Summer 2012 Visit
Last summer, Marik was gracious enough to drive Oksana, Bozena, Oksana and I to visit Pysanka Orphanage on a sunny Saturday. His little car was full to the brim, with us and stuffed animals that Marik had collected from his older brother. Carrying that garbage bag into the building I joked that Marik looked like Mykolaj (St. Nicholas) with a beard and all!
When we entered, we were greeted by familiar faces, all a bit more grown up since the last time we had seen them, a full year ago. All the girls were taller and very excited to see us. They also had something to show us. They had a new addition to their family! A beautiful baby boy named Artem, who, when we saw him, was adorned with a floral wreath, no doubt confused why all these strangers were watching him.
The girls took us outside and shared a delicious meal, obviously made from all the delicious produce grown in their huge horod (garden). After lunch, we went for a walk to a natural spring in the forest about an hour away. A row of mugs hung off nails, inviting us to drink the cold water, which we did gladly. As we sat down to rest and take the glorious forest, the girls scattered in many directions. It seemed like they were hunting for something. They came back several minutes later hands full of blackberries to share. It was such a pleasant day.
On the way back, Bozena stopped with some of the older girls and picked some apples. Because they did not have anywhere to store them, she offered the inside of her shirt. After we came back, Marik had to head back to Lviv because we were already late for another appointment. We said our hurried goodbyes and shared some Canadian souvenirs with the girls, including Smarties candies and window stickers.
We wanted to stay longer, but other promises are also important to keep. We piled back into the car with all our arms sticking out of all the windows waving goodbye to the beautiful girls we knew not for the last time. :)
Winter 2011 Visit
Kosa has been raising money for the Pysanka Orphanage for a year now. In January 2011, Bozena and Oksana finally had the opportunity to visit Sister Romana and the orphanage in Potelech, Ukraine. Here is our story... Two Kosa members and our friends Marczyk and Ada decided to go to Ukraine for New Years and the Christmas Holidays (which are in January). We were eager to see the Pysanka orphanage that we had been raising money for. And so it was on a grey rainy day that we stood at a marshrutka stop awaiting the mini bus that we hoped would take us to Potelech. Almost three hours later, we got off, seeing the village from a distance... we made it! Since we got off the bus a bit too early, we started walking towards the big silver church that stood as our visible landmark of Potelech. We met Sister Romana along the main road coming to greet us.
We followed Sister, trying to avoid the puddles and mud as we made our way to the orphanage. The exterior of the building hadn't changed since Bozena's first visit in 2009, but the inside had undergone a complete transformation. Two years ago, there was only a shell of a building standing with bare bricks and piping sticking out of walls. Now, we walked into a warm and beautifully inviting place that instantly felt like a home. We were given slippers and led around to the completed furnished rooms where the children live: the bedrooms, the washrooms, the living room, the kitchen, and dining room.
The money that Sister Romana has raised and we have contributed to, along with Mike Rudzinski and Brett McCaw (in Chicago), has been put to good use. The part of the building intended for the orphaned children is finished and fully furnished. It is absolutely lovely. The girls have their own rooms, shared with siblings, and furnished with desks and everything they need. This is in stark contrast to boarding style conditions the children have come from. As Sister Romana showed us around the building she told us about the orphanage in nearby Rava Ruska that has over 200 children. The Sisters of St. Joseph are hoping to take in more girls into their foster home and give them a chance to live in a smaller and more nurturing environment.
Aside from this goal, the Sisters would still like to reach more children in the village and have them come to the Pysanka Home to attend nursery school. We were shown around the planned nursery school rooms and guests rooms that are still unfinished. Beautiful murals adorn the walls, painted by a fellow Sister in a religious folk style; one of the Holy Family, another of the personified Night blanketting the village of Potelech. We saw desks and furniture that has been donated by locals and sits in storage waiting for the rooms to be finished. Sister Romana hopes that more funds will make it to them soon and that the social projects she has in mind can start to be realized.
The best part of the visit was when all the children came home from school and we were able to finally meet them! After eating, the younger ones went to go get their photo albums and brought them to share with us. They overcame their shyness when they started to explain what their photos were all about and we had a great time hearing about their past experiences. We all had a good laugh about the attention they paid to Marchyk, the only male in the place, and an odd looking foreigner at that!
After taking some photos together for posterity we went for a short walk to see a beautiful historic church up on the hill- the oldest remaining wooden church in all of Galicia, with preserved frescoes on wood. After the tour, Sister Romana arranged a drive for us to Rava Rus'ka and we parted ways there as we boarded the bus to Lviv. It was unbelievable to think about the last time I had got on that bus and waved goodbye to Sister Romana and how much had happened since then... how much our lives had been changed by our encounter...
Summer 2011 Visit
Let me tell you about our visit to the Pysanka home this past August….
Me (Steph), Oksana, and Bozena were staying with Bozena’s sister Oksana. Our friend Marik came and picked us up early one morning from Oksana’s apartment on Stryjska. We piled into the little car that bumped along the cobblestones through the busy streets of Lviv. We were headed for Potelech, a village two hours away. This would be my first time visiting the orphanage I had helped raise money for over the past 2 years. I was both nervous and excited.
Smoke along the highway distracted us for us for while. Workers were cutting down enormous old trees and burning them to widen the road. Marik told us it for next year’s Euro Cup.
After some time, we started seeing abandoned buildings and huge ugly Soviet monuments. Bozena said we were getting close because she remembered a particular farmhouse with a collapsed roof.
We turned into Potelech and were greeted by muddy potholes. Bump. Bump. Bump.
Bozena said the orphanage was past a church…This one? No, No. It’s up ahead.
There was construction near the road as we turned up a pebbly path, driving up to the orphanage that Sister Romana had appropriately called “Pysanka” (Easter Egg).
All five foot two of Sister Romana was waiting outside to greet us (perhaps 5’4” with her habit on). We all got out of the hot car and hugged her like we were old friends. After brief introductions of Marik, both Oksanas and myself, Sister Romana took us inside to show us all the progress on the renovated home we had not yet seen.
First we were led into the dining room where some of the girls were busy running in and out of the room setting up the table, timidly avoiding eye contact. Once everything was ready, everyone sat down in their likely assigned seats and we drank tea and ate chocolates.
The girls took a little while to warm up to us. After some coaxing, questions and songs, the barriers came down. They got up and led us around their new home showing us all their bedrooms, washrooms and the newly completed nursery.
Then we went outside. Each of our hands was taken by one girl and we were led higher up a hill to their horod (garden). The girls were so proud of their huge crops. They begged us to take their photos hugging their cabbages, holding red peppers and posing with rakes.
We came back from our little walk to fresh dinner on the table made by Sister Romana: everything delicious straight from the garden. We ate outside under a wooden gazebo with a colourful view of the flower garden they had all planted.
After fun photo sessions, playing with each others’ hair and a walk down to the 500-year old church in the village, it was time for us to leave.
We were only at Pysanka Orphanage for several hours but the experience left a yearning in my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful the girls were and how well Sister Romana is taking care of them. She has sincerely created a loving home for these deserving girls.
As our car drove away, we all looked back to see Sister Romana framed in the back window, surrounded by her children smiling and waving back at us. I can’t wait to go back and visit them again.