Long ago and far away when I first arrived to Ukraine, I spent an sizeable amount of time volunteering in a center for special needs children. At that time, in Ukraine, these children were not called “special needs” children, but invalids and the center was called, the “Invalid Center.” While that seemed kind of harsh and politically incorrect to me, the center actually was a novel one for the times. Each day a government van picked up children and brought them to the center. Parents who lived close enough to be able to manage getting their child to the center, brought them and picked them up each day. In the Soviet era, these children would be abandoned to orphanages specially designated for disabled and mentally ill children.
I use the word “manage” for the parents, because almost all of these children were brought to the center in strollers. Yes, strollers. Not wheelchairs, but strollers. Imagine putting your 12 year old cerebral palsy son in the largest stroller you could find and pushing him somewhere on non handicapped zoned roads/sidewalks. This is a physical challenge at best, not to mention the difficulty of getting them out of the flat. Elevators here are tiny and not equipped for wheelchairs or large children in strollers. Without wheelchairs or infrastructure and families willing to push their physical limits, these children and young adults would grow old as prisoners in their own flats.
It went without saying that this was an eye opening experience for me. I had never been around handicapped children, nor knew much about caring for them, but I enjoyed the experience very much. It was mind blowing to think about how different it was in Ukraine to care for them versus the west which was eons ahead of Ukraine educationally in this area. I got to know the parents and visit the children in their homes and see just how physically hard life was for them. The psychological stress they faced from living in a society that did not welcome these children was heartbreaking. I learned a lot and became attached to the kids and loved working with them. It was a special time for me and I will never forget those children. The center didn’t have a lot of ways to help them at the time, but there was a lot of love.
So with this experience behind me, I was pretty excited to hear that we gave some of our Dodger hats which were donated to Youth of Ukraine Phoenix Project from the Los Angeles Dodgers, to some of the children at Dzherelo, a rehabilitation center for special needs children and young adults in Lviv.
Dzherelo is an Ukrainian NGO and is a state of the art center for special needs children and young adults. They offer all kinds of therapy and preparatory training for those who can live on their own or with minimal care. They train families in how to care for their children. I wish I had gotten more photos, but to be honest, I was a bit culture shocked.
But if you want to know more details and see photos, please check out their website, www.dzherelocentre.org.ua