On Oct. 29 we had the privilege of visiting some of Mennonite Centre’s project sites in Zaporizhya. Olga Rubel relates to these projects for FOMCU, including some additional projects in nearby villages.
Our first stop was to visit a women’s sewing circle that sews patchwork quilts, pillows, sheets, etc. for the needy. The bright colors in pleasing combinations were delightful to see. Some of the children’s blankets were designed in such a way as to tell a story. The women also met here for Bible studies. Mennonite Centre has assisted with the purchase of a sewing machine and some materials.
We were very impressed by the treatment program we observed at a school for children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. The staff consists of well-trained women and men. (There seem to be few male staff members in regular schools.) Activities included movement to music, printing, counting, language instruction, self-care skills, drawing and coloring, physical therapy and exercise. The doctor in charge shared wonderful stories of children who had been unable to walk initially but now manage with a walker, or of others who had been unresponsive initially, but are now interacting with staff and other children. The joy these children radiated under their loving care was obvious. Some are participating in regular schools on a limited basis. At times the staff has worked without salaries, proving their commitment to these children. Volunteers from church have also assisted. This kind of facility is a sharp contrast to the more typical boarding schools for children like this. Mennonite Centre has assisted with summer day camps and paying some of the rent. Other needs are appropriate staff salaries and larger facilities to meet the demand.
We learned about the Youth Training Centre that provides classes in the regular public school curriculum. Young people are taught about drug prevention, life skills, values, as well as empathy for the less fortunate. The centre organizes sporting events and day camps. The students have become very excited about visiting orphanages and handing out gift boxes, even organizing such projects on their own. The program is well-received by the schools, but more trained teachers are needed.
Closer to home the Mennonite Centre sponsored another Youth for Life program in the Tokmak Trade School last Monday. The school administration welcomed this program for their students. Dema, the director of the Mennonite Centre, organized this event, including the performances of two music groups, dancers, and weight lifters, interspersed with video clips and explanations about alcohol and drug abuse, and the harmful effects of tobacco. We hope that learning about the effects of these substances and portraying more positive lifestyles by the various performers, will have inspired the students to consider positive alternatives.