Friday, September 14, 2012

2012 SFC-The Way Home

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 all its colors and shapes and sizes.

2012 SFC- "Best in the World" Odessa

Returning to our family trip this summer...

We sailed into Odessa, Ukraine ready to take our special day-long family trip.  Our brilliant travel agent, Teri Crane of World Travel Management in Los Angeles, set up a wonderful full day of exploration, and we enjoyed every minute.

Our guide Yuriy of Odessa Private Tours met us dockside and loaded us into our private van, and we were off to the village of Nerubayskoye  for a tour of the Catacombs.

Yuriy was WONDERFUL in his explanation of the history of the partisans during World War II, the underground Soviet army fort,  and how living underground was their only means of survival.

The entrance to the Catacombs...there are over 650 miles...yes MILES..of tunnels.

We wandered and wandered through the dimly lit, narrow corridors...

...trying to imagine how people slept,


and worked,

in such desperate surroundings.

Not simply partisans, resistance fighters, soldiers....but whole families lived in the catacombs--as evidenced by this underground schoolroom.

Back above ground, we picked up our additional tour guide, Elena.  Elena will be remembered for a long time in our family.  She was a one-woman Chamber of Commerce for truth, Odessa's Cheerleader without peer! "The Best In The World"!!!!

Here's a fellow who is near and dear to my heart.

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin.

(My  baccalaureate thesis for my Russian major was "Romantic Concepts in the Major Works of Lermontov and Pushkin.  I spent a LOT of time with dear old Alexander Serge'ich.)   Pushkin lived in Odessa and wrote many of his famous works there.

My cousins get up close with the great poet.

As does Alix.

Then Elena trotted us to "the most beautiful opera house in the world."

Note, please,  our enthusiasm.  Lunch was waiting.

I totally forgot to get the name of the restaurant, but obviously, it was a great spot--my friend, Crystal Serenity's Head Sommelier Bart, took his posse out to lunch there, as we were a merry band of non-Ukranians.

Lunch was yummy-- with lots of interesting translations...

...and I was able to try kvass (a slightly fermented beverage made from black bread) for the first time.

There was also the traditional vodka with pickle and black bread chaser.

Next stop, another fascinating "best in the world" stop with Elena.  This is a "best in the world" well of some sort.  Elena can tell you all about it.  Lord knows, she told us.

Some pretty impressive columns.

Yes, they are  of "the best in the world" construction.

This must be some "best in the world" graffiti.

In reality, it was a terrific day--beautiful weather, hanging with the family along the Black Sea...

So maybe it WAS a "best in the world" day!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Thought

Throw your 
dreams into space
like a kite,
and you do not
know what it
will bring back,
a new life,
a new friend,
a new love,
a new country.

-Anaïs Nin

Monday, September 10, 2012

Georgia Tech goes Google

One of the more unusual sightings when we moved Alix into her Freshman dorm at Georgia Tech was this.

Google University?  Google Institute of Technology?

Nope.  Just a little bit of Hollywood. Parts of the new Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughan movie "The Internship" were filmed around the Tech campus.  Most of my photos are --you guessed it-- on the OTHER computer, but here's a taste of the google-fication of the campus.

CULC (Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons) turned into Google.

Movie set, not institute of higher learning.

Google Bikes and Umbrellas.

The movie's premise sounds funny.  Two 40-something guys lose their jobs and become interns at Google, where their bosses are in their 20's.

Hope it comes out soon.  Maybe I can get some tips on what to do with MY life......