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Dear iwck members

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Dear IWCK members,

The preparations for the orphanage drive were hectic this year; within 4 weeks time it had to be organized and executed! Gabrielle and I started with the visit of two orphanages we had been recommended by Velvet Hearts, a local charity organization. Oleksandra, Velvet Hearts in word and deed, joined us to translate and went with us both days of the actual delivery of the presents. We chose two homes that were not too close to Kyiv, since they usually get less attention.

The first home we selected was recommended by Charitas, local charity organization that combines forces with the Foodbank and has a very clear view on the needy in Ukraine. This home is situated in a tiny village off the road to Xarkiv, about 2 hours drive from Kyiv.

The second home is situated in Bila Tserkva, about an hour from Kyiv.

Both homes provided us with a list of children, ages, sizes and a wish list. The first home wished only for good winter shoes and boots, toys were no priority there!

For the second home we got a 'real' Santa wish list, the smaller ones wishing for BIG remote controlled cars, a kid's kitchen, a fire truck, etc.

We managed to get all the children their specific wish or the right shoe size within these couple of weeks, as well as fleece sweaters, socks, underwear and whatnot. All in all there were 113 children to surprise!

A huge thank you goes to Velvet Hearts, the Foodbank and Charitas, with whom we met for a meeting and who offered 'our' homes the benefits of Danone, Kraft Foods, Nestle and a real Mikulas to hand out the presents. Both homes, also the one that wasn't selected by Charitas, had a goody bag for each child, yoghurt drinks, deserts and stationary. We had a truck load to deliver, which thanks to Metro actually was delivered to the first home by truck! We followed in two cars, bringing the director of Charitas with us and Mikulas, Mirjam, Manja, Gabrielle and myself.

We arrived in a tiny village that has no real name according to the driver, where the main transportation is still horse and carriage and bikes. Quite a change of scenery for all of us! The home itself had a very good feel to it; the entire village knew we were coming, people we met on the way were waving and smiling and we felt quite odd sitting in those big cars, followed by a Metro truck....

About 75% of the children in this “internat” has a mental retardation. They looked very well cared for, happy and they were lucky enough to have a new director, who made just the most wonderful impression on all of us. Very laid back, very caring, very much in control without being in any way scary, just very impressive.

Mikulas handed out the shoes and boots to all the kids, with the goody bag and sang songs with them. The happy faces on the pictures show it all I guess.

After the celebration was over, the director invited us to lunch at their dining hall, served exactly what the children had for lunch as well. Simple, delicious food and we felt very priviliged to be sitting there with this incredibly dedicated man. After lunch he showed us around the premises and the school building, where he had hung a box in the hall. The purpose of this box being that the children could (anonymously if they so wish) drop a note to the director, with whatever was on their minds. Complaints, wishes, anything welcome. Quite extraordinary in the Ukraine system we thought!

Once home in Kyiv again, the next batch of presents was waiting to be prepared for home number two on Friday. Gabrielle brought a lot of missing items from The Netherlands, so that each child would really get a gift bag with more or less the same items and the wish on their list. These articles weren't wrapped on our 'wrapping day' December 5, so this still needed to be done.

On Friday we went to Bila Tserkva to deliver the presents there. Velvet Hearts Oleksandra brought a pirate to perform a show of games with the children and this day it was just Gabrielle, Oleksandra and the pirate in two fully loaded cars! There was no more space anywhere to be found in either car and upon arrival the big boys stormed out and helped us unload. The pirate show was fantastic, Maria did a great job and the children loved it. There was a bit of panic between Gabrielle and me, because the director lady of the house didn't provide us with an update of the children, so two new arrivals had no present! We managed to swap and mingle some, so that in the end no child was disappointed. Again, the faces on the pictures show that we had a very successful afternoon!

Of course, thank you's are in order: thank you to all the women that came to my house on December 5 to help wrap and lable the presents. Thank you to Charitas for helping us selecting the first home, it was one of the best experiences I've personally had with children's homes so far. Thank you to the Foodbank director, who personally came to deliver all the goodies to my house Thursday morning at 7:30, before he started his regular job! Thank you to the people who donated toys and gloves and other usable presents, including the American embassy who has been collecting toys as well. Thank you to Metro for lending us the truck and driver, to Manja and Mirjam who came with us on Thursday and were a great help, thank you so much to Velvet Hearts, who made this all possible by helping with selection and translation of wish lists, communication in between and on the days itself. And last but not least; thank you IWCK members for sponsoring children of these homes!

I really enjoyed to be involved in this project, but.... next year we'll start organizing soooo much earlier! We've learned a lot, seen a lot, surprised a lot of children and were duly impressed.

Marieke Kraaijeveld.

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