Wednesday, February 1, 2012


And here, we think the winter is a slow and sleepy time, when in actual fact, life is racing along, bring all kinds of twists and turns and changes!

A spurt of cold weather in Odessa (yes, even cold by Canadian standards!) has caused the closure of two of the orphanages in which WHU staff work. At the moment, the orphanages have closed for one week. Our staff are hoping to get back to their regular schedule and time with the kids by next week! Please continue to think of them as they navigate Ukraine's wintry roads.

The foster care pilot has seen a number of changes.Towards the end of December, two more of our girls, sisters, decided to leave their foster home. This time, however, the departure was bitter-sweet. On the one hand, our team and the foster parents were sad to have the girls leave. On the other hand, these sisters will be living as a family with their older sister, who was not apart of the foster care pilot and is currently attending university in Odessa. World Hope Ukraine was glad that they were able to help the sisters obtain the necessary document, so that they are able to receive government financial support, and enroll them in college. The foster parents are keeping in touch and making sure the girls are managing. 

On a lighter note, three more young women were able to enter the pilot and be placed in homes in the last month. Three girls from Hope House, Yana, Tanya and Tanya, were placed in two foster homes. The placement of these girls in foster homes is two fold: one, the girls are living with families, feeling the love, support, and consistency of a family unit, and two, their placement in foster homes has opened up beds in Hope House. Sergiy has already mentioned that orphanages have been contacting him, requesting that they take new girls at the end of this school year! It looks as though Hope House will be full again before too long!

Finally, we can welcome a new set of foster parents to the team, Danik and Sveta! Dina spent long hours preparing them to welcome Yana into their home. 

And so, our project has once again hit some bumps in this road. Nonetheless, onward we go, doing and hoping the best for these girls!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a very Happy New Year from all the LifeStart Project staff!

2011 has been a very good year overall for Project LifeStart Odessa, full of many accomplishments! Project materials were completed with the help of teams of excellent volunteers, WHU staff were trained, and the project launched! 

Our life skills teachers are now teaching in three orphanages in the Odessa region. Two were late started due to a chicken pox quarantine! Nonetheless, as soon as the quarantine was lifted, our life skills team was there and ready to go!

Kostya and two of our students showing off the collages made by one of the life skills classes

In August four girls were placed in foster homes, with an additional two being placed in November. One of the girls, Alyona, had decided to leave the project after 3 months in a foster home. This was a very difficult and discouraging moment for the foster parents and project staff. However, despite all convincing, Alyona decided she preferred the freedom of life in student dorms. 

On a positive note, however, it was a pleasure to see the remaining girls in foster care really settle into their settings. I personally was blown away to watch one of our girl, Ira, change from a quiet and withdrawn girl to a laughing, smiling one. My theory is that she was waiting and saving herself for a family. It was encouraging to see her settled and happy.

And now, with the project up and running and the onset of 2012, we have just as much work ahead of us as we have behind us! Our focus is turning to project sustainability! We have funding from the Canadian International Development Agency until spring 2013. And so, the fate of the pilots still hangs in the balance. With changes in the Ukrainian government, we must redouble our effort to boast the benefits of the project! Sergiy, WHU Executive Director, will be working hard to contact local government officials and inform them of the project, provide them with materials, tell of the benefits, and show them the girls whose lives are being affected. 

Sergiy talking with Natalya from the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv over lunch at Hope House.

At the same time, Kostya and the life skills team will be traveling far and wide in the Odessa region to work with ready and willing orphanages. They will talk about a life skills program and provide orphanage directors and teachers with the curriculum and training with the hope that the orphanages themselves will be able to teach the curriculum after the funding from CIDA completes.

Kostya heading to the Director's office at an Odessa City orphanage
The point of these activities is to ensure that these opportunities remain available to at-risk youth in Ukraine. These are indirect actions that directly affect the lives of boys and girls in Odessa. 

And so, we have a long road ahead of us!

And, WHU has a new blog where you can keep us with all the latest activities. Here is the link!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Study

We are currently doing a study comparing girls who have transitioned directly from the orphanages to independent living and girls who have lived in Hope House, a transition home for you women run by World Hope Ukraine and World Hope Canada.

So far, we have gathered information on girls who have left Hope House and transitioned to independent living in the last 3 years. Currently, we are gathering information on young women who went directly from the orphanage to independent living. We are hoping for a sample group of 10-20 girls.

Yulia and Veronika outside their dorm in Odessa

Today, I met with two girls who graduated from their respective orphanages in June and are currently living in a students dorm in Odessa. We conducted a short interview with the girls, asking them about their living conditions, education, income, and personal relationships. I had heard from the girls at Hope House how poor the student dorms were and this interview confirmed this information with facts. 

Both these girls have the status of orphan, which means they draw on a government stipend. However, though  their stipend is supposed to be 2,200 grivnas every month (about $300 a month) on which to subsist, in reality they have only received 1,100 grivnas for two months (about $140 for two months) on which to subsist. The cost of things in Ukraine is similar to prices in Canada. Soviet prices are certainly a thing of the past. 

The girls mentioned they eat no breakfast, have a plain bun and coffee for lunch, and soup or oatmeal for supper. They eat meat maybe once a week and said they never buy fruit because it is too expensive.  One of the girls is suffering from stomach problems from a poor diet. 

Finally, we asked about the dorm. One of the girls said they had one toilet for 40 students and no shower. If she wanted to shower, she went to her friends dorm, where one shower and one toilet was shared with 25 students. They described the kitchen, which had broken ovens and rats.

The girls excited at the options of what they could eat from our Foster Care Coordinator, Dina

Happily, we were able to provide some food and a treat to the girls, but this felt vastly inadequate... 

What this study has told me so far is how many of these students need assistance. Even if we obtain government support and stipends for these girls, life is still difficult. They may not receive the full sum of their stipend. These girls typically have no family to turn to and their orphanages are poorly equipped to provide any help once the girls leave the orphanage.Some are not even provided with enough underwear or bedding to start them off in the dorm. They have nothing and receive little. And worse, they have no one to turn to for help.

We are still hoping the government will support our girls in foster care. This way, these girls would be able to live with a family, have regular meals and stable living conditions. In addition, they would also have adults to care about them and advocate for them. Our pilot is only able to place 6 girls in foster homes. However, we are currently starting a rigorous government relations campaign in order to influence the government to make good on laws they already have. Laws for a foster system exist here, but the government is so far not adhering to them. 

I had thought that once the project was implemented, it would be smooth sailing. As it turns out, we have entered into a vital period and important work lies ahead of us!

Viktoria and Yulia enjoying a meal

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ongoing Partnership

Having launched the pilot three months ago and with increasing interest from the Canadian International Development Agency, another trip was in order. This trip consists of Sheldon, Project LifeStart Odessa's Project Manager, and myself, Andrea, coming to work more with World Hope Ukraine and see for ourselves how things are settling in. The trip was inspired by our CIDA Project Officer, who wanted to come and see the project as well!

Early in the trip we spent a full day introducing our Project Officer, Annie, to not only the foster homes and life skills teachers, but also to Hope House, which was the result of a previous CIDA-funded project. 

Everyone pitching in to get Sunday lunch ready at Hope House. 
On any given Sunday, anywhere from 15-30 people may come for lunch! This Sunday was no exception :)

And a Ukrainian business lunch. Sergiy, the Director of World Hope Ukraine, 
is deep in conversation with Annie and Natalya, officers from CIDA and the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine.

And more talking... there was no end to the discussion and questions. 
Sustainability of the project was the issue of the day and the discussion was very useful.

We were also able to spend some time with two of our foster parents (Sergiy and Larissa) and their foster girls (Katya and Olya). We spoke in detail about the placement of the girls and the adjustment process for both the foster parents and the girls. More discussion will certainly follow as we do assessments of the pilots, but so far the feedback three months into the pilot has been very encouraging. 

We were also able to celebrate the implementation of the project with the whole project team from World Hope Ukraine. We has a lovely evening talking about the project, future goals and steps to be taking, and just generally celebrating a good start! It was a treat for everyone :)
Left to Right: Sheldon (Project Manager), Valya (Life Skills Teacher), Andrea (Project Assistant), Kostya (Life Skills Coordinator), Lina (Hope House Mom), Alyona (Life Skills Teacher), Dina (Foster Care Coordinator), Sergiy (WHU Director)

And so it has been a good week, busy and productive. Sheldon is on his way back to Canada with an armful of new information to report to CIDA, whereas I will be here in Ukraine another two weeks working with the World Hope Ukraine team and seeing the pilots in action!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another Phase to Project LifeStart Odessa

It has been two months since our teams from Canada worked with teams in Ukraine to get Project LifeStart Odessa up and running. The training weeks have brought a different pace to the project and a new set of activities. 

After months of research, compiling, and writing, we have completed our two reports. One report, At-Risk Youth in Odessa: Opportunities and Challenges, provides a situation analysis of youth in Odessa, whereas another report, Best Practices: At-Risk Youth Report, provides an overview of international best practices in the provision of child welfare services. These reports have been sent off for translation and will soon be available in English on the World Hope Canada website.

During the training, we received wonderful feedback from our teachers. Everyone has high hopes about the coming term! Since leaving, Kostya, the Life Skills Coordinator, and our two life skills teachers, Valya and Alyona, have been working with the orphanages to get everything ready to start teaching with the start of the school term!

The foster care training laid a solid foundation to this aspect of the project. We are currently working on developing ongoing training for the foster parents. This ongoing training will look like a monthly study group and provide more information on topics such as discipline, attachment, and self-esteem. This tool is intended to build on the current foundation and offer further support to our foster parents. We hope to have it ready sometime this autumn.

We have had another interesting development with the onset of an unanticipated trip this autumn to show the project in action to our project worker at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). This trip will happen in October, which is looking like a very busy month for Sergiy. This will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase the project and receive some first hand feedback from CIDA. 

And so, the work continues! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tough Stuff and Fun Stuff

We met a couple who foster boys from the street here in Odessa. They have participated in our foster care training and will continue to participate in the support group for LifeStart's foster parents. By their organistation, they were provided with a house with enough room for 10 boys. However, problems in their organisation has resulted in them only having 4 boys in their house. They fear that their house will be closed altogether in the next few years. We were able to visit this housу and meet the boys. It was great to see that something was available for boys, but also difficult to see how unsupported they were. Hopefully they will be able to benefit from the support through LifeStart. 

The house: Rick, Maxim,  Sergiy, Ira, Alexei, Igor, Dima, Marina, Anita, and Dina

On a lighter note, we were able to visit an orphanage and do some work there. It was good for the life skills teachers to see the place where they will be working. We also enjoyed a road trip and some fun. 

Here Cathy is having a wild time at the orphanage. 

 Team Foster Care work through some heavy material at the orphanage

Team Life Skills also plowing through the modules and getting acquainted with the space

And here is the whole of team LifeStart, teachers, translators, and even a girl from Hope House (who recently came from the orphanage we were visiting)

And so, the learning and teaching continues. We have only 2 days left of the training week! Here's hopeing we have time enough to get through all the necessary material! :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Part 2!

This week is a busy one! Both the foster care pilot team and the life skills team are here training this week! We had some hiccups in getting our life skills team here (flight delays, mix ups in airports, etc.). However, we are all here now and diving into the life and work!

One of the key lessons both teams are currently learning is the need for flexibility here! Plans can change minute by minute here, so we’ve had to drastically readjust some of the work on short notice.
We have had some frustrations as well as pleasant surprises regarding the foster pilot! We had one couple who was 100% on board with becoming foster parents and three other families that were considering this. Unfortunately, two of the potential families decided not to become foster parents. After spending the evening with the remaining people, the remaining potential became very keen on the program! Other lessons include changing the approach to training and preparing foster parents. We have had to work hard on selling the foster parents on the program, as opposed to preparing them for the various behaviours they might encounter. Our focus has been on training the trainers. All is going well, but there has been a lot of rolling with the punches.

We had a great day today meeting with the foster families. Day one involved the protocols and encouraging the foster parents. Day two involved training anв preparation of foster parents. We were able to do the training in the comfort of the home of one of our foster parents. It was great to get to know each other and teach and learn!

Here is Rick and Marina working together in the training

Here is Team Foster Care (Rick, Anita, and our translator Marina) 
with Nadya and Vasili, our potential foster parents. 

Here is our other foster parents, Larissa and Sergiy, who will be taking 4 girls!

As for the life skills team, we’ve had a very successful first day. Our team met the teachers and other World Hope staff this morning and launched into teaching the curriculum! We are getting along well and the teachers are definitely engaging with the material! The teachers are responding well to the format of our materials. Sometimes the material is difficult for them and they are hesitant to teach this, but after some discussion, they see the value of teaching some of these more difficult and personal topics!

 Team life skills preping for a busy day of training!

Here is Bea working with our translation on our first day

Our teachers Valya and Alyona are in the forground 
whilst World Hope Ukraine staff Kostya and Tatiyana are in the background

Kim and Candice working hard :)

Enjoying an icebreaker with the teachers! :)

So, all in all, life here in Ukraine is going well. We are all doing a lot of learning and having some fun as well!