The town of Molochansk has two schools – one teaches in Russian and the other in Ukrainian. This week we visited the local Russian School. The principal is Marina Romanova. She has been a great friend and supporter of the Mennonite Centre and is the current chair of the Mennonite Centre board in Ukraine.
Marina wanted to show us the school, as well as the projects that the Mennonite Centre has supported in her building. It was very educational. Her school in Molochansk is the largest in the region. There are 13 other schools in the region. In the next few years there will be some consolidation of the schools as an “amalgamated” community is established in the area. There will be more school buses and some outlying schools will be shut down. There are currently 400 students at the school with 40 teachers on staff. That is a student teacher ratio that would be the envy of all teachers in western schools. The biggest change that is coming is that the Russian language will be phased out as the language of instruction and the Ukrainian language will become the dominant language in the school. This will be a significant change in our area. This change was coming anyway but has probably been hastened by the recent conflict with Russia. Choice of language can be a very personal and emotional issue. The conflict has changed the public mood to where this has become a more acceptable policy and the locals will proudly tell you this while speaking in Russian.
|Class with Marina facing children|
The school provides free meals to all children up to grade 4. In addition, any child whose parent is in the army gets a free meal regardless of age. Even children from people forcibly resettled from the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 are still given a free meal. The Mennonite Centre recently helped the school make major upgrades in the kitchen by paying for the installation of venting equipment and new cooking facilities. Judging from the loud chatter, the students eating in the dining room seemed to enjoy their meals.
|Kitchen with New Facilities|
Last week we had a party for our staff. This is something that Mary and I like to do to thank the staff for their contribution to the work of the Mennonite Centre. Since this was around the time of our Canadian Thanksgiving, we decided to make it a thanksgiving meal. Two years ago, we did this and served a turkey. This time Mary decided to give our celebration a French-Canadian flavour and prepared tourtiere (meat pie). It was a lot of work and Mary did question her sanity on occasion, but it was a great event and a beautiful evening with our “family” at the Mennonite Centre.
Last Sunday we decided to visit another congregation. We drove to Tokmak and walked into the new Greek Catholic church. The priest, Father Taras, was very happy to see us and interrupted the service to give us a special welcome and arranged for us to have a place to sit. Everybody else stood throughout the service. The Mennonite Centre has always had a good relationship with Father Taras and his church. What is unique about their new building is that they used the Flemish bond brick pattern in its construction. This pattern uses an arrangement of alternate bricks having their short sides and long sides facing outwards, with alternate rows being offset. Mennonite used this on all their construction in Ukraine and it distinguishes their buildings from any built by the locals. The use of this construction technique on the Greek Catholic Church is an outward sign of the bond between the Mennonite Centre and this local congregation.
|Flemish Bond Pattern on Greek Catholic Church|
|New Sunday School Building on Left and Church on Right|
Toward the end of the service, Father Taras asked us to come back next week and take part in a discussion on Mathew chapter 11. I was given some homework to provide an analysis of verse 11. He promised us some food if we came back. He specifically promised me some “salo”, which is a favourite of the locals. It is a smoked lard that has not been rendered and is usually eaten on dark bread with a lot of onion greens. It is not my favourite, but we will go back anyway.
On Monday morning we were invited to participate in a meeting initiated by the Pastor of the local Mennonite Church. The meeting included the organization Dorcas International, the Mennonite Centre, the local mayor, and the local pastor. Dorcas International is an organization based in the Netherlands, that stands for peace and justice, and is trying to help people all over the world make the best of their situation. The purpose of the meeting was to look at ways how all organizations present could make life better for seniors in Molochansk. As usual, it was a learning opportunity for me. Under Soviet times, the factory bosses had power that extended well beyond the role of running the factory. They would intervene in the personal lives of the family and made major decisions. These bosses would make decisions on which seniors should be institutionalized because the family could no longer care for them at home. That authority no longer exists but many families are not used to accepting responsibility for these decisions. This has left senior care in a vacuum. These types of shifts in society are always difficult. As usual, the meeting did not resolve the issue, but it has started the discussion.
On Saturday, October 26, 2019, we will be participating in a memorial service in the village now known as Novopetrovka. In Mennonite times it was called Eichenfeld. 83 people died in the village exactly 100 years ago and we will be remembering them. I hope to report on that memorial service in my next blog.
If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ or follow our daily activities on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine-735361069838076/