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Ged visits Hope & Homes

On 25 February 2008, Ged visited Ukraine with two colleagues to find out how the work of Hope and Homes for Children is progressing. This post details Ged thoughts and feelings before she went to the Ukraine and during each of the three days she was there. As part of our journey from Cardiff to London, Slow Travel Girls are raising money for Hope & Homes. You can read more about their work and donate here.

Hope and Homes for Children’s overall aim in Ukraine is to work in partnership with local and national government to influence the reform process of the state system of care. This includes the closure of large institutions for orphans and children deprived of parental care and the
set up of community based alternatives.
Another objective is to establish Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) to help prevent the abandonment of children. These units are for mothers who desperately want to keep their babies but need extra support in the short term to enable them to do so. The main aim of the units is to help prevent children being separated from their biological mothers.  Support from social workers, nurses, psychologists and other specialists help mothers learn how to take care of their babies and prepare them to lead an independent life.
Before leaving the UK…
I can't believe that the trip is only days away – I’m looking forward to it but there are more than a few nerves mixed in there too!  Whilst we have all become shopaholics recently to take gifts to the children, (I've definitely lost my gold star for travelling light!), that has been the easy bit. I'm sure the gifts will brighten up the kid's days but we will come back with a much greater insight into the reality of what life is like on a day to day basis for the children. I hope I come back and do this worthwhile cause justice.....seeing really will be believing."
Day 1
Straight from the airport to our first visit….
It was like walking into my own family cine films from the 1970s - all the kids lined up on the couch excitedly waiting for the visitors to arrive. It wasn't long before Rostyslav - aged 4 (and one of the cutest little boys in the world) stood up to recite 2 poems! His sisters soon followed this up with a few songs.
The Sypakiny family have fostered 23 children since 1990.  We were shown around the house and there were photos everywhere of all the children brought up here. We will no doubt be on the visitors' gallery soon!!
The hospitality and welcome was fabulous - enough food and drink to feed an army. I've never heard, made (and drunk) so many toasts in one afternoon!!
The parents talked often and proudly about all of their children but the most striking story for me was the one about the three youngest siblings aged 7, 6 and 4. They were found wandering in the woods. Stanislav, 4, then commented that his new mother was old but that this is still better than his real mother!
Day 2
Tuesday has proven to be a very varied and educational day. The morning started with us listening to a number of Hope and Homes for Children's Ukrainian staff explaining the history of their work in some detail and how it had recently developed to collaborate with both local and central government services. There was clearly some pride in their achievements which I could not do justice to here.  Amongst the most noteworthy, are the introduction of certain best practices into the social care system for abandoned children as well as the essential generation of new legislation to improve child protection in terms of the adoption and placement of orphaned children.
We then went on to a family which went from 3 siblings of their own to 12 in total through the "family type home" set up under HHC. The answer is humbling since despite having only enough food for their own family they answered the door one evening to 5 of the 25000 Ukrainian street children - hungry, desperate and in need of a bath.  The family invited the children in to share their supper, cleaned them, removed lice from their hair and insisted they return again soon. One of these children - George - became a member of the family, passed his exams despite having missed so much schooling and went on to serve in the army.  At 13 years old George was the main bread winner in his biological family with his mother and father both alcoholics. When his mother died, George was just 14 years old and seemed destined to a life on the street. Following that night when he and his four friends knocked on the door of the Batursky family, George's life changed forever.
If yesterday felt like the 1970s then today we went back another 50 years. The real reasons for our visit fell fully into focus for me within minutes of arriving at the Boyarka baby home (this is not a HHC supported home). The white coats worn by staff and the masks we were given was bad enough. However hearing that the "beautiful children" are more likely to be adopted than the "un-beautiful children" hit my already sensitive nerves. The latter are those with disabilities, although staff conceded that foreign families will adopt them.
The first room had two 3 month babies who were abandoned in the last two weeks. Despite our masks both responded instantly to our smiles and waves (we were allowed no more). The same happened with 2 disabled babies in the next room. The suggestion that some children don't respond to stimulation was totally alien to me and was clearly not the case.
To be fair the older children (age 2) in the playroom appeared happy and one little boy
enjoyed playing peek-a-boo with us. It wasn't long though before he was whisked away. We spent twice as long in the Directors office than we did visiting the children. The staff believe that they have the children's best interests at heart but their work is a legacy that is 70 years old. In the last 10 years HHC have certainly transformed significant elements of the childcare system and it's our job to support them with this valuable work.
Day 3
Our final day of official visits was the busiest we had experienced. After travelling about 300km we visited two families 'at risk' (of being broken up again), two fostering families with 23 children between them, a children's institution in the midst of being decommissioned and a modern mother and baby unit carrying out some enlightened work with some very young, single mothers.
At last I got to give out the gifts that I really wanted to today...cuddles!! It was my turn to create the tears... Snizhana (3) clung to me a cried as I left her foster home. I was her "special friend" and she wanted to come with me!
I caused more delay in the mother and baby unit, once again having to peel a little girl from my arm. In stark contrast to yesterday the MBU reignited my hope for the future inUkraine - while reluctantly accepting that it will be a slow process. There are two such units where the main objectives are to avoid abandonment and to teach the mothers valuable lifelong and vocational skills. Learning to breastfeed as well as the correct temperature in which to bathe the babies are vital skills to a 16 year old single mum. The homely atmosphere and culture of this unit was a stark contrast to the baby home we visited yesterday.
We then moved on to the Barvinok orphanage where I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there are only 27 children left from the 43 in 2006. HHC intend to reintegrate all of the children into some form of family based system by the end of 2008. The home will become an expanded kindergarten to provide day care to the local community. If only this could become the business model for all other Ukraine institutions. The Director was clearly less optimistic about this timetable and its overall success.
2011 Update!
The Barvinok orphanage has been closed and the brand new
Ray of Hope Centre has now opened. Read more about the Ray of Hope Centre here:
I will hold on to my memories of the mother and baby unit, foster families and supported families that leave me in no doubt about the positive outcomes that HHC can achieve. Every one of us can contribute to many more of these ongoing achievements.
Reflective blog – Back in the UK!
Dobryy Den!
I remember saying before I went toUkraine that "seeing is believing"......well, it should in fact be "seeing is understanding". I have been a strong supporter of Hope and Homes for Children for a few years, but I realise now that until I visited, I did not fully understand the needs of the children nor the culture that has, in a way, created those needs.  There is a long way to go, but it was fantastic to see what HHC have achieved so far and to know that the children who have been helped can now look forward to a much more positive outlook.  The character and confidence of the 4 years olds in the foster families was brilliant - and some of them had only been there a couple of months.  The ripple effect can only get better and better with time.
I am so chuffed to have been given this opportunity - thank you!  I have not stopped talking about the trip to family and friends over the weekend and I don't think I'll ever get bored of please, just keep asking questions! If I can pass on even some of my new understanding to you then the trip will have been well worthwhile.  It would be selfish of me to keep it all to myself!
Duzhe dyakuyu!
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