Tomorrow morning we leave for home. Our three months have flown by, not quite enough time to see everything through, but others will come and carry on. It's been another adventure and activity packed week. As in other years we were invited to attend graduations and final concerts of the Molochansk band, music and dance schools. We have supported each of these institutions and it is a pleasure to see them thriving. Most memorable was the dance concert at which a tribute was given to Nikolai Nikolaiovich, the beloved director of the Molochansk Music School, who passed away in April. While the band played Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, a powerpoint of his life was shown and dancers, many of them weeping, performed beautifully choreographed movements by candlelight. His legacy will live on.
The "Last Bell" ceremony at the Ukrainian school was a gala outdoor production. On observation we decided that the theme had to be "Launched to Fly." Actors dressed in black and white performed a pantomine which included releasing a black and white bird. There were emotional farewells to teachers, parents were honored, then the torch was passed to younger students. The ceremony concluded as graduates symbolically released balloons into the sky. One hopes the world they will be entering will open doors of opportunity for them, allowing them to fly.
Lack of employment and corruption remain huge problems. Russlan is 31 years old. He is a recovering alcoholic. Four years ago, he told us, he was a very bad man. Then our pastor and his wife, Jacob and Natasha Tiessen, offered him shelter. Today people do not believe he is the same person. Last month he was able to find employment in a greenhouse, working 13 hour days. The first weeks he was given positive feedback, then on the fourth week his employer began finding fault with him. This escalated and finally he was sent away, given only bus fare home. This is the second such incident we've heard about in past weeks. There seems little protection for employees unless a formal contract is entered into. Before we left home a friend handed us some money to be used for a project of our choice. Rudy had the idea of providing a bicycle for a boy from a poor family. We were talking about this with the Tiessens when Jacob asked, "how about a 31 year old boy?" Russlan is living with them again, has no means of transportation and is wanting to look for further work. There was no doubt in our minds that this was the right opportunity. Thursday we had the joy of presenting him with a new bicycle. For a moment he was speechless, then he immediately offered a prayer of thanksgiving. We've been told that he went around town telling people this story. He was told "this can't possibly happen , there has to be something sinister behind it." Experience has made many people suspicious and distrusting.
This week we again had the joy of hosting friends from home. Peter and Hilda Goertzen and their relatives from Germany joined us for several days. We spent Saturday driving through the countryside, visiting former Mennonite villages. Both Hilda and Rudy have roots in Hierschau. Several years ago we had connected with Margarita Krivetz, nee Plett, Rudy's distant relative. In the meantime we heard that she had moved to Zaporozhye, was very ill and unresponsive. People in Hierschau, however, told us that she was back living with her daughter-in-law. We managed to locate her and there was immediate recognition. What a joyful reunion with this delightful ninety year old.
Yesterday, one more fascinating day. We had the opportunity of hosting 60 MEDA representatives from North America as well as the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, His Excellencey, Daniel Caron. Mennonite Economic Development Associates has been given a multi-million dollar CIDA grant and is one and one half years into a five year project aimed at helping 5000 small scale farmers in the Zaporozhye region and Crimea get access to credit and gain skills in planting, storing, packaging and marketing their produce. Ukraine used to be the breadbasket of Europe.
the Ambassador & Rudy
Now Ukraine farmers are again tilling Russian Mennonite ancestral soil. We joined Steve Wright, (photo to right) the director of the project, and the MEDA group in visiting two model farmers in our area. One Molochansk farmer has a cell of 75 farmers producing table grapes, seedlings and garlic. He is obviously prospering. The other is operating on a much smaller scale, also producing grape seedlings, strawberries and roses. Our staff provided a delicious noon meal and we were entertained by Natasha, a Ukrainian MEDA staff person who sang Ukrainian folksongs, accompanying herself on the bandura. In the afternoon we escorted a group on visits to former Mennonite historical sites. It was interesting to visit Juschanlee, to think back to the time of Johann Cornies more than 150 years ago and realize what he was able to achieve in land reforms and agricultural practices in the Mennonite colonies. Perhaps history will repeat itself.