Our second day in Odessa saw three of our group--Alix, Mary Cecile and I--participating in Crystal Cruises' You Care We Care voluntourism excursion.
And it was one of the most moving excursions of my life.
The Way Home is a non-governmental agency providing "an organization helping homeless adults, children and drug users find a better way of life by providing medical assistance, psychological support and legal services." (quotes courtesy of Crystal's shore excursion brochure).
We, a small group of 8, boarded our minivan and threaded our way through the streets of Odessa, past the fancy parts, and into a quieter section of the city.
Behind this gate are some pretty amazing people doing some incredible things to help humanity. I can't put it more simply than that.
The courtyard of "The Way Home". In particular, the Center for Children in Crisis.
This particular branch of the organization provides living accommodations for up to 25 children. These are children who were living on the street, for whatever reason- drug abuse, family violence, abandonment. In this safe place, children are offered compassion, counseling, friendship, guidance-- in short, a loving, encouraging environment where they can cast off the horrors to which they have been exposed in their short lives and become strong, productive, and caring members of society.
They share dorm-style rooms.
And they are encouraged to have pets. Caring for another living thing has been shown to help heal victims of abuse.
The on-site social worker--I wish I had written down her name!
She seems hardly old enough to be able to be a counselor...and that's the idea. She is seen by the children as a big sister, facilitating the talking process, and therefore, the healing.
I was moved that part of our merry band was a family of four- parents who brought their two boys along. I feel it's so important for those of us who have so VERY much see that there is much work to be done in the world.
Our guide, Elena (in blue) was our translator for the facility director (in white).
As you can see, the facility is clean and bright.
And the children, from the youngest to oldest, were so welcoming. They had prepared dances and songs for us.
The older adults are tutors, choreographers, and theatre directors.
Here, the tutor/football coach and the artistic director played translators in an entertaining way.
There is much love among the residents.
The older children prepared a presentation of the work of "The Way Home" and their several facilities all over Odessa.
Alix and Celie inspect the "Craft Corner" where gifts handmade by the children can be purchased.
In one of the most moving meetings of the excursion, two boys who were the same age as Mary Cecile (10 years old) were brave enough to tell us their stories of living on the street and how they came to the Crisis Center.
As a mother, hearing their stories just about broke my heart. I think they had a tremendous impact on both Celie and Alix, too.
Then it was time for some fun.
The center is also open for children to be dropped off during the day, as in-crisis parents go about the process of healing. There are lots of kids to play and entertain.
And, isn't it always interesting how a smile and fun don't need translators?
The older girls taught Alix a fun game involving timing and concentration....resulting in HOWLS of laughter.
And then Alix got Celie to join in.
The trick is to go back and forth, patting thighs in order. It is HARDER THAN IT LOOKS.
A smile is a smile in any language...
And nothing is more attention-grabbing than a box full of new kittens.
Could Mary Cecile have a bigger smile?
This is what brings me joy. A smattering of English is all that was needed to communicate. Children amaze me.
Elena with Alix and Mary Cecile at the end of an incredible excursion.
I can't say enough about how deeply moved I was visiting "The Way Home". This organization receiving NO government funding, works with so little and achieves so much. They not only work with children, but also with HIV/AIDS prevention and medical care to the homeless community. Their mission is a noble one.
If you'd like to read more about "The Way Home", here are some articles...
The Digital Journalist
Volunteering in Odessa
It reminded me, once again, how much I have, and how large the world is. I encourage any of you out there reading this to make a donation to "The Way Home" or, if you'd rather, send a care package to the address on their website. They can use anything from craft supplies to dance costumes.
And, once again, I am reminded of Mother Teresa's statement "We can do no great things....only small things with great love."
And thank you, once again, Crystal Cruises , for bringing me the gift of the world...in all its colors and shapes and sizes.