USNOF Pt. 1: Pahanets

Throughout the years, I have been able to meet people that have gone on to accomplish the truly impressive. I have friends that own/run multiple franchisees of an extremely popular donut chain, are entrepreneurs/owners who have started their own companies, are high ranking financial advisors, consultants and lawyers, are leading real estate agents in the country, executive producers, directors, editors, journalists, etc. The list is long (forgive me if you did not get a direct reference…), however I had never asked the question, “How do you do that everyday?” until just recently.

In mid June, I had the privilege of volunteering – I know – with an organization from the United States, The Ukraine Special Needs Orphanage Fund (USNOF). As an organization, they started in 2002 with the primary focus on intervention therapy education for Ukrainian organizations and schools. There are many people in Ukraine who are interested in this type of information, yet it is slow going from an exposure point of view – many of that is based on historical ideologies that are currently shifting.

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. The Special Needs Working Group had been working on developing a more direct partnership with USNOF for years and last year we were able to send one member, Greg, to participate in a week long trip. He raved about the experience, said it was one of the highlights of his service to date. That being said, I was not going to miss the opportunity should it arise again. On June 16th, I joined four (a fifth showed later) other Peace Corps Volunteers and the USNOF contingent in the beautiful northwestern city of Rivne for an emotional ride I was not anticipating.

The trip started with a tour of the amazing facilities at the Pahanets early intervention center. Here, the children receive individual intervention therapy similar (autism, mobility, speech, etc.) to that in the United States and offers integrated classes; they one of very few in the country that do this. What originally began as small trainings given by members of USNOF has now grown into a full-blown conference with families, therapists, teachers, and trainers to discuss current and better practices.

Canine Therapy
Canine Therapy


The boy told the dog to "Идти!!" (Go!!), when it got stuck.
The boy yelled at the dog to “Идти!!” (Go!!), when it got stuck. Was pretty hilarious.
The significance of this image is to show that through therapy (exposure and interaction), this autistic boy has been able to gradually overcome his fears
The significance of this image is to show that through therapy (exposure and interaction), this autistic boy has been able to gradually overcome his fears (the dog)

Kids Dancing

This young girl with downs syndrome will be attending "regular" school next year! She recited a beautiful poem and sang a song for everyone in attendance.
This young girl with downs syndrome will be attending “regular” school next year! She recited a beautiful poem and sang a song for everyone in attendance.
Speech therapy demonstration
Speech therapy demonstration

…needless to say, we were impressed with what we say…

The kids each get to pick out their own toy, it helps them to identify their beds.
I’ve never been inside a facility like this in the US, but if they have half the things as Pahanets, I’d still be impressed
A salt-therapy room…donated
I had never seen anything like this before.
More therapy “equipment”
Each room also had it’s own theme for different groups of children.



Discussing new techniques



The woman in the middle is the director of the facility. She has transformed an abandoned and condemned space into the facility it is today. Again, impressive.
Kids will always be kids
Kids will always be kids

This is Pt.1 of 3 for a reason. During our week in Rivne, we also spent time at an orphanage for children with mental or cognitive disorders and an intake facility where children have been removed from their homes, for any number of reasons (similar to child protective services), and social workers investigate their living situation. I have many more pictures and stories to share, but want to highlight each place individually. Ultimately, at the end, it became clear to me that I do not have the emotional capacity to be a social worker…this will become clearer later.

To my friends and family who are therapists or social workers, Thank you!




4 thoughts on “USNOF Pt. 1: Pahanets

  1. Pete, this facility is amazing. Every child with special needs should have access to these early interventions because it makes such a difference long term. However, many of these early interventions cost a good chunk of change that most families in the US cannot afford. I look forward to reading Parts II & III.

    Take care! Love reading what you have shared over the years with us on your blog.

    1. Michelle, I couldn’t agree with you more! The wonderful thing about this facility is that it is actually supported by the local government – which is extremely rare. The Director is not afraid to put the pressure on local politicians, ever.

      Look forward to the next two parts as well! Thank you so much for reading, hope to share more often over my last five months. Please give my best to Ruben and Aiden!

  2. Great stuff, Pete. Happy to hear your Ukrainian summer is fulfilling and eventful. Looking forward to reading parts 2 and 3 🙂 Come home soon!

    1. Thanks, Stu, appreciate it! It’s already flown by and before I know it, it’ll be September and I’ll be starting to slightly freak out. Shoot me an email sometime, how’s the transition been and what’re you up to now? Congrats on finishing the Masters, too!

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