Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bearing Loads

Over the past three months it has been our privilege to enter into the life of small-town eastern Ukraine. In diverse ways we've shared journeys of those around us. We've experienced joys and sorrows and have been amazed at the resilience of many who are carrying heavy burdens. Thanks to the generosity of our donors we've been able to engage in many projects, giving aid to those in need - to individuals as well as institutions.

The Orange Revolutions which had promised hope to many has been a huge disappointment as leaders continue their power struggle. Youth movements are meeting to foster closer ties with the West. The elderly, however look back to communist times as the good old days, when they didn't have much, but it was enough. What will happen at the Sept.30 election is anyone's guess.

One can notice increasing prosperity in the cities and even Molochansk is now boasting billboards as we enter town, one of them advertizing our former Zentralschule. There are more cars on the roads and many scooters. We are told that about 10% of the people in our town live comfortably. For the remainder, life is a hard struggle and it is this group we are trying to help.

The healthcare system is woefully inadequate, so we pay doctors to hold clinics at the Centre where people come for free consultations and medication. We're continuing with medical emergency funds in seven outlying areas. The respite room at the local hospital, which we have renovated and staffed, allows people to recuperate in comfort. We are introducing a pilot project in which an eye doctor will come to the Centre periodically so that our seniors can have their eyes tested. Glasses are inexpensive and would give many a new lease on life. We help to support a small nursing home where seniors are lovingly cared for. Hospitals don't want to admit elderly. Death is considered a blot on their record.
Other than salaries, hospitals and schools receive very little state support. Most capital acquisitions and any repairs come from the pockets of staff and parents. We have funded numerous projects, including restoring the steps to the entrance of the Molochansk Russian School. These were crumbling, in dangerous disrepair, rebar sticking out in many directions. The new steps include a ramp allowing access to disabled children.
We continue to provide scholarships to a number of promising students - two in medical school, a journalism student, several prospective teachers and social workers. Where we can, we support the arts.
For the first time we are offering low interest loans to two farmers in the Molotchna district. They are farming the rich, black loam that brought prosperity to many of our Mennonite ancestors. Farmer Grigory is buying a second-hand tractor, replacing the one he built from scrap metal many years ago. Farmer Ury is buying a baler and sprayer. Both men will engage others in their farming operations and both have a history of helping babushkas with their small plots . Their smiles of gratitude stretched from ear to ear.
By God's grace it has been our joy to bring help and hope through our work at the Mennonite Centre; not only responding to requests for aid, but also finding ways to encourage and enable people to help themselves thus lightening their loads.

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