Last Monday, Mary and I were invited to attend the graduation at our local orphanage. They know how to put on a professional performance. The young men and women entered in couples. The ladies were wearing long white formal dresses and the men all were in black suits (they use the same outfits every year to save costs). Very gracefully they started dancing a most beautiful waltz. No one noticed the drabness of the hall we were in. Our eyes were all focused on the dancers. It was elegant and beautiful.
As the program progressed, we noticed some of the 23 grads with tears in their eyes. One of the younger students singing a solo broke down crying and had to stop. Even the teachers at the orphanage often were crying. It turns out many of the songs were about family. The students saw the orphanage as their family and some songs sung in honour of their teachers referred to them as their mother and father. They were all saying goodbye. It was a goodbye without a soft landing such as a real family could provide.
After a 2 hour graduation ceremony, everybody went outside where the grads mingled with the few guests who were there. I would have expected some relatives to show up to celebrate their graduation, but nobody came. Mary sought out the one girl she had befriended at our earlier visit to the orphanage. She was happy to pose with Mary for a picture. As she did this, all the other graduating girls lined up to have their picture taken. For a minute, Mary became their mother and I was the official photographer. It was a role we were both happy to play. I could see in Mary’s eyes that she would have loved to be a mother to all the girls.
The Mennonite Centre had been invited to their graduation because we were making a small gift for their graduation celebrations. The following day, the entire graduating class was going to Zaporozhye for a cruise on the Dnieper River. Our small gift of $122.80 would pay for the cruise for the entire class. I had the privilege during the program to congratulate the graduates and announce the gift. It was a privilege to be there and to make the announcement. These small outings may not appear to be much to us but they are very special in Ukraine. Most of the orphans may never even have travelled the 100 km to Zaporozhye.
The previous week we were invited to another graduation. This invitation came from the Russian School in Molochansk. There are 2 schools in our town, the Russian and the Ukrainian schools. They compete with each other to see who can have the most dignitaries at their graduation celebration. The Russian school had the local mayor and a representative from the Oblast (province). We did not realize that when we accepted their invitation to come and be officially thanked for assistance from the Mennonite Centre that we would be treated as one of the dignitaries. The graduation ceremony was held outside. When we arrived we were escorted to the front and had to stand right behind the principal handing out all the awards and graduation certificates. We would like the Mennonite Centre to make a permanent contribution to the place and I can announce that we achieved that at the graduation. My face will appear in every graduate’s picture as I was standing right in line with the photographer and the principal. I even had to make a short speech and this really worried me as the principal was going to be my interpreter and she spoke German, not English. I had an hour to stand there in front of the students and figure out some appropriate way of telling them with my limited vocabulary in German that I was proud of their achievements and that we (the Mennonite Centre) had been glad to provide some assistance to the school to make their educational experience a good one.
On occasion, the Mennonite Centre also becomes involved in projects to preserve the Mennonite heritage in the area. One of the most beautiful Mennonite churches in the Molotschna area was located in a village called Schoensee. It was built in 1909 and while unusual for its time, had a frescoed ceiling painted by an Italian artist. This building had stood abandoned for many years. Recently members of the Mennonite Centre board in Canada became aware that work was proceeding on restoring the building. We were asked to investigate. We drove there one day to find a team of young men hard at work. The building already had a new roof and windows and was already in use. I was puzzled by the crude wooden planks being used for pews as Orthodox churches require one to stand for the entire service. I soon found out that this was a Greek Catholic community rebuilding the old Mennonite Church. Father Peter is the driving force behind this project. He is an extremely likeable man with a genuine smile. The church is being rebuilt by voluntary labour and donations. He told me that he has done his entire fund raising on his knees. He asked the Mennonite Centre for assistance and the board was happy to approve funding for cement for the floor and bricks to complete the entranceway. He can speak a bit of German and every meeting ends with him wishing me ``Gottes Segen`` (God`s blessing)
I am amazed at the rapid progress I see in the various gardens. Plants don`t grow but rather they explode. The growth just seems that fast. Right now roses are in full bloom and they seem to be everywhere.
Fruit trees are also producing in abundance. Sweet cherries and strawberries are available everywhere. We are eating our fill because we know the fruit season in Canada will be much later.
We have enjoyed watching locals bringing in the hay for their cattle. People are working along all roadsides with scythes and hauling the hay home on various conveyances ranging from bicycles to cars. The following picture shows the best way yet of bringing in the hay.
Early in April we distributed some seeds brought in from Canada. I can confirm that they are growing well and have been appreciated by a number of gardeners, including Olga Simeonovna, a former employee of the Mennonite Centre.
Mary and I regret that we have to say goodbye and sign-off from our blog. We are doing this because we are out of peanut butter and I need a haircut. We are also approaching the limit on our 90 day visa in Ukraine. We look forward to connecting with everyone again should we be so fortunate to be able to return to Ukraine. Mary and I are now off on our next adventure.