that out too, we wait with baited breath and count down the days until we are gone. We all agreed to participate in this program for a summer away for three months, and what we got in turn has been so much more. This is something I have come to appreciate more when reflecting on the question, "does service learning matter?"

We've heard the sayings, "practice what you preach", or "put your money where your mouth is," and service-learning seems to embody the negligence of hypocrisy which these idioms imply. Service-learning involves incorporating theoretical education with a practical component aimed at putting the same theory to use. In full consideration, it seems basic that in order to fully understand something one must experience it hands on; thus, appreciating the full depth of the theoretical foundation is achieved as you become acquainted with its practical strengths, shortcomings, and possibly where review of the theory is necessary for a more full understanding.

In the Beyond Borders program, the service-learning component was crucial not only to opening my perception of social justice and making a difference, but in validating my ability to practice dialogue and participate in community right here at home (without going overseas!). For me, this two-fold message has been tantamount in preparation for my placement in Ukraine. In this way, the program has been orchestrated to flow from theory to practicum to expansion internationally in a manner that revoking one portion would disturb the foundation upon which the next step is built. Moreover, with this foundation one is always able to revisit each fundamental component with the understanding of its importance and the ambition to strengthen its purpose.

I said that service-learning was crucial in opening my eyes toward social justice. This is not to say that I was unaware of opportunities in acting towards social justice prior to the program, but rather to articulate how my attitude has been critically renewed since September. I walked into BB wanting to act towards change and not really knowing how, wanting to make a difference but simultaneously feeling insignificant. Through in class readings, most especially Pedagogy of the Oppressed, class discussions, and volunteering at the Working Centre I have come to appreciate and understand the importance of dialogue as an agent of change. I have learned that liberation is achieved through solidarity which stems from the oppressed. This has allowed me to understand my impact on the dehumanization of people, which has in turn brought an awareness of my capability to humanize "the other" simply through treating them with equality. I have come to acknowledge my ability to make a difference with a smile, a conversation, with simply listening. I have been more conscious of my ability to validate the suffering of others, and less conscious of my ability to solve these problems with my western ways. I have practiced my ability to "be"with others in the name of solidarity, and lived its effectiveness in building community. This learning is irreplaceable, and futile if not practiced.

Secondly, I mentioned a new found awareness of my ability to act towards social justice locally. While travelling abroad is an enticing notion which provides a unique opportunity to explore and act towards social justice in a profound way, it is important not to underestimate our call to solidarity in local communities. Being an active and responsible participant in your own community can mean recycling your waste, paying your bills, providing a service to others through employment, growing your own produce, or volunteering at a local community centre. It is important, however to expand and challenge your growth by exploring opportunities which involve the greater community as you are able. All this is not to imply that travelling abroad is a vain attempt at social justice, but rather to emphasize that participating in community is achievable and important no matter where you are.

Thus, I would like to reiterate my sentiments and state that service-learning does matter. Not only has it coaxed my progress in Beyond Borders, but I consider it quintessential to the structure of the program. As I look back on the previous 8 months, it is only now that I realize I have gained so much more than an opportunity to travel abroad this summer. If asked to participate in this program knowing it would stop today, I would do it all over again.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Lady and her Words

I thought I would share another little moment that made a difference in my day. If you don't already know, I work part-time as a support person for a 15-year-old boy with autism. Most days, this job doesn't feel much like work. I get to pick him up from home, and try to have a good time whether this imeans going for walks outside, riding the city bus (something he loves) or paying the children's museum a visit. As I say this, however,there are also days where the responsibility of dealing with his severe autism challenge me. Yesterday was one of these days.

I won't get into the details...but suffice it to say that after struggling for nearly 45 minutes, I finally managed to deal with a difficult situation. As the two of us (the boy I work with and I) began to pack our belongings and head for the car, an elder lady approached me and said, "you are a good girl, God bless you." I am not sure how much of my struggle she witnessed, but after it was all over her words and kind smile were so reassuring and comforting.

So, even though she'll never know (because at the time I was speechless and let her walk away without more than a smile in return), I am thankful for that lady and her words.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Considering Suffering

I read an article today that mentioned how Canadians are reportedly optimistic (relative to other countries polled) regarding their financial status in the future, despite the currently grim economic situation. When compared on a global scale, Canadians were amongst the least worried to lose their jobs, and most optimistic that this economic turmoil will be over sooner (as little as two years) than later. This could be that our southern neighbour, the U.S. seems to be sinking in financial hardships and blown over with economic despair; meanwhile, in Canada it seems we just haven't been facing the same reailty. As vice-president of Environics research, Donna Dasko stated, "We're hearing stories daily about the collapse of the world economy and the terrible situation south of the border, so Canadians have naturally responded with alarm. But we're impacted more by what we hear, not by our actual situation"

This disconnected and sensationalized impact seems to be a common theme in desparity, be it economic, social or otherwise. We are bombarded with war, death, poverty and the like through media and have become desensitized to really connecting and feeling anything about it. In a way, how are we able to really feel the reality of each situation and cope? Lifeboat ethics comes into play, and when someone is overwhelmed with the magnitude of destitution they save themselves from drowning with the rest by shutting it out and climbing aboard the boat of sweet ignorance.

So where do we find a balance? I do this constantly myself, and am not trying to harp on everyone who has turned their cheek or I would be hypocritical. It is a coping mechanism we all use to stay afloat. But I feel like their is more to this effort.

The other day at a seminar for Beyond Borders we were told supper would be provided. Eager to eat a meal we didn't have to make, our leader, Lisa, then informed us that we would be served the average meal of people around the world. This consisted of beans and rice, flavoured with lemon juice if you so wished. No one complained about it, and we all tried to enjoy it, but it was certainly unexpected and the idea of going home to eat a feast of whatever I could find in my fridge seemed more appetizing. But that was just it. The average person around the world could not just go home to their fridge full of food and ignore the painstaking hunger or the lack of substance which this meal provided.

Through this simple demonstration, each of us were forced to really consider and connect to another person's troubles. To me, this was more profound than reading a story in the paper, or watching it on television and it stuck with me a lot longer. While we can't use this example for every tragedy we come across, I think it is important to really embrace the reality of suffering in other's people's lives. Freire considered solidarity to be built only when the oppressors truly abandon their predispositions toward the objectification of humanity. Thus, taking time to recognize the reality of suffering serves as a reminder to rekindle our efforts toward building solidarity and influencing change.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I realize today that I am almost the most behind on blogs, and I feel really bad about this. It is not that I dont care, and not that I don't have anything to say. More than anything it is that I am a perfectionist. I want them to be perfect, and I always want them to reach people... to be written well and to stand out. I think I always want to have something profound to say, and part of the Beyond Borders experience is teaching me that this is exactly what I need to negate.

I want to get back to the basics. Like I said in my first post, this isn't about divulging life changing revelations, it is about being honest; and honestly, I think the big stuff is to come. Everything I am experiencing and blogging about now seems miniscule compared to what we are all attempting to prepare ourselves for this summer. Trying to find something profound to say is hard because more and more I am finding that change comes in baby steps. So here are a few examples of little things I've noticed or experienced throughout my time at the Working Centre or life recently that have made me stop and reflect.

  • While working at WASL a fellow volunteer described how keeping busy at the Working Centre after work keeps him from getting into alcohol. Thoughts: everyone has a story, and it is beautiful how humble work can open people towards one another
  • Ahead of me in the crowd of students walking through campus someone casually tossed their Tim's cup aside. Someone else went to pick up the litter before I could reach it. Thoughts: When you are frustrated, you are not alone
  • While at WASL, there was a note on the whiteboard in backroom that read, "Joe has been to school 8 days in a row!" (Joe was not the actual name). Thoughts: accomplishments should always be celebrated, always

Time and time again we have heard that we can not change the world. But when small moments like this accumulate and influence other experinces the growth is exponential. While life happens around each individual they grow and learn... and each experience impacts the shaping of what we all become. So while these may seem simple, they made me stop and think, and even this seemingly inconsequential influence has made a difference.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Importance of Dialogue

A highschool teacher relayed his own story of frustration and misunderstanding to myself and peers, and I feel this story helped me with my own perspective of the Working Centre and its community members, and as such, I thought I would share:

The teacher knew of a single mother of three, who strived to provide stability for her family on a consistent basis. Relocating housing; and fending for food to eat, clothes to keep warm, and shoes to walk in were a norm for this family. Every month, the mother received a cheque from welfare to help her support her family, and every month she would spend her cheque the same way. Her and her family ritually proceeded to a local restaurant, splurged the funds on a feast of fine dining, and left the table full for the night. Not once did the family abandon this custom.

The teacher was perplexed and offended by this. A family staggering in poverty, three children succumbed to the hardships of starvation and instability, fully reliant on their mother who seemingly wasted his hard earned tax dollars away on one night of extravagancies. He could visibly see the needs of these individuals by the tatters in their clothing and shoes, and in his mind conjured a thousand more efficient ways to spend the cheque in order to provide lasting, more worthy essentials to the family. He thought silly of the mother who seemed to abandon the needs of her children by her frivolous expenditure.

After turning his head time and time again from this routine, my teacher finally decided to take a stance and approached the mother. He expressed concern for the well being of her and her children, and continued to explain his disapproval of her wasting the cheque on dining out when alternative investments were blatantly imperative.

Her unexpected response was simple. All she had known since becoming a single mother was poverty, and thus, this life was all her children had known as well. Their lives were infiltrated with insatiate needs and demeaning judgment from onlookers. So, when she used her cheque once a month to indulge in an extravagant meal, it served as the one day a month to escape from this life of oppression. For one meal, her children were satiated, for one meal the family was lifted from poverty and equal to those around them, for one meal there were no worries and life was bliss. It was a memory and gift given to her children despite all the suffering they faced, and something none of them wanted to sacrifice.

From this story, I have learned to better appreciate that negligence of preconceived notions and judgment is necessary. As Freire reminds us, only dialogue can create understanding, and thus, solidarity. Rather than passing judgment and imposing our views on others, it is quintessential to stop, discuss and learn. Only through this may we fully allow others to be human, and fully humanize ourselves in turn.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Sense of Community

I’m really feeling at home with the Beyond Borders group this year. I think a lot of us have the same feeling on our mind: hanging out together is a blast. We come from different academic backgrounds, have varying beliefs and opinions regarding religion, and each has a unique blend of traits and attributes that make for an adverse group when together. It really is funny that from these varying walks of life we’ve managed to find unity in this program, in this one goal to learn, grow and share. It is this piece of us that we have built on as a group, and through which a stronger sense of community continues to grow with effort.

I’ve come to really value these individuals, and I think it has been a recent event that many of us are really able to appreciate each other. So, as Kate and John and others have expressed in their recent posts, I wanted to reiterate my gratitude to each of these participants. Thank you for dialogue most of all; for sharing your frustrations, for making me laugh, for your patience with my own flaws, for being part of my life, and for letting me into yours.

There is a sense of comfort in knowing that while I may feel alone or confused in Ukraine this summer, there are 12 others around the world who can relate. The exciting prospect is that my journey has only begun, and while travelling and engaging with others around me, my community of support will continue to grow.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Feeling Like the "Other"

Like others in the BB group, I have delayed discussion about negative experiences with the program thus far. Acknowledging my own faults (being a worry-wart, for example) comes surprisingly more naturally than involving others in my rants of negativity. Something about sharing negative opinions of others makes me feel more vulnerable, like I am an awful judgemental human perpetuating the cyclic distrust in fellow humans that many seem to cherish. However, part of this blogging endeavour is sharing the reality of my experiences, and as promised in my first post, I will continue to be honest.

My intial experience at Worth a Second Look, a thrift store associated with The Working Centre, was pleasant. I was welcomed with open arms. Everyone wanted to know my name, shake my hand and show me the ropes. I was grateful for their hospitality and warmth as a newcomer, and felt optimistic about volunteering there in future.

On my next visit, as I contently worked on a mini-project assigned to me, a group of staff and volunteers began to gather and talk about life, and the conversation quickly turned to previous experiences with drugs, alcohol, the police and other mischeivous adventures. Standing there amidst this I felt outside of whatever understanding they shared. I was the innocent girl who couldn't relate to their life because I haven't seen it first hand. I felt awkward. I felt like the "other" who didn't fit.

No one approached me saying, "you don't know what it is like to be us," but my silent presence in this discussion, and inability to share any experiences of the like reverberated in my mind. Maybe they didn't even notice me, and maybe they were thinking the exact same thing I was, but either way I felt small amidst this group.

My optimism tells me that while I can never fully understand someone else's life and experiences unless I have walked in their shoes, entering into dialogue with an empathetic mindset can go a long way in creating solidarity. Something about this conversation, however, made me feel so much like the "other" that my dialogue was non-existant. It made me consider what I really expected.

In my placement in Ukraine this summer, I am trying to prepare myself for what it will feel like to be the other. Surrounded by orphan girls with no parents, and often associated diabilities, I know again I will feel outside of the understanding they share with each other. My hope however, is to not lose my optimism that dialogue is still possible. I may have felt small and outside of the group at The Working Centre, and while life will continue to put me in these situations during my placement in Ukraine and elsewhere, I hope I always strive to enter dialogue in the face of diversity such that solidarity or any bridge of understanding may be established.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ukrainian Orphanages Continued

Through my research on orphanages in Ukraine, I continue to come across even more startling statistics. Included are the following:

  • there are approximately 105 000 orphans in 473 orhpanges in Ukraine
  • an estimated 100 000 more children live on the streets, with vacancies in the orphanage being few and far between
  • the chance of being adopted after 5 years old drops to 20%
  • orphan children "graduate" from the orphanage at 16 years old, and are often forced to leave earlier than this (around 14 years)
  • Only 27% of orphans find work once graduated
  • 70% of boys enter a life of crime
  • 60% of girls enter prositution
  • 10% commit suicide before the age of 18, 16% commit suicide by their mid-twenties

I am not really sure what more to say about these numbers, but it is heart-breaking for me to even consider. I am so incredibly lucky just to have parents who love me, and a house to live in.

Some Links on Ukrainian orphanges, explanations to the factors which have given rise to an exorbitant amount of child poverty and orphans, and more can be found in the links below:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ukraine Orphanages

I've been reading up on orphanages and orphan children in the Ukraine, and to give you a glimpse of some what I've been reading I have posted this video. I found the numbers startling, as I was unaware of the expanse of the issue. Watch the video to see what I mean.

This video is geared towards adoption, but for me the air of desperation for attention in any way possible holds true none the less.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sharing the Wealth

I'm one of the most frugal people I know. Sales are my favourite times to shop, I go to restaurants with my friends and order water, and my parents force me to spend my Christmas and birthday money on myself otherwise it would go straight to the bank. Don't get me wrong, I love buying new things, and eating out... but unless there is a reason to do it, I feel guilty. There is a constant looming cloud over my head of the bills I have to pay (i.e. tuition, rent), and I hate seeing that bank account update remind me of my decreasing funds.

Beyond Borders is posing a certain amount of stress on me money-wise. Big factors: spending money to go away, not making money this summer, and the little expenses that add up along the way. The outcome: I am finding myself at an all time high of finance panic. I have money in the bank account, but most of it is on loan from my parents, and that is an unsettling feeling. This makes me feel poor.

Poor: Having little or no wealth and few or no possessions

I read that definition, and know I am hardly poor. I am amongst the wealthiest sect of the world, even though I'm not a millionaire. Sure I have accumulating expenses, but this does not bring me close to the reality of being poor. Having a roof over my head, and my own bed to sleep on (complete with a pillow!) is more than many can attest to. This fact is something I remind myself of when I begin to stress about my economical situation. I am certainly very glad that I am frugal, and not wasting money unnecessarily on a regular basis, but I am also very fortunate and far from financial destitution.

This weekend I had a fundraising party with friends- an excuse to all get together, and if they felt they had some money to spare for a donation there was a box on the table. Knowing that we are all university/college students, or working full-time for the first time, I was not expecting much revenue towards my trip to come from this evening. I was wrong. My friends showered that donation box with an overwhelming amount of generosity that really touched me. I was reminded of the amazing people I have in my life in a big way. But what struck me possibly more than this was their realization of how much these contributions meant for many people who have so much less.

In our last class together Jess DB (a fellow BB), had a slide on traveling wisely. One point on this slide was being reasonable when shopping and bargaining prices. I find that I can be so consumed by my need to save that I forget there are other people who need that money even more. My friends showed me that this realization resonates with them, their generosity marked this. I am hoping that during this trip, while volunteering at the working centre, I am able to shake some reservations on spending money so that I am able to be more generous to those who need it more.

Friday, January 23, 2009

On Worrying

Worrying is my forté. When someone is more than 10 minutes late, I worry something bad has happened to them. As an impending test or assignment creeps closer, I worry I am going to fail. When someone mentions having the flu or a cold, I worry I am going to catch it too, thus take heed and keep my distance. In a lot of ways, keeping distance is a forté of mine as well. My worrying helps me to make decisions to protect myself and do all in my power to avoid being hurt in any way (physically and emotionally).

I have encompassed this means of self-preservation to the point where I've allowed worrying to block me from experiencing life at its fullest. I've stressed days away without appreciating what an amazing, priveleged, blessed life I lead. There are times where my thoughts are so engrossed in avoidance and caution as a result of my worrying, that I have compromised my ability to seize the intimacy with life that a care-free spirit posesses.

I understand that there is a balance to be found between living care-free and being a worry-wart, and I don't think I've accomplished it. This is not a pity story either! I have wonderful people in my life who really love me, and with whom I have experienced immense joy. But this is a comfort zone I have grown to take for granted, and from which I have not breached.

There are days where my soon-to-be adventure with Beyond Borders scares the living daylight out of me. How will I manage travelling on my own for the first time? How will I manage to communicate where Ukrainian is the predominant language? What if my host family doesn't like me? What if I get lost on my way to work? What if the girls at the orphanage don't accept me? What will I do the days where I feel alone and isolated from my family and friends? I could rant about the troubling scenarios that play through my mind for hours (some more ridiculous than others), but I realize this is neither healthy nor helpful.

Embarking on the journey Beyond Borders is offering me is a huge step (personally) in stepping out of my comfort zone; however, preparing for the trip, and having confidence in myself that I can take whatever comes my way is the next major obstacle ahead. It is likely that one or more of the scenarios that stress me out will become reality amidst my three months away. I hope that from these experiences I can learn to deal with life's uncertainties with greater competence and poise. In doing so, living in the moment and valuing my life as it fluctuates will come with greater ease. This is my weakness, and while it has become my struggle to overcome, embracing this journey in all its improbability has given me opportunities to expand - and as it continues I can only hope to develop further.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Small Things Count

I like to think I'm a (far from perfect) humanitarian. I thrive on connecting with people, and believe in our responsibility as humans to provide meaningful relationships for eachother in order that everybody lives with dignity, respect, belonging and love. Along with this ideology, I am a firm believer that a little effort goes a long way. One doesn't have to try hard, or have elaborate plans to make a difference on the lives of others on a daily basis. Holding the door open for the person behind you; smiling and saying thank-you to the cashier at Tim Horton's (even if it is their job to give you coffee); giving up a bus seat to a stressed Mom who needs it more; all these things can make life just that little bit more pleasant for our neighbours.

While it may be naive, I have this wonderful notion of everyone making an effort to care for one another, to do the little things that make each others' lives easier, better. Im not talking about a utopic kingdom in which everything is rainbows and flowers and not a grey cloud is seen. It would brighten my day to feel that instead of focusing on themselves, someone took time out of their day to care about me. I don't think I am the only one whose day this selfless caring would touch. Now imagine everyone being thoughtful enough to hold that door open, smile and say thank you, give up that bus seat... and having your neighbour, a stranger, "the other" be affected by this effort and altogether know that someone else cares enough to touch their lives. Again, maybe this is naive, but in many ways I have adopted this attitude in my own actions, hoping to have an infectious influence on the people I encounter, willing that they might perpetuate the cycle.

My experiences in Beyond Borders thus far have only reinforced my wonderful, possibly naive, notions about everyone making a little effort to make a bigger difference. As mentioned previously, this term's focus is putting our educational training from last term to practice in our own community. In doing so, the group visited The Working Centre for an orientation of its resources and opportunities for volunteering. The Working Centre is an amazing community/resource centre where various projects seek to build a stronger community. An integral facet of this centre is focusing on providing a helpful service tailored to the needs of each individual as they come in, as opposed to offering a structured list of services to those whose needs correspond accordingly.

While getting better acquainted with one of its founders, Joe Mancini, the Beyond Borders group was posed with the question "Have you ever been asked to fix someone's shoe, or to mend someone's mitten?" These problems seem miniscule to those fortunate enough to have the means to buy new shoes, or use a different pair of mittens when one pair is unfit. But The Working Centre has realized how such issues can prove themselves to be deterring obstacles in one's life, and is a facility centered around caring enough to put the effort toward making small changes which have a profound difference in brightening and easing the difficulties in another's life.

So what I am trying to say is, while I have this idea of everyone trying to do something selfless for their neighbour in the hopes of trying to make someone else's life easier, Beyond Borders has given this a new perspective. Not only have my experiences in this program thus far showed me that selfless acts for others is a plausible way to make another's day easier, but it has given me the opportunity to explore a new community of people who hold this same value.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

There's a first for everything

Hi all!
My name is Jessica, and while my profile mentions that I am a student at the University of Waterloo studying chemistry and religion, this blog will be all about my participation in an international service-learning program called Beyond Borders through St. Jerome's University. This is a 3-part program aiming to put students' learning into action on an international level. Volunteer placements in developing countries such as Botswana, Nicaragua, and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been arranged for this year's participants--as for myself, I will be landing in Ternopil, Ukraine working in an orphanage with girls who have disabilities (along with a fellow participant- Jen!).

This placement, however, is only one part of the program. Other requirements include attending seminars provided by our international partners, Intercordia, enrolling in two courses through St. Jerome's (the first of which is more theory based, the second providing practical opportunities to put our education to use in our own neighbourhood), and attending a re-integration workshop after returning from our host-country.

As part of the required courses, each participant must prepare a blog of their participation in the program; experiences they acquire throughout various encounters; thoughts and opinions of the theory covered; sentiments while anticipating our departure and anything else we'd like to share.

So here I am, exposing my amateur blogging skills with you in the hopes that my sharing can provide personal exhalation of emotions, while reaching out to anyone who wants to listen. I cannot promise eternal optimism throughout my discussion, nor discovery of transforming revelations, but I can promise sincerity in my disclosure.

Please feel free to comment and provide input as you like. If you have any questions about the program or anything you feel I could assist you in acquainting yourself with, don't hesitate to ask. And without further ado...welcome to my blog.