Meet Oleg Bondaryenko,the bandmaster of Molochansk Music School. Each weekday afternoon he instructs young people in the intricacies of playing brass, woodwind and percussion instruments as well as working with the band. Not so long ago this group was struggling along, playing on a few battered instruments dating back to communist times. Currently the only funding provided by government is small teacher salaries. In 2006 the government put this school on the closure list. Due in large part to lobbying by Canadian musicians the school was allowed to remain open. In addition to the band, well qualified teachers continue to offer instruction in piano, strings, voice and dance.
Over the years, thanks to donations by individual supporters, we have brought 12 instruments from Canada. These have enabled the band to enter national competitions. Last year they placed second in Zaporozhye and one of the trumpeters won first place in the solo class. It has now become possible to purchase fairly acceptable band instruments in Ukraine. Several days ago it was our joy to meet with Oleg and give him the good news that our board of directors approved purchase of ten more instruments. It is difficult to describe the look on his face when he received this information - almost disbelief. More instruments will enable more young people to participate and will complete the instruments required for a full band. He told us that band alumni are now playing in six major orchestras in Ukraine.
Alexander Petrovich, a member of Kutuzovka Mennonite church, has devoted his life to working with young people. For the past 30 years, he together with an assistant, have run a sports school for street children and at-risk youth in Tokmak. Through the generosity of a German donor he has access to the use of a large building which over time has been converted to a gym with a basketball court, a weight-training space and tumbling areas. There is also a large trampoline and an outdoor recreation area. Currently 173 children are registered and enjoy the facility at no cost. Alexander knows each child personally. When recently hospitalized dozens of young people came to see him, bringing food and blankets. Hospital staff were astounded. What would draw all these children to come and visit this elderly man? Alexander Petrovich has no family and has devoted his life to this ministry. Before retirement he received a small salary from the state which he used to support the work and continues to do so now with his pension. FOMCU has contributed to this project by providing sports equipment, tumbling mats and balls.
In Ukraine the school day runs from 8:30 - 12:30. This leaves a half day for many children to fend for themselves. In communist times the afternoon options were music schools, sports schools and craft schools. These still exist, but because government funding is minimal, students are required to pay a small amount, eliminating this possibility for families living in poverty.
The care of orphans is a monumental problem in Ukraine. Statistics tell us that there are more than 100,000 orphans most of them living in state-run orphanages. When they are 17 they are forced to leave and have no one to care for them; no one to turn to for help. 10% of these are true orphans without parents who receive a small government stipend. The rest, 90%, are social orphans who are homeless due to abandonment, alcoholism or imprisonment of parents. These are left to fend on their own and are often ill-prepared to do so. Statistically within a year 10% of males commit suicide, 70% turn to crime, 60% of girls turn to prostitution. In Zaporozhye alone there are 9 orphanages and 43 in the region. There is a great need for transitioning, teaching these orphans life skills and providing vocational training. FOMCU is in conversation with others exploring potenial ways of dealing with this issue.