Children enter orphanages for any number of reasons here, one being that the parents decide they are not capable of raising the child. When I first arrived in country, it was hard to fathom how a parent could do that. After a while, however, I started to think “Imagine how hard this was for the parent to decide!” With salaries what the are in most of Ukraine, in some situations it actually is better in the long term: the child will receive treatment and potentially be adopted by a family that can meet his or her needs.
In Ukraine, special needs are divided into four levels: 1) minor physical disabilities, 2) more severe physical disabilities, 3) any type of cognitive or mental disorder, and 4) a combination of severe mental and physical disabilities. As part of our time in Rivne, each morning we traveled as a group to a level three orphanage. The role us Peace Corps Volunteers had was amazingly simple really: Play with the kids. Like any children, they were hesitant at first, however by the end of the week some of us were being used as human jungle gyms!
Needless to say, it was fun…
One thing that all of my experiences keep enforcing is that people are people, and especially, that kids are kids. I used to think differences were needed country to country, otherwise we would be a planet of clones, right? Sure, here in Ukraine, language and cultural barriers exist at times, but there is the common language of laughter and it can break down almost any wall. Leaving this facility on the last day was hard, but we left knowing we had somehow impacted these kids. I wonder if they have any idea the impact they had on us…