After two years - we've come back again. On cursory glance not much has changed. The programs at the Centre continue as before - senior's teas, medical clinics, mom's group, church music group rehearsals and Bible studies, children's gatherings. However, as we hear people talk, and listen to their stories we're catching glimpses beneath the surface. When we first came to Molochansk 3 1/2 years ago there was industry here. Natural gas came to town and there was promise of business and investment. It hasn't happened. Making matters worse, last year the Willm's mill (condensed milk factory) shut down for good, throwing 200 people out of work. This year the furniture factory is working at 1/3 capacity, only 2-3 days a week. A half year ago the Prischib Internat dismissed 21 workers among them Ludmilla whom we had gotten to know. A year ago when things were looking better and credit became more readily available, many people took out loans to renovate their homes and buy appliances. Now jobs are gone, banks are calling loans and people are becoming desperate. So far pensioners have a guaranteed income and from their small pensions are helping children and grandchildren. We are told that in many places youth is out of control, crime is increasing. Recently a grandmother was murdered for 20 grievna (between two and three dollars). A local doctor has had to take a 600 grievna reduction in her 1500 grievna/monthly salary because the Molochansk hospital closed a department to enable the Tokmak hospital to remain viable. Last week 1 US dollar bought us 8.4 grievna. How do people survive and how do we respond? We listen as people come to us in personal crises and give discretionary aid as we are able. These difficult times bring a reevaluation of needs and wants. Many people return to subsistance living, depending on their kitchen gardens, root cellars, raising rabbits, chickens and geese. Some go to Russia to work, but even there jobs aren't readily available.
A strong focus of our work at the Centre has been enabling children and youth to engage in constructive activities. Thus, we continue to support Music and Sports Schools which provide opportunities during the afternoons - the school day runs from 8:30-12:30. This new pair of cymbals for the Molochansk band was provided by a couple in the Fraser Valley. We've been assisting Kindergartens in various ways because the government pays only salaries. Kindergarten children visit the Centre regularly delighting Seniors with their performances.
We continue to provide scholar-ships to promising young students so that they can further their education. Education was also at the heart of the Mennonite experience here a century ago. The Mennonite Centre building was the former Maedchenschule in the Molotchna colony. There is more and more interest locally in the history of this area. Julia Romanovna, a enterprising senior high school student recently wrote a research paper on "Education in Halbstadt 100 Years Ago". She entered a state competition and won 3rd prize.
We've sensed an absence of hope in some of the adults we've spoken to, but not the young people. Eighteen bouyant teens crowded our apartment the evening that Larissa left, bidding farewell to a person who had left a strong, positive impression on their lives. We're convinced that investing in young people will bear strong dividends for the future of Ukraine.