The following is a translation (abridged) of an article which
appeared in Ukrainian "Pravda," an internet newspaper. Maryna Krysa, the
president of Priyateli Ditey (Приятелі Дітей), our sister organization
in Ukraine, was interviewed for this article, and described some of the
work they do in Ukraine. (The translation was done by our current
president, Alexandra Kosogof of Chicago.)
The statistics the article gives are frightening, and emphasize
the importance of our work with orphans in Ukraine.
Priyateli Ditey is our sister organization in Ukraine, and
helps to administer our scholarship, medical and other programs. Details
of the scholarship program are given in the article.
Every 7th child that leaves an orphanage commits suicide. Every 5th child ends up in prison. The most agonizing day of their orphanage life is the day they realize that they will soon graduate and have no place to go. It sinks in that, now, they are responsible for themselves.
During hard or difficult times, they now have no one to turn to and it is almost next to impossible for them to attain a higher education, only because they have no way of supporting themselves.
President Yushchenko would like to see every orphan cared for until their 18th birthday and to ensure that they have a future and some place to go, once they graduate.
There are several charitable organizations that are trying to do just that, one of which is “Priyateli Ditey”. There are 152 orphans that are part of the scholarship program.
The scholarship program, began in 1998 with 2 students. The following year it grew to 10 students and with each passing year it continues to grow.
“Priyateli Ditey” seeks sponsors for each child. Every month the child receives a stipend of 110 hryvni a month, (roughly $20), this enables the child to concentrate on their studies. They know who their sponsors are, which is either an individual or an organization. The majority of the sponsors live outside of Ukraine. The sponsors also pay for clothes, shoes, text books, medical needs and food. Which is a small amount to make a child feel very fortunate.
The children write to their sponsor and tell them how they are doing. At the end of each semester, the child must provide a copy of their grades to “Priyateli Ditey”.
The 152 students, are students that study all over Ukraine and keep in contact on a monthly basis with “Priyateli Ditey”. They also meet several times a year in Kyiv. At these meetings there are guest speakers that help the children to understand their rights as orphans and the hold various work shops. They also receive a full medical check up once a year as part of their visit to Kyiv, which is provided free of charge at a local polyclinic.
Maryna Krysa, president of “Priyateli Ditey”, states that “We in a sense have become their parents that help them with their needs and problems. We’ve already had some students who have married and now we have grand-children!”
The most effective program of “Priyateli Ditey” is their annual summer camp in the Carpathian Mountains. The first camp was held in 1996 and hosted 110 children from 5 orphanages. It was clear after the first camp, that the children viewed themselves differently and they realized they were not the only ones in their predicament. It stimulated them and gave them an opportunity for them to show their talents and to be viewed differently.
This year, there are 500 children from 37 different orphanages. This year’s camp invited back those children that were part of camp in 2000, where the children buried time capsules that contained their wishes and desires. A lot of the children who are attending have said that their wishes have come true.
Every year the organization hosts a fund raiser to raise money for the camp. As always, two of their guests are Victor Yushchenko and his wife, kateryna, who is a long time volunteer of this organization. This year there were many distinguished guests: diplomats, ministers, business people and musicians. Many are the same people that have visited the camp in previous years.
Yushchenko even visited the very first summer camp. He hiked up Hoverla with the children, sang songs with them and just spent time talking to them. “Everything that the children told him, touched him deeply and he understands the lives of these children” said Maryna Krysa.
The camp is 2 weeks long. 10 to 15 children come from each orphanage. During the school year, the children must demonstrate that they are the best – at something. Each year the camp has a theme, in the past the themes included: “Our Future is in Our Hands”, “Kozaks of the 21 Century” and during the presidential election year it was “North, South, East, West – Ukrainians Around the World”.
During camps there are various workshops held. For example, children learn computer skills, how to sew and arrange flowers. They learn Ukrainian traditions and folklore. They also conduct anti-smoking, anti-alcohol workshops.
Another project is the medical project which focuses on helping those orphans with special needs at the Tsyurupinsk orphanage. “We have helped with surgeries and prosthetics” says Krysa.
It all began in 1993, when a relative of Krysa’s came from Canada and adopted a very sick young girl. They started to collect clothing and sending packages to the orphanages. “Help Us Help the Children” became a project of “Children of Chernobyl Canadian Fund”.
In 1996, “Priyateli Ditey” became an official registered organization in Ukraine. At that time, the main financing came from Canada and the United States.
“Priyateli Ditey” has only four paid staff members, all others are volunteers. These individuals work so that the most agonizing day for these children will not be graduation day.
“The children must know that their life does not end with graduation, they need to go on living. They must understand that they do have a future. I believe that the children should receive help from the government until age 21. The orphanages should have preparatory classes for the older children, so that they are better able to handle their future.
"When a child becomes 18, this is a very critical age, an age where they can still be easily manipulated and get lost in drugs, alcohol or criminal activity. Now is the time to give them a helping hand. Today.”