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Photo Report of Volunteers’ Activities at the Children’s Home Kalinovka-Steinbach in June-July of 2008

September 10, 2008, 10:00 23893 Author: Anna Gerashchenko, Kharkov; translated by Andy Shenk and edited by David Sudermann, USA www.deti.zp.ua An account of the work of the volunteer mission at the facility for children with special needs in the village of Kalinovka (Steinbach), Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia Oblast

In June and July of 2008 a group of volunteers, comprised of Andy Shenk (USA), Dmytro Say (Ukraine and Tufts University), Irina Moresi (Switzerland/ Estonia) and Anna Gerashchenko (Ukraine), traveled to the Chernigovka Children’s Home in the village of Kalinovka. The purpose of the trip was to extend all possible help to the personnel in taking care of the children, to become better acquainted with the educators and personnel, as well as to gather information about the pressing needs for this facility for seriously disabled children, many with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other neurological disability.

Members of the volunteer mission of summer 2008 in the Kalinovka children’s home (from left to right): Irina Moresi, Anya Gerashchenko, Andy Shenk and Dmytro Say.

A one-time trip to any children’s home never gives a full understanding of what’s really going in such closed systems. Only by living a given amount of time in the home and interacting with the children and staff can you form a realistic picture of the conditions, understand the reasons for existing problems, and develop ways to resolve them.

Before the trip, the volunteers knew each other through internet correspondence, so that when we met in the Zaporizhzhia (Zaporozhe) train station we already felt acquainted. After making a trip to a supermarket to buy various toys to use in our activities with the children, we hit the road. At Kalinovka we were met by the director of the children’s home, Nikolai Viktorovich Slavov. At the outset I would like to express appreciation for his warm spirit and hospitality. For our stay, an apartment, provided free of charge by the internat, was very comfortable and homey. The thrice-daily meals, offered at reduced cost, were even better than home-cooking.

The following day we met with our teachers, who are able to work thanks to the contributions of our sponsors (through Happy Child Charitable Fund). We first met with Valentina Vasilyevna, who is in charge of the group of “older crawlers,” and visited the classroom where she conducts classes with the children. (The designation of the group could now be changed since in the past few months wheelchairs have been provided to those needing them, thanks to the efforts of Maryanna Voronovich, Ukrainian fund "Children’s Buddies" and the Wheelchair Foundation).

The boys competed to show us their achievements: drawings, cut-outs, hand-made items – everything was about the same as what one might find in a normal daycare. One boy proudly displayed legos, which he himself put together. Another recited verses, which he recently learned with Valya (thus the boys address our teacher). It was striking that all of the children, including little Oleg, the smallest and most energetic of the group, cleaned up after themselves and put everything on the shelf in the closet. They treated the toys and books very carefully. Indeed, Valentina Vasilyevna told us that in the beginning she had to throw out toys by the bushel full as the children broke them very quickly. Gradually she taught the children to put everything in its place. Progress is especially apparent against the backdrop of the 18-30 year youths from the adult group, who frequently come into the classroom, periodically forcing open the door. “Our students” react forcefully to the older guys and strictly regulate uninvited guests, who occasionally chew and color in books, or stealthily take crayons and markers from the room. In general “to learn” is the most frequently heard word from the children. Our path to the cafeteria lay near the boys’ pavilion, and seeing us from afar they began to ask: “So when are we going to learn?”

Seryozha – one of Valentina Vasilyevna’s brightest students

Ruslan – basically unable to converse, but nonetheless under¬stands very well, listens to instructions, and loves to look at books and color pictures

Artyom in the classroom

Oleg – almost completely unable to talk, but very active and understands most of what is told him

Class in session...

Next we became acquainted with Valentina Fyodorovna’s group of younger crawlers (10 kids). This group used to be in the building with the bedfast children. Now ten tanned, strong children, who go or crawl largely on their own, spend all their time outside. Valentina Fyodorovna tries to turn each day she spends with the children into a small holiday. Despite the protests of several nannies – “The children will get dirty!” – she often puts the children in the sandbox, whereupon they are immediately joined by several older girls. Someone carefully makes pathways, or simply pours sand from one container into another. As in any normal sandbox, arguments arise over the buckets or shovels, but I noticed with surprise that many of the children, upon grabbing a new toy, hurried to offer their own. The kiddies, including the most grown-up, play in the sandbox for hours on end.

After their second breakfast, consisting of bananas, kiwis, pineapples, or ice cream, the motley company sets off on a walk. The adult girls from the older group, with Valentina Fyodorovna in charge, take 10 youngsters on wheelchairs to a meadow or to observe from afar a small pond. Valentina Fyodorovna tells the kids about everything that is going on around them. For children who have spent their whole lives in cribs, many things open up for the first time. Understandably, their reaction to what’s going on around them is often expressed through tears, laughter or loud cries. In general, to work with this group is very difficult: the little ones (ages 5-7) are always asking to be held; they are capricious and demand 100% attention for themselves. One is only left with great admiration for the patience and care, with which Valentina Fyodorovna has surrounded her children. She herself says that it was probably God that gave her the opportunity to devote the remainder of her life to these children. I looked at her thematically-organized notes of their activities – it seems that every word in the notebook is permeated with love for the children.

Valentina Fyodorovna’s group (younger kids) spends nearly every summer day outside underneath an awning

The Kalinovka internat now has several dozen wheelchairs. Volunteers take daily walks with children who cannot move about on their own or only with great difficulty

Getting Acquainted with the Wards for Bedridden Children

The children themselves have been moved into a newly-renovated building [formerly the Jacob and Maria Schmidt Dick mansion] while renovations are currently taking place in the former wards for the bedfast children [the Jacob Dick “barn”]. The old wood single-pane windows are being replaced with thermopane plastic-clad windows and the workers are planning to complete the interior work by the middle of September. The temporary wards were newly-renovated last year and have clean, bright rooms. The children themselves lie on clean, colorful sheets. In the words of one aide, she doesn’t fear any state inspection commissions now. With one voice the staff all note the improved care of the children and living conditions, all of which has come about under the watch of the new director: pampers instead of wet diapers; the absence of bedsores and irritants for the children; clean sheets for the children and not just at inspection time; and 10 instead of 15-18 children per aide.

In the bedfast building there is now a special atmosphere: most likely because of their age and condition there is felt a warm and considerate attitude toward the children. Nonetheless, someone who would daily engage the children, take them out of their cribs, give massages, play, and take at least a small group of them outside is sorely needed. Of course, here also there are problems that we will try to solve with time: the rapid feeding of the children and the absence of rehabilitation.

A capital renovation is now underway in the building (left) where children were formerly “confined to bed” (the structure is the former Jacob Dick “barn”). The children from this building were moved to the one-story building (right) renovated in 2007 (the former Jacob Dick house)

On the third day our teachers left for a seminar in Lvov. Their trip was organized by Maryanna Voronovich and the Zaporizhzhia Fund Happy Child (www.deti.zp.ua), and we took up our responsibilities at Kalinovka. In the morning Andy worked with the group of older “crawlers” in the classroom. Dima and Ira were in the bedfast building. I worked with the group of younger crawlers. After lunch and a short break we went to work with the group of older crawlers. Frankly, it wasn’t easy. Thirty kids, all different in age, intellectual ability, and severity of disability were difficult to manage. You could take a group of kids on a walk, but then those left behind would begin to cry or scream. The aides observed that after the walks the children become much more energetic and unruly. Such behavior is completely understandable – having received a taste of freedom, the children must return to their restrictive pavilion, where they must spend the rest of their time, often just sitting.

It was also quite clear that two aides and one teacher for such a diverse group is woefully inadequate. We ourselves became aware of how difficult it is to balance between freedom and discipline. If the children take note of too gentle treatment, many begin to play on our feelings. Thus, one child began constantly to crawl out of his wheelchair and then call for help, despite the fact that he always climbed up on the wheelchair himself. Another independently mobile child began to demand that he be brought a chair and helped to sit in it. Imagine now dozens of voices trying to out scream each other, demanding attention to themselves.

Teacher Valentina Fyodorovna gives Maxim a massage (due to cerebral palsy he has very high muscle tone and is forced to lie in a stiff position)

Alyosha Makarenko Alyosha Makarenko has made significant progress – he has become much more adept, and he learned independently to eat with a spoon utilizing the available parts of his arm and leg

Dima Say, a graduate student at Tufts University, USA, preparing to help children with special needs, is working here with some of the most challenged children in Kalinovka

At 4 o’clock Dima and Andy went back again to the building with the bedfast children. They played with them or took them outside in wheel¬chairs, while Ira and I engaged in coloring and drawing with the older girls and some of the group of younger crawlers. The girls loved drawing so much that as soon as they saw us they ran to intercept us and asked or motioned as to when we would draw again. After supper the two volunteers helped feed the bedfast children.

In the building working with the group of girls

For all practical purposes we only avoided dealing with the group of older guys, although with time several of them began to help us on our walks with the wheelchair kids. Others invariably filtered into the classroom and would sit there attempting to draw, cut out pictures of animals, or simply page through books. In general, it turned out that despite their frightening appearance, it was possible to find common ground with these older guys.

Drawing on the asphalt – an attempt to find a “common language” with the oldest residents in Kalinovka

New t-shirts from sponsors – for the “youth team” in Kalinovka

Every morning teacher of music Dmitri, formerly employed as a head of a music collective in a local house of culture and in a preschool, arrives in the classroom. First sitting and listening to modern and traditional songs, then with such enthusiasm, the boys perform the songs and clap, feeling a spirit of gaiety filling the room through the notes of the ancient accordion. It was difficult to believe that only four months ago, as Dmitri admitted, he had no idea of how to reach the children.

With music teacher Dima’s arrival in the playroom the atmosphere immediately becomes merry and friendly. Despite their disabilities, the children react to the songs and music just like most people

Allina Lyis, a native of Galichina (Galicia in western Ukraine) and a representative of the charitable Dutch organization HOMICO ontwikkelingshulp, came to visit. Headed by Jan Nelemans, HOMICO gave 3000€ toward the purchase of equipment from the firm ALMAKO (dry pool; soft, cushioned labyrinth blocks, etc.). The equipment has already been purchased and taken to the children’s home and will be set up once the younger boys’ building is finished with renovations. We want to express our appreciation to the organization HOMICO for their help and interest shown in the problems of special-needs children.

Allina Lyis spent two days in Kalinovka, which were unforgettable for all of us. Alongside the financial help, ten standers, toys, and school supplies, she also brought face paint. In just half an hour the older girls, with Allina’s artistic help, were transformed into lions, rabbits, fairies and other creatures.

In the last week we also befriended the children of the staff living at Kalinovka. The kids literally followed us everywhere, asking when we would play with them. We had to find the energy to play soccer with them in the evenings and paint the children’s faces.

Anna Gerashchenko with the children of the personnel who work at the children’s home

We spent three weeks at the internat, weeks that gave us a great deal in return. Devoting our time to the children, playing and strolling with them, it seemed that we are giving them a chance to be happy. In reality, with their smiles, they gave us far more in return. Pushing the wheelchair with Murat (cerebral palsy) and seeing the pearly-white smile on his dark-complexioned face, it suddenly occurred to me personally that I had not felt myself so happy in a long time. As I observed how diligently the girls were coloring pictures or drawing with chalk on the asphalt, I understand that not much is needed for children to feel happy.

We also saw what was necessary to improve the conditions of the children’s lives at the internat. Once again I would like to thank the administration of the children’s home, and especially Nikolai Viktorovich Slavov, who is trying mightily to change the lives of the children for the better. I’m also grateful for Nikolai Viktorovich’s understanding and support of our initiatives.

We want to expand the teaching staff working under the financial support of Happy Child (www.deti.zp.ua).For this we are looking for the funds to support two more teachers: one for the group of older girls and the other in the bedfast building. Up to now the group of older girls has still not been included in any educational process, despite the fact that the children really want to learn. Seeing the progress that the other children make, to whom our Happy Child teachers give purposeful instruction, we would wish to give that chance to the other children.

We are looking for sponsors or donors for teachers’ salaries, and, just as for our current two teachers, we are looking for people who could give 15-20 euro monthly (or some other doable amount) toward compensation for the additional teachers’ work. Once again I want to assure people that we saw with our own eyes the difference between children with whom a teacher is working and children who do not have anyone to instruct them. Two totally different worlds coexist within one internat.

A second teacher is essential for work with the bedridden children. Dima Say’s three weeks of work with them showed wonderful results. The group of promising children, in particular those with Down syndrome, when they received massages, regular tactile and motor stimulation, excursions outside, and help to play and be active inside, began to show interest in toys and their surrounding world. The children came alive in front of our eyes. Now these children can not only sit on their own, but also walk, given that someone takes them out of their cribs and attends to them, since their bone-muscle system is intact. We would really like to give them a chance. We owe Dima special respect for his work with the bedridden children. He “disappeared” into the building in the early morning and finished his working day when it was getting dark – I’ve never seen such “hardworking kindness.”

Needs for the children’s home as of August 2008 are as follows:

1. 4 functional metal children’s beds (length 150-170 cm, width 70 cm, preferably adjustable, “three-section” beds, wheels are optional)

Approximate cost: UAH 2500-3000 ($550-$650)

2. A mobile bed (gurney?) for moving heavier children from their rooms to the bathing room (UAH 700-900; $150-$200)

3. Air conditioners for the play/classrooms and children’s wards (in the summer the temperature in these rooms is extremely high, which makes it difficult for the teachers to carry out activities on the play/rehab equipment. In addition, the children being outside all summer when the temperature may reach 38°C (100°F) in the shade often leads to sunburn and exhaustion. At a minimum, no fewer than 15 air conditioners with output 12-18 would be needed. The cost of one air conditioner is UAH 1600-2600 ($350-$570) depending on output. The cost of installation would be around UAH 450 ($100).

4. School supplies: A4 paper, chalk, coloring books/sheets, pencils, crayons

5. Special bedside table for Anton.

6. Back supports (2) to allow a child to sit up half-way (for Anton and Lena).

7. Special toilet seats (1-2) for the group of older crawlers

8. Periodic purchase of essential medicines (Bioparox (throat), Motilium (digestion), Espumisan drops, Biovital gel (vitamins), antibiotic spray for noses, etc. Around UAH 200 ($45) weekly

9. Purchase of a special playground for children with special needs (UAH 30,000 – 50,000; $6500-$11,000)

10. Adaptation of bathrooms for children-invalids (installation of metallic and wooden hand-rails, etc.). Several thousand UAH ($500)

11. High quality, sturdy special furniture for children (little chairs, tables, closets), UAH 120 – 1000 apiece ($25-$220)

12. Musical equipment for concerts (2 speakers connected to an amplifier (100 watts with reverberator)

13. Metal doors with lock for the boys’ classrooms. (1 door – UAH 2000 [$430])

In order to make a donation to the Kalinovka children’s home you can donate to the charitable fund Happy Child and specify Kalinovka when making your donation, or donate needed equipment yourself, after contacting Happy Child volunteers beforehand. In the U.S. a tax-deductible donation to Happy Child and Kalinovka can be made through Eleanore’s Kids, 3619 E. 50th St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55417. You may also contact David Sudermann at dsudermann@charter.net for additional information.

Finally, something a bit more personal: it is those children, whose appearances tore at our hearts and compelled us to turn away, so that the tears that suddenly sprang up in our eyes would not betray to the children themselves how cruelly fate had dealt with them. Read and you will understand why we must not forget about them and the thousands of other children living in one of the Ukraine’s 21 homes for children of Groups III and IV (the most severely disabled).


Anton, 22, resides in a ward for the bedridden. As soon as you walk into the room, he calls to you: “Why did you abandon me, you won’t leave me, will you? Don’t abandon me, or I’ll cry.” He tells Valentina Fyodorovna: “Valya, I love you just the way you are.” Valentina Fyodorovna wipes tears from her face as he says this.

Alyosha Romanov

Alyosha, 17 – he’s with the group of older “crawlers.” Before a wheelchair appeared for him [a Happy Child contribution] he simply sat on his bed, leaning against the wall. During walks he tries to pick and smell the flowers, savoring the smell. He turns his face to the wind and it’s clear how much he enjoys the sensation of the breeze. Alyosha has difficulty pronouncing words, but he understands absolutely everything. He displays with great pride his Lego constructions, which are very difficult for him to assemble due to the difficulty of controlling his arms. When you come to take the children on a walk, Alyosha demonstratively beats his chest and the look on his face says: “Take me on a walk.” Alyosha easily learned several letters of the alphabet and it seems entirely possible that he could learn to read or even type on a computer – if someone were to work with him one-on-one.

Alyosha out in nature


Sasha is a sweet and obedient child. He’s also an indispensable helper during walks. He pushes one of the wheelchairs, but then, on a moment’s notice, will leave the wheelchair and hurry to embrace you, saying “Mama,” “Mama, will you come again? You won’t forget me?” Sashka, gentle Sashka, how could I ever forget you?


Lara is from Valentina Fyodorovna’s group of younger crawlers. She is 13 years old. While walking through an alley of trees, she asked to stop the wheelchair and reached for the branch of an evergreen. “Anya, what kind of tree is this? What’s it called? Anya, it smells so nice.” If you rode along an uneven path, Lara would begin to laugh and laugh, just like other girls her age laugh. Sometimes, just like other girls, she becomes sad, too. At times like this she simply sits in her wheelchair and quietly cries.


Maxim hardly talks. He just smiles when you take him in your arms. Smiling, he tries to throw a ball, build with blocks, or eat. Everything with a smile, if only someone notices. What’s more, he pats the girl with a doll-like face sitting next to him on the head and sweetly says: “Zhenya.”


Murat – when I looked into his eyes during a walk I felt that I had not been that unconditionally happy in a long time. Because it is Such Happiness to see Such a Smile on the face of an adult who’s still a child in spirit.

Saying Good-bye for Now

For several reasons my report somehow turned out rather sunny and “smooth.” In reality, we saw many factors that demand correction or rooting out. However, even the most minimal changes for the better are impossible to attain without regular volunteer visits to Kalinovka. One-time or infrequent visits from guests (however many first-class gifts might be delivered at one time) do not have the same effect as regular reappearances [among the children at Kalinovka]. As one of the aides correctly observed when we were saying our goodbyes: “These children do not need clothes or toys – the only thing they need is attention.”

Sunset at Kalinovka is unbelievably beautiful

Visit to the Internat at Znamenka

After Kalinovka, Dima Say (graduate student volunteer from Tufts University, USA) and I visited the Znamenka home for special needs children (Kirovograd Province, Ukraine). Our trip there turned out to be memorable. We want to express thanks to the volunteer at that children’s home, Maryanna Voronovich, for the opportunity to receive invaluable experience and a sea of information. It seems it is indeed possible to attain the impossible in any system given one essential quality—Overwhelming Desire fundamentally to change particular individual lives. We’re going to try!

Classes at the Znamenka children’s home

Crafts made from beads by the students of the Znamenka children’s home

In order to make a donation for the needs of the Kalinovka children’s home you are welcome to donate to the Fund Happy Child and specify Kalinovka when making your donation, or donate needed equipment independently, after contacting Happy Child (www.deti.zp.ua click on British flag for English). In the USA please contact David Sudermann at dsudermann@charter.net for information on making a tax-deductible donation for Kalinovka. We are building a network of regular sponsors.

Anna Gerashchenko, Kharkov, Ukraine

+3 8 095 01245 42, ann.g.ko@gmail.com

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