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Dauphin volunteers take up the challenge

Today in Canada, there are no orphanages. This is not because there are no orphaned, abandoned or “at risk” children, but because we have a social safety net and a belief that children are best taken care of in a family setting whenever possible.

Today in Ukraine, there are 275 state-run orphanages, which the statistics say house 103,000 children, but because of poor record-keeping, numbers are more likely closer to 140,000 children.

For centuries Ukraine was dominated by Russia and the Soviet Union, until 1991 when Ukrainian citizens voted for independence. Since then the country has struggled to achieve political, economic and social stability, but many of these structures remain dysfunctional or lacking, and orphanages continue to exist. Most of the children do not have “official orphan status” so are unadoptable, and for the ones who do, international adoption is very, very difficult.

As awareness of the plight of Ukrainian orphans spreads, religious and community-based organizations from around the world have reached out to help. One such organization is the “Boxes of Love Project” based in Dauphin. The all-volunteer group supports the Baby House, which is an orphanage for 45 children from newborn to age four, and the Internat, which is a facility for 150 youngsters ages five to 16 in the village of Nadvirna.

Lindsay Rubeniuk saw the desperate need first hand. “Their faces never leave you,” she said. So, she and her friend Nicole Yunker of Dauphin rolled up their sleeves and got to work! Over the last four years, they and a handful of dedicated volunteers have collected over $25,000 worth of needed supplies for the Baby House. Besides new and gently used clothing, they gather and send hygiene products, disposable diapers, new shoes and glass baby bottles that can be sterilized. Other initiatives have included an age-appropriate Ukrainian library, colourful crib quilts and new carpeting for the Baby House.

Because of corruption in Ukraine, safe movement of the donated goods had to be ensured. The Boxes of Love group has built a relationship with Meest Shipping, and the Transport Committee lists everything in each box sent which is checked on arrival in Nadvirna. It takes three months for shipments to arrive by sea, so Boxes of Love is now collecting for fall and winter.

Yunker phones Boxes of Love volunteers in Ukraine every week to discuss needs so that time and money aren’t wasted. Clothing, hygiene products, school supplies and art supplies are sent for the older children of Internat. A Backpack Project is now underway with the goal being to collect one backpack filled with school supplies and a new pair of runners for each of the 150 children. There’s also a group of knitters who makes hats, sweaters and leg warmers, and donations of yarn are never turned down.

Monies for shipping and other needs are raised through the sale of blue and yellow Boxes of Love bracelets and through monetary contributions. Donations of $10 or more are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.

The Boxes of Love committee has also started “Learning Our Way Out of Poverty” (LOWOP), an initiative to help Internat students gain skills to assist them in becoming productive citizens and bridging the gap between the ages of 13 until graduation when they will be eligible for free secondary education.

The Boxes of Love group would like to inspire others throughout Manitoba and Canada to learn from their experiences and replicate the Boxes of Love, Backpack and LOWOP projects to benefit other Ukrainian orphanages. Is your community up for the challenge? To find out more, contact the Boxes of Love Committee at [email protected]

To donate, make your cheque payable to “Parkland Crossing” and note “Ukraine Orphan Project” on the memo line and send to Parkland Crossing, Box 70, Dauphin, Man., R7N 2T9.

To see photos of the Nadvirna Baby House and Internat, go to www.orphansbrightstar.org/orphan ages/nadirna/htm or www.anorphansbrightstar.shutterfly.com/nadvirna.

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