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Ukraine Mercy Visit by HabAid 2014

Date: 11th September 2014 – Ukraine

Today one of our committee members, Robert Waterman, was on a mercy mission to the Ukraine to see first hand how we can help the orphaned children in Zhitomir. Here is his report:

 

I left my hotel this morning around 08:30 – I was picked up by Vladamir (driver/guard), who drove me to the orphanage in Zhitomir – there I met the Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm, his assistant Andrey and the lady that runs the “campus” Malki.

I was given a tour of the campus – child free as they were at school – following Rowel’s (vice Chairman of HabAid) suggestion I looked in the children’s cupboards. The buildings were OK, the clothing in the cupboards was clean but basic. They then took me to the dining room where we had an early lunch, their cook was very obliging but their equipment is crumbling – most of the cookers are broken, their potato peeler is broken. Although there are 38 residents of the orphanage there are many more families/refugees on campus. Primarily from the East – Lugansk, Donetsk and Mariupol.

After lunch I was taken to the Jewish school which has around 130 children, I met the 38 from the orphanage and many more. Yesterday around 30 new children arrived from the East (refugees). This was quite emotional as many of these children came from normal homes, but have nothing now apart from the clothes on their backs. Some even designer clothes but nothing else, homes, businesses even papers have all been destroyed in the war. The principal Hanna Gitel, a forceful lady, told me that she had a problem. Every few days she gets more and more children, but she did not even have notebooks or textbooks, or any resources for them, I took the decision that if I had any funds left I would help with this. I called Lane (HabAid chairman) to check that he agreed. I called Rowel also but could not get through. In honesty I think I was going to find a way to provide these books anyway because I saw the need as I went into every classroom and observed 2 things: the lack of resources but also the refugees with a glazed look on their faces – one of I think to be stress/shock.

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The  children had not been told of my visit because the organisers were not sure that I would come, or that if I did what time I would spend where and they did not want to get the children over excited. The principal of the school had been asked in advance however, that should it be necessary she would allow her students that live on the orphanage the afternoon off to go shopping. The Orphanage had arranged a bus should it be required for the children to go shopping. Just prior to departure to the shopping centre the school principal Hannah asked me for 1 major favour (she did not know at this point that I would buy the books for the school) there was one child that although not at the orphanage was in particular need and could I include her in the shopping trip – I agreed.

I then met the children with Malki and 2 other helpers at the shopping centre and for the next 3 hours we were buying clothes. I cannot confirm that every child got exactly the same items, but I can confirm that there was a list of 39 names and that every child walked away with at least 2 items and with a broad grin on their faces. Malki said to me that the thing that made the trip most special was that for many of the children it was the first rime that they had been shopping with independent choice. What she meant was that in the past they have been given items or even taken to a shop, but the person helping took them to one shop and said that they must buy their goods in that shop. The children, many for the first time, felt not like second class citizens but like children shopping. I sent them off in groups and when they had reserved the items they wanted, they came and got me and I negotiated and then paid. In most circumstances this worked, there were a few times when items selected were over expensive or not suitable, but in these cases Malki had normally dealt with this before I needed to say anything

The only slightly disconcerting matter was that a number of the children may be poor but have mobile telephones. I spoke to Alexander about this (my contact from Klitschko – he laughed and told me that the beggars in the Ukraine have mobile phones and that a person could have a phone and no bread for lunch or shoes for their feet  here). When I told him yesterday that the organisers proposed this shopping centre “Caravan” – I gave him the name he informed me that it was both reasonable and suitable.

I have just got back to my hotel 11pm here. I am seeing Alexander tomorrow or Thursday to obtain some more Klitschko memorabilia.

To conclude after doing the shopping – every child has shoes and a coat. About 2 did not want coats because their coats were suitable already they got other clothes instead. There was money left over so with this I acquired the books required by the school, There is still money left over I will be bringing this back with me, I am not sure exactly how much as I was able to buy. Some of the items were on credit card and money was also exchanged from Pounds to Euros and then into local currency for the shops and people that would not accept credit cards which was just about over 50%. I have receipts for most items and am about to write them down. My driver/guard is negotiating a price for cash with me I suspect I will not get a receipt. One shop where we spent the most money, the main shoe shop, we obtained a great discount of over 25%. I will also have a small problem with the local currency that i have left it is not easily convertible back but I will try and use this for food, driver etc.

Its been an extremely hard but rewarding day, I think we have all done a good deed, I have probably forgotten a lot but felt that writing you an email immediately would help me collect my thoughts and begin to notarise my mission.

 

Robert