While I was in Ukraine, I had the opportunity to visit the older girls' mental institute in a village outside of Odessa. It stands in stark contrast to the lifestyle and people of the city. I haven't shared this publicly and will be careful of what I share, but I am just so thankful Darya will never have to set foot in those doors. Ever. Our translator in Odessa, Alyona, is such an amazing person and has such a heart for the orphans. She and her husband visit the institute regularly and do crafts/songs/puppet shows for the girls there as a ministry. While in Odessa, I asked her if my sister and I could join along one Saturday morning. We were able to visit and help out. Several young college women came, too, to help out. It was a fun time with songs, dancing, puppet show, clowns, crafts, and balloons. The girls absolutely loved it! I can't even describe the blessing it was to me to even share in that little bit of joy with those girls among the dreary routine they face day in and day out. It was such an amazing and emotional opportunity for me.
There are 143 girls at the institute, from 4-18 (actually some were older than that but haven't been transferred to the adult facility yet). We only saw about 50 of them who were in their teens or early 20s. About 3 or 4 of them had Down syndrome. Our translator asked one of the girls how old she is and she didn't know (how would she?). I know many others who are bedridden or more severely disabled were not in attendance. After the time with the girls, we were able to see a bit more of the facilities (but were told not to take pictures, though I was allowed during the activities). We were shown the mess hall, which was clean and I saw loaves of bread on a table. There were several fly strips hanging as well (all full, mind you). We saw a few play rooms which had a few toys, and some of them displayed some amazing art work by some of the girls. Outside the back window there was a playground and some covered shelter areas for the girls to spend some time outside. We were not allowed to see any more of the institute. The smell and noises coming from down the hall told me why. These girls are in such need. Like the orphanages, the institutes rely heavily on donations. Darya's orphanage seemed to have quite a bit, no doubt from donations of adopting families and local people and businesses. But this institute which was tucked back in a village outside the city is poor. No children are adopted from there, so there are no donations from adopting families. It is not in city limits, so few or no local families or businesses donate there. There have, however, been some donations like the renovation of the hall where we did the music and crafts. There was a television donated to them. Alyona and a team were able to take about 50 girls to a dolphin show and out for pizza a while back and the girls had the time of their lives and are begging to go again! Mind you, the average household income for Ukraine is about $250 a month, so a trip like the dolphinarium and pizza which cost about $1000 is pretty much a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these girls.
I would eventually like to figure out a way to serve the girls in that institute. The staff is in want of proper training on how to best serve the girls. I would love to be able to send them on another trip to the dolphinarium. I would love to eventually see this place empty and no young girl ever have to be transferred there. My sister and I are trying to figure out how to do some sort of missions trip back there. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
This is home for some of these girls and the only life they will ever know. But it doesn't have to be that way. It is my heart's desire to never see any little ones (just babies at 4!) be transferred there. I can't even imagine what it must be like. I am so thankful to God that Darya will never have to go there. Here are a few pictures: