Sunday, May 31, 2009

A few more pics

Let's see how it goes this time.

Posters on the side of a building. They're all over the place.

Ukrainian kitties like me.

So do Ukrainian kiddies.

Alyona on the left and Vika on the right right after they painted my fingernails bright red. Hopefully not the future faces of human trafficking.

Picture Update

Today has been an excellent day. We haven't done a whole lot of work today because of a few set backs, but we've had a lot of time to hang out together which has been nice. I've been taking a couple photos so I figure they'll be able to tell some of the story best.

It snowed the other day. Actually it didn't, this is just the cotton from the cottonwoods. During the day, it's constantly floating through the air. It's very pretty actually.

This is what the hallway looked like and below is what it's shaping up to be. The school picked the color and loved it but I think I liked it the way it was before.

I'm having some issues uploading pictures so I'll try to do some more a little later. This is just the teaser ;)

Friday, May 29, 2009

тому що ми не можемо забути

I find it uplifting that days which feel the most ineffectual can often be redeemed by a few short hours of extreme purpose.  Last night, several members of the Faceless team had a great opportunity to get to bed early, yet chose to abandon it for talk of future hopes and dreams. Not dreams of fame and fortune but of a coming movement.

As so many people warned me, I was shocked by what I saw when I first arrived at this orphanage. I had mentally prepared in the weeks leading up to this trip for the worst possible scenario. I pictured sad and hungry children, wearing tattered clothes and sole-less shoes. Visions of Oliver Twist asking “please sir may I have another” tormented me in my sleep, but even my darkest expectations could not come close to reality.

Strangely though, the atmosphere was not worse than my imagination, but far better. Despite the mullet being the haircut of choice, the orphans are dressed far more stylishly than ever was when I was their age, and we’ve eaten 4 healthy meals a day since we arrived. Most of the kids are constantly smiling and joking and laughing and the orphanage they call home isn’t half bad.

Today, as I was updating my Facebook status, Alyona, a 16 year old Ukrainian girl, who earlier in the morning had stolen one of the work gloves off my hand, barked at me in Ukrainian to get out of my chair. As soon as I stood, she confiscated the chair and a computer and gave me the universal symbol for “talk to the hand.” This is our relationship and it started when I made smores for her and her friend Vika at the campfire.

It’s not hard to imagine these girls living a life in the United States.  If you put them in a line up with American girls of the same age, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. What is hard to imagine is that statistically, Alyona and Vika are more likely to be sold into sex slavery than to have a career or get married.

Of the kids we’ve gotten to know while we’ve been here, let’s say 10 girls and 10 boys, the statistics say that 2 will commit suicide before the age of 18, 6 of the girls will be forced into prostitution and 7 of the boys will enter into a life of crime.  Though it doesn’t show on their face, Alyona, Vika, Oksana, Shasha 1, Sasha 2, Mischa, Olya and Sergei hold little hope for a bright future, and a vast majority of the United States is unaware that this tragedy exists. My hope is that when they become informed, they choose to act instead of changing the channel, closing the magazine, or clicking to another web page. The convenience of distraction is one of evil’s closest allies.

Earlier today, a couple of the guys and I made the 10 minute trek into town in search of a moneychanger and something cold to drink. On the way we ran into 2 of our orphan friends. The kids look forward to days like this because it is when they receive their monthly allowance from the government. The allowance adds up to 600 grivna or about 80 US dollars. It’s the only money they receive and it is usually blown on frivolous items that most teens are prone to buying. Mischa, one of the teens who met us on the street, had other plans for at least part of his money. As he approached us, he handed Danny a red tin box. Danny opened it to find a detailed collector’s knife, a gift from Mischa. Stunned, we walked with the boys into town. When we got to the moneychanger, Mischa motioned to us that we didn’t need to change in our money, that he had some that we could use if we needed. Stunned again. After finding nothing in the stores we started to walk back to the orphanage. After passing a group of merchants on the street we stopped to wait up for Mischa who was trailing behind. As we turned, we saw him putting money into the cup of an old beggar woman whom my friends and I had walked by without noticing. As if this wasn’t enough, when we got back, he had bought a chocolate bar for all of us to share.

It astounds me that a teen that has been dealt such a hard deck in life can be so generous. It makes me want to fight for him that much harder. These are not worthless degenerates that can serve no better purpose in life. These are loving, caring human beings with loads of potential that weren’t fortunate enough to win the ovarian lottery and wind up born in the U.S.A.

We’ve been blessed as a country and it is our turn to bless others. You have been informed. The question is what will you do about it?  Will you choose to be a part of a movement that won’t carry your name or your personal achievements, but that will change the course of history? Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and catch a glimpse of what the world we live in is really like? Are you willing to inform yourself and others about the tragedy that exists no further than an ride away from your own front lawn? Or will you switch on Conan and forget about it?

The choice is yours.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Very Superstitious

It’s been a pretty slow day today, at least for me. I got to feeling pretty terrible last night around 9 and tried to go to sleep early, but that didn’t happen. Luckily, despite the lack of sleep, I woke up this morning feeling a little better than I did last night. I’m starting to think that I actually picked this up from our hotel room in New York. Danny and Stephen are both sick and we all stayed in the same room. We started working on wallpaper right away and finished the first room. It’s looking pretty good, and the team is already starting to paint.

Despite feeling bad, the last couple days have been really good. The kids here have really started warming up to us and the language barrier isn’t nearly as extreme as I thought it was originally. I still want to learn the language, but we’re having a great time even without it. Even some of the girls have been warming up. I was afraid I was just a big scary American to them but we’ve been joking and teasing each other today so I’m not so afraid of that anymore.

We had an interesting lesson on Ukraine the other night. Ukrainians are a very superstitious people. First of all, I found out that whistling is a bad thing. The superstition says that if you whistle you will lose all your money. Besides that I found out that when a baby is born, it is believed the child will be jinxed if their parents talk nice to it. So for the first few weeks of its life, they say things like “Stupid baby,” “ugly baby.” They use a nice baby tone to say it in though. There are also some pretty crazy superstitions for women as well. If women sit at the corner of the table, they will never get married and if they sit on the ground, their ovaries will freeze and they’ll never have children. Black cats and ladders apply the same as they do in the U.S. but mirrors have a bigger role here. Here you can’t put a mirror facing the door. If you do, when you bring money into the house, the mirror will push it back out. And when someone dies, they put covers over all the mirrors and reflective surfaces because if they don’t, their spirit will get caught in the mirror.

I love learning about different cultures. I wonder what the roots of these superstitions are. I may have to do some research when I get home.

Ron, losing the battle to sleep... so much for that Facebook Status.

Lori showing Micha some pictures behind the Mac army. The kids                       are surprisingly technologically savvy. I guess it's a generational thing. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


This is my new friend Sasha. He's smooooov with the ladies, but I can kick his butt in wrestlin. He calls me "Datzel." I guess that's a famous person here in Ukraine that has the same hair as me, or lack there of. Now he's famous cause he's on the internet.

Wallpaper and Advil

Day 3

I woke up this morning with a bit of a cold I think. It may just be allergies. The building we are staying in is fairly old and I’m pretty sure there is mold and there is definitely dust. I can’t complain though. Some coffee and a few Advil made me feel almost as good as new.

I got to thinking as I was getting around this morning. I really wish I knew the language here so that I could communicate more effectively with the kids. When I speak, it sounds as much gibberish to them as their speech sounds to me. If I could just speak to them I’d be able to maybe reach these kids even more. Then I got to thinking about the way I am at home. I speak the same language as most of the population yet I go out of my way many times to not talk to people. I may have to reconsider my methods when I get back home.

We began putting up wallpaper in the room today and it’s starting to look good. The paper we’re using is mostly for texture and will be painted over. We have a human trafficking seminar this afternoon that we will attend with the kids. I don’t know yet how much they know about it. Considering the statistics, I’m guessing they don’t know that much.

I was speaking with Suzanna, another German worker with YWAM, the other day and she was saying that they are in the process of building another home for these kids for after they graduate. One of the biggest issues these kids face is that they may have trade skills, but they don’t have many life skills. They wouldn’t know how to get an apartment or pay bills or cook for themselves. Once they’re out of the orphanage, they’re on their own, and they’re not developed enough to be on their own. This house would be big enough for 12 kids and 2 sets of house parents to teach these kids the things they haven’t learned yet and give them a fair shot at life.

They still need a lot of funding, approximately $160,000. I don’t know yet where donations can be sent, but I’m going to find out.

Once again, be praying for all of us. There are several people who are feeling under the weather, and the aches and pains of doing construction work is starting to set in.

Marshmallows and Soccer

Day 2 - 11:56 pm

Today ended up being a really good day. We finished up our work around 3pm and changed clothes to go play soccer with the guys and totally got schooled. These kids were good. I did score one goal though, which is pretty impressive considering I’m terrible.

After soccer we lit a campfire and roasted marshmallows with the kids and made smores. It was the first time I felt I made a connection with some of them, but considering it’s only early on, I think we’ll be getting along pretty well.

The highlight of the day was sitting in our bedroom and telling stories with the guys. I laughed so hard.

The low light of the day, and probably the most difficult obstacle to overcome is that you can’t flush the toilet paper down the stool. You can do the math on that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Several of the people I'm traveling with are also blogging. If you are interested in reading their blogs and getting their point of view, you can follow them as well at

Day 2 - Part 1?

Day 2 – 5/25/09 – 7:00 am Ukraine time (11 pm Central US time)

I slept in my clothes last night because I was too tired to change out of them. Thanks to Soviet construction, we couldn’t find the light switch to turn out the lights in our room. I know it’s downstairs somewhere, but we’ll have to figure out that mystery today. Despite the lights being on, I slept like a rock and woke up refreshed and needing to go to the bathroom. One look out the window, told me my timing had not adjusted yet. It was pitch black outside and the clock read 2:30 am. Luckily with a trip to the bathroom and some will power I was able to fall fast asleep again and awake with kids playing soccer outside and the sun shining brightly into our room at 5:30 am.

Getting around in the morning is a little interesting as there is only one public bathroom on our floor to share between about 20 of us. Luckily there are stalls and toilet seats. This is thanks to the team that was here before us. It would have just been porcelain toilets and nothing else if it weren’t for them. I think I’ll make it a point to wake up nice and early the rest of the trip so that I don’t have to worry about being in anyone’s way.

Breakfast will be served in about 30 minutes and I’m praying there will be coffee. Though I spent time in the coffee shop yesterday, there wasn’t any coffee made. The only coffee I’ve had to drink is the small cup of surprisingly phenomenal coffee on the airplane yesterday morning. European airlines definitely do it better than US ones. The food was even really descent.

Afternoon Update

Breakfast was great this morning. It consisted of buttered noodles, a fried egg and a pickle. They also have a 3 in 1 instant coffee that's really good. 3 in 1 as in coffee, cream and sugar. It took me by surprise though. I was expecting plain black black coffee.

We worked our butts off this morning. We're re doing 2 rooms and a hallway in the orphanage. I spent the morning wetting down and scraping the ceiling, removing the water soluble paint so that we can repaint the ceiling. Tonight we're having a basketball tournament and a marshmallow roast. It should be a lot of fun!!!

Ukraine Day 1

Day 1 – 5/24/09

We arrived in Kiev around 10:30 am, 8 hours ahead of the time at my house in Nebraska. The trip was fairly comfortable and not nearly as long as I expected it to be. I have no idea why I thought I would need a battery pack to extend the life of my ipod. The group spent a good portion of the time talking, and we tried to spend another good portion asleep. That wasn’t always successful. One of the strangest things to me was seeing the sun set, and then rise again only a few hours later.

As soon as we landed and made it through customs, we hit the ground running. There was a bus waiting at the airport to take us to the YWAM base, which was a boat on the river. We met some of the folks who would be with us and learned a little bit about what we were doing and about the kids we were helping. The statistics that stuck out in my mind the most was that 10% of the students from the orphanage will commit suicide before the age of 18. 60% of the girls who graduate from this orphanage will be victims of human trafficking and 70% of boys will enter a life of crime. Graduation is in a month.

After training we jumped back on the bus and drove to the actual orphanage. Though we were all told the best way to beat jet lag was not to sleep, most of us couldn’t help ourselves and slept the rest of the trip in the bus. Soon we were at the orphanage and loaded into our rooms. The beds are small, about ¾ the size of a twin bed, maybe smaller, but are comfortable enough to sleep well in. Though we were all tired, it was not yet time to sleep.

We met several kids right away, and Stephen McGee, a photojournalist traveling with us who has an amazing gift of getting to know just about anyone in 5 seconds flat, took to playing soccer with the kids while the rest of us toured the facility. In the coffee shop (the size of a large bedroom with a bar and a coffee machine and some tables) I met a boy, I’m guessing around 16 or 17 years old, taking music lessons and who asked if any of us played guitar. I told him I did and he asked me to teach him. I told him through a translator that I would try after his music lesson was done.

After the tour we went back to our rooms to relax a little, but it wasn’t long lived. Helmut, a German carpenter that is working with us, was already building a platform that was to be used to paint the ceiling in one of the rooms. It was more than a one-man job so I took to swinging a hammer. We finished in about 30 minutes and the boy who I was going to give guitar lessons too was already at the door so I grabbed the guitar and we went back to the coffee shop. Trying to teach someone guitar is difficult in the first place. Trying to teach someone who spoke no English was even more so, but he was motivated and quickly learned the G, C and D chords.

Quickly it was time for dinner so we headed down to the cafeteria and ate our first Ukrainian meal at the orphanage. It consisted of half a tomato, some sort of rice, bread, hot tea and a type of pastry that was round and had sour cream on top. The orphans ate their meal in less than 5 minutes and were out the door. It took us a little longer, and as soon as I was done, the boy was ready to play more guitar. We worked at it a little more in the coffee shop and then he wanted to move outside so that everyone else could here. We sat on the steps of the orphanage and drew in a few more of the boys who wanted to hear “System of a Down,” “50 Cent” and “Eminem.” Unfortunately I didn’t know any of this music so I played them some Pilot for Kite stuff and they seemed to like it. One of the leaders, and older woman here at the orphanage, brought out a blanket and ushered us to a bench area by an outdoor ping pong table where kids were playing. This caused several more kids to it and listen as I quickly ran out of songs to play. Luckily Danny, the singer for a band called National Product, came down and took over the performance.

You get many different reactions from the kids. Most of the girls look at you as if they’re trying to figure you out and are highly suspicious. The leaders say the girls are the hardest to get to know. Ukrainian girls are very girly, even more so than American girls. They rarely play sports or lift heavy objects, so when American girls are here to help and are playing sports and lifting 2x4s the boys are very intrigued.

The boys are easier to get to know aside from being normal teenage boys. Though you don’t speak their language, you understand that some of them are making fun of you, but it really isn’t that bothersome when you can’t understand them. The leaders said this was normal and that pretty soon they’ll be your friend and won’t want to leave your side.

As of right now, Ukraine is not what I expected. Though there are definitely differences from the US, there have been many times I’ve caught myself feeling as if I were just in Lincoln or some other town in the US. Visually, it’s much the same. There are buildings, green trees and cars that have the steering wheels on the same side as they are in the US. The people, though usually very much Russian looking, are just everyday people like you and me. Until they speak, it feels like any other town in the US. This may be due to the fact we are isolated at bit at the orphanage. I’m sure we’ll be making some trips into town in the near future, and that should usher in a bit more of a culture shock.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I fly out for Ukraine today and if there is internet access, I'll be blogging from there. I met the team last night and they are some awesome folks. We ate Pizza underneath the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. It was amazing. Pray for me!!!