Monthly Archives: April 2010

That’s Right … I said she had 32 Children!

It is unbelievable how fast the time has gone this trip.  It seems like I have only just arrived in Belarus and we are getting ready to leave.  Today, many of the Canadians left for home and few more will leave each day this week leaving only Neil and Lisa here to finish up with visits to all of the Guardian Angel Program families.  We have been so busy getting everything delivered that there are a few visits that we were unable to make.  One that I am very sorry to have missed is our annual pancake supper with Sasha Krasakov (the boy with brittle bone disease) and his wonderful family.  I was also unable to spend any time with the fire fighters to get updates on their progress (I will try to post something on this later) and I was unable to attend the presentation of the beautiful hand-made quilts to the children in the orphanages.  Dave has promised me that he has photos and will pass them along for a future post.

Tonight will be my last night with my host family as Murray and I will be heading to Minsk tomorrow to make the delivery of the final boxes.

Today, however, was a great day.  It is always a highlight of every trip to drive to Klichev (2 hours and 40 minute drive) to deliver to Rita Kuntikova and her amazing family. We stopped in Mogilev to fuel up the truck and car as we headed out.  Fuel costs the same price at every station as it is regulated by the government.

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We also had to make a stop to deliver a fridge to a girl who is a graduate of the Chausy Orphanage and now living in a very small apartment in downtown Mogilev.  She was extremely excited to receive this gift and I was extremely excited that she only lived on the 3rd floor!

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Once we turned off of the main highway for the final 50 kilometers to Klichev the road was mostly very straight with a line of birch trees on either side separating it from the huge agricultural fields on both sides.  There are a few very large collective farms along this road.

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Now for the stats on Rita’s family:

1 Mom
1 Dad
32 children of which
18 live at home
4 are away at school (and come home on holidays)
10 now live independently and have a total of
6 grandchildren!

and you thought your life was busy!

Of the 32 four are Rita and her husbands “natural” children.  The first time we visited Neil asked which of the children were hers to which she replied “they are all my children!”

When we arrived Rita was not yet home from a trip to Babruisk but was due at any minute so some of the older boys and Dad came out to help unload.

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When Rita arrived we were opening boxes to show them what was inside.

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The biggest hit was the many boxes of shoes that we brought that were donated.  We brought enough sizes and styles to outfit everyone in both shoes and winter boots.  There was also a bunk bed with mattresses, many, many hand knitted sweaters and quilts, kitchen utensils and dishes along with a stroller and highchair.  Here Lisa holds a sweater up to little Asha.

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and Mini-Misha (the mini is to differentiate him from the 3 other Misha’s in the family!) tries on a small quilt.

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While we were talking Asha picked up some hair accessories from one of the boxes and took them to her mother who patiently put them in her hair to form two little pigtails the way she likes them.

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One of the things that always amazes me is how all of the children help look after the younger children.  It is not forced or requested and is obvious that this is a natural occurrence that happens daily.

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One of the boys wanted to show me the beds that we had delivered the year before.

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Lisa pulled out a large toy parking garage and a load of cars and trucks and boys descended on it and began playing together.

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Rita invited us for tea and cookies and while we were sitting down Neil presented her with a new digital camera, case and memory card, purchased and donated by a woman in London Ontario.  She was absolutely thrilled. They have been borrowing one from a neighbour occasionally to get some pictures but now would have their own!  Note the teapot in the photo, Neil commented that it was the largest tea-pot he had ever seen and Rita replied “I have a large family.”  An understatement if there ever was one!

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When we were leaving the table to head out we realized that Lisa was missing … we found her on the floor in the play room with the boys and their cars!

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Lisa joked that she would love to take Asha and/or Mini-Misha home with her and Rita laughed and said that she could not have ANY of HER children!  Then she told us the story of how and when she came to adopt both of these children.  No question that these were ALL her children!  It is an amazing family and so heartwarming every time we visit!

Three or four times during our trip we passed horses and wagons on the shoulder of the highway … I managed to get a picture of this one as we sped by.

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Back in Chausy, David, Margaret, Murray and some of the Orphanage staff installed a second greenhouse today.  The one put up last year was 20′ x 60′ and the new one is 20′ x 36′.  All that is left is for the plastic to go on and then they can start utilizing them for this years plants.

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The weather was sunny and warm today (approx 14 degrees) and after taking some pictures of the greenhouse I noticed a bunch of the boys from the orphanage out playing a game of soccer.

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Afterward we headed back to School #1 to clean out the gym.

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It is hard to believe that we managed to deliver all of these boxes in just one week.

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Here is the final load ready to take to Minsk tomorrow morning.

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Eric McKenzie

The Canadians and Orphans Excellent Adventure!

During our stay in Belarus there are many highs and lows (mostly highs) and it would be difficult to pick which day was the “best day”.  However, to pick a day that from start to finish is the most fun, without a doubt all of the Canadians would pick today!  This is the day that we take the entire orphanage to Mogilev for hockey and skating and then back to the orphanage for a concert put on by the children.

The day started when we met at the orphanage for everyone to try on skates and for those of us planning to play hockey to pick out our gear.  Of course we get first pick of the equipment that we have delivered in the past, I think that they want to make sure we don’t get hurt!

Three buses are brought in to transport the children to the ice palace in Mogilev (45 minutes away).  Some of the Canadians ride on the buses with the children and the rest get rides with our regular drivers.  Here is the first bus pulling into the parking lot in Mogilev.

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Once we figure out how to put on the equipment (quite a challenge for some of us) we head out to the ice for the Canadians versus Belarus game.  We are an equal opportunity team and we had Rhona suit up for our team, we figured she could confuse them with some fancy figure skating footwork!  Here she is with Pat before the game.

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Here are a few of the old-timers having a rest on the bench!

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And a little hockey action.  Of course the orphanage team beat us, in the early years the Canadians would make sure the the orphanage team won by a point or two, but now with the hockey team in place we are lucky to score a few goals and not embarrass ourselves too badly!

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After the game all of the children and staff from the orphanage and all of the Canadians get an hour to skate.  For a lot of these children it is a very rare opportunity to get out of the orphanage.  The children will grab hold of our hands and skate together, then dash off to chase their friends … it is pure fun and laughter to whole time.

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Afterward the children pile back onto the buses where the Canadians deliver potato chips and pop to all of the children … another rare treat.

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Once back at the orphanage the children are fed their dinner and get ready for the concert that they have prepared for us.  Those who are not involved directly in the concert join the Canadians in the audience.

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What a wonderful concert!  The talent of these children is amazing and it is obvious that they have been practicing for this moment.  Here one of the older girls performs a song for us.

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Part way through the concert we stop for a few presentations.  Here Neil and Lisa (and our interpreter Masha) show the children a banner that has the Lyn School Lions insignia at one end and the Chausy Orphanage Meteor insignia at the other.  The connection between these two schools has been going for 10 years now and Neil had all of the children at the Lyn School sign this banner which will be hung at the Orphanage.  Neil also brought a second banner which will be signed by all of the children at the orphanage and taken back to hang in the Lyn School.

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A presentation was also made of an electronic piano by Lisa.  This is a very high end piano with a lot of features for music composition.  It has many voices, a computer interface and the ability to store song components and burn songs to CD’s.  This is going to be a very valuable tool for the already successful music program.

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The music teacher performed a song for us that was composed by 3 girls from the orphanage and has won several awards.  It is about a mother who chooses alcohol over her baby.  They wrote it in hopes that it may make some people think and maybe save a child or two from a future that is their current reality!  A thought provoking moment indeed!

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Neil also presented this years books purchased with funds raised by the Lyn School.

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Every year children graduate and leave the orphanage and this year was no different.  Approximately 30 children have moved on and 30 new children have arrived.  One of the new kids is this little boy who performed for us.  He has a personality that shines through and his performance was wonderful.

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Of course there are also the children that we have watched grow and develop over the years and one of the shining stars is Nastia.  She has a beautiful voice and sang a lovely song for us.

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During one of the songs 4 of the children came out and grabbed 4 Canadians to get up and dance.  I was fortunate enough to stay hidden behind my camera.  Did I mention that this was a fun day?

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After the performances by the children our own Pat got up and did a couple of tunes and then one of our drivers, Andre, who is very talented, also sang a few songs.  The kids always enjoy his performance and he has them singing along and laughing every year.  He managed to convince all of the Canadians to get up and sing a rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it…”.

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After the concert we have another chance to mingle with the children and the Canadians always bring candy and Canadian pins and stickers to share with the kids.  Here is Murray handing out some candy.

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Although I am tired and will probably be pretty sore tomorrow, today will be remembered as a great day where the deliveries are behind us and the kids come first … as it should be!

Eric McKenzie

The Perfect Family!

Today is Easter and as it does on rare occasions, the Russian Orthodox Easter corresponds with ours.  Most of the Canadians have taken the day to spend with their host families.  I have had a wonderful day, first I slept in until almost 9 AM!  What a treat not having to drag myself out of bed.  Truth be told I also had a nap today but don’t spread it around.  We had a big Easter feast at 10 AM and I expect more food tonight when my host-Mom gets home from work at 9:00 tonight.

This afternoon a group of us went to my favourite family in the Guardian Angel Program.  This family is sponsored by a small group of people connected through my previous job at Shorewood Packaging.  I have never met such an amazing family, they are real proof that the Beatles were correct … “all you need is love”!

Neil, Lisa, Pat, Tracy and I all stopped in to see them.  Pat and Tracy had purchased a hot water heater for their host family but they were unable to use it due to electrical restrictions in the building they live in, so they decided that this was the perfect family to give it to.  They live in a house but will be connected to the municipal water supply this summer and were absolutely thrilled to receive this gift!  Once we arrived we opened the boxes that had been dropped off earlier and went through everything with them.  Here Valentina holds a sweater up in front of Yeleana.

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Yeleana was damaged at birth during a forced birth and is severely mentally challenged.  She is however fortunate to have an extremely loving family that puts her needs ahead of everything else.  Last year when visiting, Pat mentioned that he had horses and Leonid could not understand why he would need a horse if he owned a tractor … much less three horses.  Of course he started asking more questions about Pat’s horses and his farm.  It is very hard for him to understand the concept of caring for three horses just to ride or as pets.  Here Natasha our interpreter tries to help Pat explain.

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Of course we were invited for something to eat and some tea, normally we have to apologize and move on to the next visit, but we purposely planned this visit today so we would have some time.  Once we had agreed to stay, the table came out and food was set.  Here is a traditional Easter Bread (Paschalne Hleb).  The eggs around it are died by boiling them with red onions.  We were each given an egg as well.

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A game is played with the eggs, turns are taken holding an egg and then another person taps your egg with theirs.  If your egg cracks then you lose and the winner gets your egg.  It is played until someone has all of the eggs.  I lost early on and Pat ended up with all of the eggs!  Here is the table.

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Here is this amazing family.  Valentina (Mom), Yeleana, Leonid (Dad), Yeleana’s sister-in-law, niece and brother.  All are wonderful people and I watched everyone of them helping to take care of Yeleana at some point during our visit.  One of the biggest surprises was how much Yeleana’s niece Dasha had grown … she is only 12 years old!

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Although I would love to be at home having Easter with my family, hunting for chocolate eggs and eating ham and scalloped potatoes, this was a pretty good second place.  With this much love in one room it is pretty hard leaving without a smile on your face!

Eric McKenzie