Thursday, 31 March 2011

Week 3 in Ukraine - Health Care

In Ukraine there is a joke that says, doctors pray for good health for the poor and destitute and illness for the wealthy.  What people joke about is often indicative of the issues in their country.  The Ukrainian constitution guarantees free medical help for all its citizens.  The constitution however does not guarantee that this medical assistance will be properly funded.  In Ukraine, when the employer stops paying the salaries, the employees do not quit.  They keep working in the hope that the employer will be able to start paying them again.  Alternatively, they start to look for ways of funding the activity themselves.  Doctors have found a unique way of funding their work.  It is called charging the patient a fee.  Hospitals also do not provide any drugs or medicines to patients as they have no funds to do so.  For example, a patient requiring chemotherapy has to show up at the hospital with the correct drugs already purchased at their local drug store.

The Mennonite Centre is often called on for assistance on medical issues and has developed a number of programs.  On a weekly basis, it has a family doctor, an ear nose and throat specialist, and an eye specialist come to the centre for 2 hours each.  A neurologist also comes twice a month.  These services are funded by the Mennonite Centre and the local people can book appointments.  They are well attended.  The cost to the Mennonite Centre for having a doctor here for two hours is $7.50.  They can see up to 12 patients during that time.  It is very cost effective program.

In addition to the examination by the eye doctor, the Mennonite Centre also provides free prescription glasses for seniors. The cost for a new pair of prescription glasses in an inexpensive frame is less than $4.00.  It is a delight to be at the centre when the seniors come to pick up their glasses.  One gentleman wearing a toque emblazoned with the hammer and cycle (the old communist emblem) just beamed when he put on his “coke” bottle glasses and showed us pictures of his family.  He was so thankful that he kept shaking my hand and finished his thanks by giving Mary a hug.  Being someone who always has to figure out the logic of everything, I kept thinking about why he had the hammer and cycle on his toque.  Maybe he is a rebellious senior who just likes to challenge existing authority.  It also could be the only hat that he owns and everybody in Ukraine wears something on their head.  My favorite explanation is that Mary got a hug from a grateful communist.  It is amazing what a gift of $4.00 can do.  I regret that I did not get a picture.

The week has gone by quickly.  We are starting to get the rhythm of the Mennonite Centre and to understand and participate in the programs when appropriate.  Mary joined the Mom’s Group last Wednesday.  The group was very curious about her and asked many questions. Most of the mother’s in the group do not come from stable relationships.  It is an important morning out for these mothers and gives them a chance to talk and to vent their frustrations on issues that are bothering them.

On Thursday morning Dema Bratchenko, our manager, informed us that we had a meeting at the White House.  The job description for the North American directors states that we are to have a high public profile in the community.  We were prepared to go and then found out that the City Hall in Tokmak is also referred to as the White House.  It still was quite an honour as the Mennonite Centre has been selected to sit on an Advisory Council on Community and Social Services.  This was the first meeting.  Dema is the representative from the Mennonite Centre and Mary and I came along as advisors to our member on the advisory council.

Spent Friday morning at the police station in Tokmak.  If my mother was alive and read that sentence she would have a heart attack.  Tokmak was a place that represented all the evils of the Soviet system to her.  To have her son in a police station in Tokmak would have been the first step to having him banished to Siberia.  We however were there at the invitation of one of the officers to discuss how the Mennonite Centre could partner with them in a program on crime prevention.  There had been previous contact with one of the North American Directors who has a background in the corrections system in Canada.  The police were looking for ideas on programs to reduce crime as well as some possible financial assistance in implementing them.  I admitted to the police officers that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the location of the meeting.  One of them responded and said she understood.  Her grandmother had spent seven years in a concentration camp during the Stalin era because she had dared criticize the village officials.  The officer correctly guessed that I had relatives who suffered the same fate.  I did get my mug shot with the senior officer in the meeting. 

Saturday, Mary and I drove out to explore the Mennonite village from which my father’s mother came.  On the way, we passed the famous remains of the Rueckenau Mennonite Brethren church.  It has a memorial plaque placed there in 2010, marking the 150th anniversary of this denomination.  The personal significance of this church is that my grandfather visited there in 1904 to check out the girls.  He saw the one that eventually became my grandmother.

On Monday we were inundated with applicants.  Apparently this is typical after a weekend.  There was another flood of sorts after a pipe burst in our apartment and flooded the apartment below us.  We did our best to help clean up.  There may be some damage to their ceiling which the Mennonite Centre would be responsible to cover. 

There is something unfair in our presence here at the Mennonite Centre.  We get to hear and see the thankful response from so many recipients.  They are thanking us as if we had personally donated everything.  The thanks comes from individuals as well as significant organizations who received assistance.  This last week we were personally thanked by an individual for assistance in buying coal during the winter. We also heard from the Superintendent of schools for the Tokmak region who expressed his support for the scholarship program that benefits his students.  We are glad to accept this thanks on behalf of the donors in North America.

For further information on the work of the Mennonite Centre, please go to:

For information on the work of the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) in Ukraine you can see an excellent Ukraine Youtube video produced last fall by a Winnipeg Mennonite film producer.

Alvin and Mary

1 comment:

  1. Your life sounds interesting and a good way to serve!
    I am enjoying following your trip!