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Kelly Whitehurst, 23, USA

This was my third time visiting Ukraine. Previously I have come to visit a friend I hosted as an exchange student in high school and her family who live in Crimea. The capital city Kiev and the Black Sea Coast in Crimea are lovely and I would recommend that people who visit Ukraine make sure to see them both. This is the first time I have been in Cherkasy, a town near Kiev, in the heart of Ukraine or volunteered and I enjoyed both throughly. Sasha my local volunteer coordinator and his family are very nice and were really helpful, showing me around town and translating for me. All of the children at the orphanage are so cute and sweet. They were always very excited to see me and very eager to practice speaking English. My host family lady is a very friendly and caring person and a good cook. Iím very much looking forward to returning to Ukraine this summer. I would recommend the Ukrainian Humanitarian Initiative to anyone who would like to help children and experience another culture.

Kelly Whitehurst, Denver, Colorado, United States of America

Sarah Chandler, 33, United Kingdom

The highlight of my month in Central Ukraine was undoubtedly the fantastic people I met. Children and adults alike made me feel welcome everywhere I went, and I was overwhelmed by their kindness, generosity and hospitality. Lots of people I met were eager to tell me about Ukraine and to learn about me and my country, all of which made for a very enriching experience. I volunteered in a school for children with learning difficulties and in two orphanages. The children were friendly and enthusiastic. I was welcomed with open arms, literally, and every day they asked "Will you be here tomorrow?". They were clearly excited to have a new face and some extra attention, and they were delightful to work with. The pleasure they got from the activities I did with them was very rewarding for me too. The staff were also lovely and supportive, and a lot of the time I was made to feel like royalty. Staying with a local lady was a a great way to learn lots about the Ukrainian way of life and culture. Host lady looked after me very well, she worked her way through the Ukrainian national dishes and made sure I was never hungry! I felt very at home, able to come and go as I pleased, with privacy if I wanted it and someone to chat to if I wanted. The town centre location was very handy. The programme coordinator of UHI did a great job of making sure things went smoothly - providing orientation in the first few days, introducing me to local people who became my friends, and providing lots of ideas for things to do in my time off. The surrounding countryside and towns are interesting places to visit, and there is also plenty to keep you occupied in towns - museums, parks, riverside beaches, concerts, theatre, English club,and even boevoy gopak... if you want to know what it is, come and find out!
Sarah Chandler, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Yin Chi Leung, 26, Hong Kong

We travel for fun, leisure and business, but seldom have we traveled for love. Ukraine is an unfamiliar nation for the people in Hong Kong. My decision to join the voluntary programme in the country is totally out of curiosity. I cannot speak in Ukrainian, I am not familiar with the Western culture though Hong Kong is an international city, and I lack experience of being a care-taker. It turns out to be the most amazing discovery of my life. My love and respect to the people, for their generosity, kindness, happiness, and all other positive qualities, will never end. Kindness is everything. We broke-through the language barriers and tried our best to understand each other. Children's laughter and smiles shined my days and became my energizer for the stressful work in Hong Kong. Remember one day when I first met a child called Anton. He has been a rebellious boy who always hopes to escape from the orphanage. He was kidnapped and later escaped from the trafficker, he has nowhere to go but he wanted to escape. He caught my attention and I wanted to protect the little boy in all means. On the last day of the program, he came to me with a gift made of chestnuts. Kindness is everything. All through the program, I have gotten much more than I give. I was not giving enough. "You should stay here for longer. One week is not enough", Alex, the gentleman who chairs the Ukrainian Humanitarian Initiative told me. It is very difficult for a Hong Kong working person to take more than two weeks of holiday. I am very lucky to have my company's support. However, yes, I was not giving enough. I hope I could stay with the children longer, to understand them and teach them my languages. Now, every night, I pray for them before sleep. I wish they will grow up healthily, contributing to the society and the world. This is a mother's wish to their future. I regard every one of them as my children. They are the unique ones. Easy to do than say, please allow me to join the force and take care of the children. This will be my life-long project. "Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace", once Mother Teresa said. I firmly believe in the words.

Yin Chi Leung, Hong Kong

Daniel Frost, 30, United Kingdom

During my short trip to Ukraine in July 2012 I had the amazing privilege of meeting and working with the Ukrainian Humanitarian Initiative and local coordinator Alex. First off you receive such a warm welcome by your taxi driver, a great individual even if you don't speak Russian or Ukrainian you can still have a laugh with him. On arriving in Cherkasy I was kindly given a tour around town by the taxi driver (Don't think this is an official feature but if you are nice to him you may get to do the same.) Next was meeting Alex...Such a warm caring individual who really does go all out to helping to make your stay as comfortable as possible, and I swear he seems to have contacts with everyone he really seems to be able to get anything you need at any time! His wife and son are great people to, very interesting to talk to. My host was also amazing, such a nice lady who really tries hard to welcome you into her home and cooks some really tasty meals! Moving on to the camps... The kids here are absolutely amazing and I loved every moment of being in the camps. The kids are amazing and really well behaved (some can be very excitable though, but nothing that cannot be handled) and I really can't wait to get back there and hopefully see them again... At times you will need to be patient and just go with situations, something I admittedly find very hard to do but you soon learn to adjust to it. Things do have a tendency to just pop up at the last moment so always keep that in mind! Some situations can seem a bit odd to foreigners eyes e.g. being asked to paint a water tower, or fences and logs etc... but none of these are compulsory and can be quite fun to do! Although beware I ended up getting my head painted by Glenn, a volunteer from New Zealand when he wasn't watching where his paint roller was going! Meeting the other volunteers was brilliant as well as they are such great people I would love to see and work with them again so maybe this year guys and girls?? I would love to go back this summer and work permitting I want to try and get there a few times a year (That's what is great you don't just have to volunteer in the summer you can do it year round!) Also this year I would love to get to a cossack initiation!! Alex any chance that can happen?!? being with the young ones after that hike was really interesting! So in summary I really cannot give a high enough recommendation to UHI in Ukraine... It is so well run and organised by Alex with the support of his wife. The kids in the camps/orphanages/schools are amazing, hosts are great, the taxi driver is one of the best you can get, if you and there when Rosie, Cas or Glenn are there then you will also be in for a treat. Just amazing all round!
Dan Frost , London , England

Rebecca Jones, 29, United Kingdom

How did you feel before you joined the programme?
Before joining the programme with UHI I felt a little nervous and excited all at the same time. But the programme coordinator, made it all very easy and worry free for me. It was quite a last minute decision for me to actually go ahead and book it and I was worried I'd left it too late but coordinator was really organised and sorted it all out really efficiently.

What was the accommodation like?
I stayed with a lovely lady called Katerina who was just so welcoming and kind to me. When I first arrived in city it was late and dark and we pulled up outside this tower block that looked quite intimidating and run down in the dark and I have to admit I thought to myself  “why am I doing this?” But then the second I walked into the apartment I totally forgot those thoughts and was surprised at how modern and cozy the place was. Even though Katerina didn't speak much English we became really good friends and quickly found different ways to communicate with each other. She's also an excellent cook and I'm sure I've come home a couple of pounds heavier!

What did you think of the programme?
The Ukraine was everything that I had expected and more. I had so many memorable experiences and met so many wonderful people I don't know where to start. During my four weeks I not only visited the orphanages everyday but was invited to speak at the local women's centre, the local English club and I was a guest at one of the universities English class. I was invited to birthday parties and meals at people's houses and was even taught how to make some traditional Ukrainian dishes, which are delicious!

The Ukrainian people were so welcoming and friendly I was overwhelmed by their generosity and hospitality.  They were so enthusiastic and wanted to know everything about me and where I was from. There was one afternoon when I was in a taxi and the driver, who didn't speak any English, handed me his mobile phone and told me to speak! It turned out it was his daughter who was learning English in school and he wanted me to say hello to her! One memory that I will treasure is when the Shoeboxes arrived at the orphanage. As a primary school teacher my class participates every year in the filling of shoe boxes that are sent to disadvantaged children all over the world so it was lovely to be able to see where the boxes actually end up and to see the children's faces as they opened them.  One little girl in particular stays in my mind. Her name was Christina and she was three years old. Inside her box was a toothbrush that flashed when you pressed a button and two pairs of gloves that had snowflakes on them. She put on both pairs of gloves and then went around the room laughing and smiling and babbling in Ukrainian showing everyone her flashing toothbrush and her pretty new gloves.
It brought tears to my eyes.

How have you benefited from your experience?
Although I'm a primary school teacher I was really nervous about teaching English in the orphanages especially as many of the children were teenagers. But I soon found out that I had nothing to worry about, as the children were really friendly and eager to learn.
I feel I have definitely grown in confidence and have more confidence in my own abilities.

What advice could you offer to someone considering this project?
I would advise anyone to just go ahead and do it. As long as you're adaptable, patient, willing to learn and have buckets of love to share then this is definitely a project and a country that you should consider.

Rebecca Jones, Wales, UK

Barbara A.Gaver, Baltimore, MD, USA

The article from "The Baltimore Sun", Baltimore, Maryland

Five children:  Katerina, 17, and her brother, Sasha, 13; Lydia, 14; and Svetlana, 11, and her brother, Johnny, 9, have come from orphanages in the Ukraine to live in Barbara’s quaintly gabled, frosting-pink, almost fairy-tale house in Baltimore, MD.

Theirs is an odyssey filled with courage, great faith, and joy and also with heartbreak.

Barbara had longed for children for a long time, but after 20 years of marriage, she and her husband Walt were still childless.

Although she was more than willing to adopt a child, "My husband had a hard time with the idea of adoption" she recalls. When Walt’s father died in 1991, Barbara, a Catholic, in support of her husband, began to attend his and his father’s orthodox church in Baltimore."I looked at the altar until my eyes were burning", she says.  "I said, Jesus, please give us a family!" The same year that her father-in-law died, the Iron Curtain crumbled, and the Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union and open to the Western world.Barbara told Walt, why not to go to the Ukraine to adopt a child, this would be a great thing for your father’s memory  I was hoping the Lord would open his heart.

In the church"He was the kind of person for whom anything is possible" says Barbara. "I said, do you think you could help us find a child?  He said, no problem!" In December, 1992, Walt left for the Ukraine to find a child.  Barbara, grateful that his reluctance to adopt had thawed, promised him fervently, "Whoever you choose, I will love!" The following March, Barbara followed him over to sign adoption papers in Cherkasy, an oblast (similar to an American state) about 2 hours from the  capital, Kiev.

Walt, with Alex’s help, had found 2 -year-old Sasha (a nickname for Alexander) in the neighborhood orphanage. The police had rescued Sasha, then 1 year old, and his 5-year-old sister, Katerina, found locked alone in a run-down house in the cold of winter, with no heat save for the body heat from some animals. Katrina's mother had died, her father was in jail, and she and Sasha had been left in the care of her stepmother, who drank, beat her with a stick, and often left the two children locked alone in the house for days at a time. The neighbors had heard cries coming from the house and called the police, who broke down the door and found Katerina holding her tow-headed baby brother in her arms. The only food in the house was a small barrel of apples. She was chewing the apples and then feeding them to Sasha, because he was too young to chew them, says Barbara.  He was half-dead when the police found them. Katerina was placed in another orphanage for older children, about 100 miles from Sasha’s orphanage for babies.  Barbara wanted to adopt her, and a little girl in Sasha’s orphanage named Lydia as well. The authorities would let her and Walt have Sasha because he was a special needs child, but not the two girls. The superintendent in charge warned her, "You had better take Sasha while you can, because our country is in political turmoil, and the adoption laws are going to change soon. Come back in a year for Katerina and Lydia", officer advised.

So Sasha, this little pumpkin Barbara calls him affectionately arrived in America on April 30, 1993. In 1994, Barbara was ready to go back for Katerina and Lydia, but that year, she went through the shattering experience of splitting up with her husband. She underwent a deep conversion experience, she says:  "I got down on my knees.  I said, Jesus, I need a husband; will you marry me?"  (Barbara said it with a smile). He said, "You can cry for a week, but then you need to go back and get Katerina and Lydia"  "I said, How can I do this?  I’m a single mom, and I don’t know the language". Despite her qualms, Barbara tried to go to the Ukraine that year, but because there was changing in the adoption process, the government banned all adoptions. The ban was not lifted until 1997.

On December 14, 1997, I was on a plane to the Ukraine, says Barbara.. With the help of her old friend, Alex, who acted as an interpreter, Barbara shuttled back and forth between Katrina's orphanage and Lydia's orphanage. She met Katerina for the first time in the orphanage library. Not able to communicate with words, says Barbara, I hugged her.  I felt her hug me back just a little bit.  I thought, Oh, what a beautiful child!  Is there hope here?  Will she love me?

Barbara had to go through a separate court hearing, in different courts, for each girl.  During the long process, she and the two girls often stayed in Alex two-bedroom apartment, along with his two children. After the judges ruled in her favor, Barbara, Katerina and Lydia traveled by train from Kiev to the American embassy in Warsaw, Poland, to get the girl’s immigrant visas. At the Polish border, they watched in fascination as their train was jacked up beneath them and new wheels put on to fit the different-sized rails in Poland. Frustration awaited them in Warsaw.  During the time Barbara had been in the Ukraine, the U.S. regulations had changed.  The authorities at the embassy would not accept Barbara’s bank statements as proof of income; they now required her tax returns for the last three years. Barbara’s long-distance attempts to get her returns faxed over failed. Alex had to take the kids back to the orphanages.  I came back to the U.S., my senator had to write a letter to the embassy, and I faxed all my returns over.

Barbara went back in March.  On May 3, 1998, Katerina and Lydia finally arrived in America. On the same day, our cat had three kittens, says Barbara with a grin. Each child had a kitten.  This was a real icebreaker! Even when she left the Ukraine, though, Barbara knew that she would come back. I felt that Jesus had a plan for me, she explains. She thought that that plan was to adopt Lydia’s older sister, Oksana, and brother, Andri.

But by the time she got there in 2002, Oksana had run away from the orphanage. Lydia’s 15-year-old brother, Andri, was still there.  But local clerk had delayed to register him on the national databank, effectively blocking his adoption. Bureaucrat's negligence unenabled his adoption, says Barbara. She was disappointed and confused.  I said, Jesus, I thought you wanted me to adopt Lydia's brother and sister.  But, I said, your will be done. Alex took her back to Katherine’s orphanage, where she met Johnny and his sister, Svetlana. Both children were suffering from rickets, due to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies in their diets.

At the orphanage, they didn’t get milk or juices.  They gave us tea and water, says Johnny.  They gave me fish with bones in them.  I choked on them.  I had to go to the hospital.  We were fighting a lot with the other kids.  I’m glad I'm out of there. The adoption process went more smoothly this time.  I said more Rosaries when I was over there! exclaims Barbara. She brought Johnny and Svetlana (she shortened her name to Lana) back to the U.S. on August 3, 2002.

Lana and Johnny attend a School in Hamilton. Katrina’s schooling in the Ukraine had been sketchy, says Barbara.  She had only three years of schooling, and missed a lot of time due to illness. In America, however, she caught on quickly; she was very bright. Barbara placed her at the school, where she began in the sixth grade. Academically, the school was good, says Barbara, But I didn’t like the moral influence of some of the kids in her group. Katerina transferred to Baltimore Lutheran, where she is on partial scholarship. Her brother Sasha goes to St. Elizabeth’s, a school for children with special needs. He may have only a second grade reading level, but he is virtuous; he is very devout in church, says Barbara.

Every night, Sasha and I would pray for a reunion with Katerina. I consecrated him to Christ in Mary. I have consecrated all of them, but mostly him. Lydia began at Mt. Washington School. She picked up the language so fast, they bumped her from the first grade to the third.  But she had no first or second grade concepts; she couldn’t handle the work says Barbara. Lydia was hospitalized for severe illness. She has undergone many hospitalizations, and has been treated with  different medications. For the past year, she has been institutionalized at Good Shepherd School, where Barbara is allowed to visit her twice a week.

After much heartfelt prayer, Barbara was recently elated to receive a warm and affectionate letter for Lydia from her sister, Oksana. We have been trying to contact her for six years says Barbara. When she took the letter and enclosed photos to Lydia, she smiled like I haven’t seen her smile for a long time Barbara recalls happily. Barbara hopes that hearing from her sister will give Lydia a new lease on life. I don’t know if she’ll ever come home, she muses.

I think of St. Monica, how she prayed for her son for 20 years.  I don't know her future.  But none of us knows our future.

Charitable Nonprofit Organization // Kiev, 03047 Ukraine     phone +38-096-3339373

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