Thursday, April 8, 2010


"Youth for Life" - the big event of the week, a culmination of months of visioning and planning. The logo states "your choices today, your future tomorrow". Our manager Dema, who has a passion for challenging Ukrainian young people to make wholesome lifestyle choices, designed a program highlighting perils of wrong choices and presenting positive options. It was interesting to participate in preparations, another learning experience for us in terms of patience, flexibility and understanding. A myriad of details were left to the last minute; very different to our way of thinking and preparing. Another factor foreign to us was the way contracts and requests need to be made - always in person, not by telephone or email. This required numerous trips to Tokmak over indescribable roads, as many as four times a day last week. No sooner had we settled on a date when we got notice that it had to be changed, requiring another trip to Tokmak and more stamped documents. This was repeated twice over the course of a few days. A little unnerving but nothing unusual. We ask, "why can't we pick up the telephone?" The answer, "It may be perceived as putting ourselves in a superior position to the city authorities." Slowly we begin to understand. Due to the many changes schools were notified at the last minute, yet they all participated.

The day dawns bright and beautiful. Our cooks at the Centre are busy preparing breakfast for two bands that will playing later and then cooking dinner for the entertainers. News arrives that our main speaker, the pastor of Grace Church in Melitopol, has had a car accident and won't be coming. What now? Dema knows a lawyer who has given many AIDS seminars. She is free and available so Rudy & I head to Melitopol with no time to spare. In the meantime fifteen buses
and 17 marshrutkas are engaged bringing 700+ students and teachers from 16 village schools to the Tokmak Palace of Culture for the 12 o'clock event. The streets are crowded; police are directing traffic. The hall fills quickly and soon there's standing room only. At 12:10 the band comes on stage and the program begins. Dema welcomes all present and explains the purpose of the gathering - youth for life. A doctor speaks about the damaging effects of nicotine, alcohol and drug abuse, using a graphic powerpoint presentation. A policeman explains criminal implications. The students give rapt attention to the woman talking about AIDS and abstinence. Speeches are interspersed with lively music, singers, dancers and gymnasts. Huge applause bursts out at the end. An award will be given to a student from each school who exemplifies positive attitudes and values. At the end of May winners will be invited to an awards ceremony. The first Youth for Life event was held last fall in a smaller context. Two more are scheduled for May. The hope is prevention and inspiration, that young people will take to heart and put to practice what they have heard. It will also be important to find ways of following up in the future.

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