Monday, May 31, 2010

We're a Homeschooling Family

Okay, I guess in order to mimic this video, we'll have to work on our "multiplication"!

Abigail has finished first grade!  She is such a great student.  This year she has learned to read, add and subtract.  We have spent countless hours together discovering how the Vikings built their homes, watching a caterpillar metemorph into a butterfly, testing gravity, and enjoying stories about kids who lived long ago.

Homeschooling Abigail has been a great privilege and I treasure being a part of her discovery of the world.  In August, Matthew will join our school.  He told me, "Mom, when I start kindergarten you need to teach me robotics."  My response, "Umm...that's above me.  How about I teach you to read and count?"  He's so eager to begin school that he's begging me every day to let him do math.  "I don't need to read, but I want to learn math," he says.  Matthew already knows so much just from observing Abagail's lessons.  His adventure in learning is about to begin!

I couldn't say enough good things about Sonlight curriculum.  It provides everything I was looking for - classical education, just the right amount of structure and flexibility, and great literature.

Sonlight Curriculum

As much as I love homeschooling, we would prefer to send our children to Christian schools.  Well, for us here in Ukraine, there is no such opportunity.  We have been told not to send our children to local Ukrainian schools.  They say the education system is weak, the teachers don't know how to teach well, there's no classroom discipline, the students are unruly, the administration is disorganized, etc., etc.  Since we've decided to homeschool the challenge is how to keep the children interacting with other kids.  Since January, Abigail and Matthew attended an art class twice a week.  In September we would like to enroll them in dance.  We try to have friends come over at least once a week to play.  For now, this is probably sufficient but we'll have to constantly re-examine their needs.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Treated with Fear

"Sarah, you can't imagine how the doctors are here," explains my friend, Vera.  Concern for her friend chokes her voice.  "Monica had a baby 6 days ago and now has a high fever.  She is in the hospital.  The doctors can't find anything wrong but are treating her with lots of medicines.  She is not allowed to have her baby with her.  She has to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks."  As I ask more questions it begins to sound like the mother has engorgement or possibly mastitis but any number of infections are possible.  A high percentage of mothers and babies acquire staph infections in the maternity ward from unsanitary conditions.  Vera went to the hospital and asked the doctor questions about Monica's diagnosis.  The doctor became furious with her for asking questions, telling Vera she's ignorant and stupid.  Despondent, Vera gave up. "There's nothing we can do.  Monica will stay in the hospital, not knowing what is wrong with her or what she is being treated for.  Her family will dutifully run to the pharmacy to purchase whatever medicines the doctor orders and pay the high bribes to the doctor for her care.  If they don't the doctor threatens to never treat her again, or worse, just let her die.  It's just the way things are done here.  Two other women sharing the room with Monica have infants at home and they sit in the hospital not even receiving any medications.  The doctor tells them they must stay.  They're too afraid to leave."

The stories of the medical care here are endless. This is just today's story.  I could recount far worse - even horrifying stories.  Numerous times we consult the internet or our family and friends who are nurses and doctors, and give medical advice to those asking us for it.  They don't trust their doctors but they will rarely do anything to question or go against the doctor's orders.  The doctors treat their patients not with compassion, not with knowledge, but with fear.

"Don't go to the hospital unless you're going to die, because if you do go, you will die."  This is the advice we have received from local people.  I must say my greatest fear of living in Ukraine is that in the case of a medical emergency I would have to make a decision about whether to risk my child's life by going to a Ukrainian hospital or risk the lost time trying to get to a hospital in Hungary.  Thankfully, we haven't been in such a dire state and we have always managed to get to a private hospital outside Budapest, Hungary (about a 5 hour drive away).  There are closer hospitals available in Hungary but hopefully we won't ever need them!  Local Ukrainians, however, don't have the luxury of seeking medical care in another country.  They are left to suffer with a corrupt, outdated medical system where there is no concern for the patient's well-being.  Indeed, they have a lot to fear.

You who fear him, trust in the Lord - he is their help and shield. - Ps. 115:11

Here are recent pictures of my friend's stay in the maternity ward of the Mukachevo hospital.  This is the delivery room.  Two women can deliver in one room simultaneously.

The shower (one for the entire floor) is a new development.  The door from the corridor to the shower room doesn't lock so the women improvise by pulling up a single chair to the door so that when someone tries to come in they'll hit the chair and know it's occupied.  Just a few years ago there were no showers and only cold running water.  After delivery you couldn't clean up or shower until you were discharged from the hospital 5-7 days later.

My friend's room is an average hospital room but exceptional in the fact that there is only one bed in this room.  Most rooms have around 6 beds and typically are occupied by 2-3 women and their infants.

The sink has only cold water.

Another relatively new development is that babies are allowed to stay with their mothers in the room.  Just a few years ago this wasn't allowed and babies were brought to their moms every 3 hours for feeding and then returned to a common nursery.  My friend was encouraged to see posters on the walls describing how to breastfeed.  In the past there had been no explanation or assistance at all.

 The corridor to the postpartum floor.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Contagious Wedding

Slavic and Silvia have been regularly attending our church for the past year.  They had expressed an interest in joining the church but before they could become members, they had to get married.  Slavic told George once, "We don't have enough money for bread.  How could we afford a wedding?"  George encouraged them saying, "Money doesn't have to be an issue.  As a congregation, we can help."  Following the church retreat, Slavic and Silvia decided they would take the first step and register their request for the civil marriage.  They went in on Thursday expecting to receive a date at least a month later.  Instead, they were shocked to hear that since they already had two children, they could marry on Saturday!  They promptly called George and asked if he could do the church wedding on Sunday.  (A civil ceremony is necessary for a legal marriage.  A church ceremony is optional.)  The congregation sprang to action organizing a reception, wedding dress, bouquet, suit, rings, etc.

We were delighted to see Slavic and Silvia take this wedding seriously and make a lifelong commitment to each other. 

To my knowledge, no one in their extended family has legally married.  We were invited to the wedding reception on Saturday just for family and close friends.  Silvia's mom, who also has been attending our church for years, commented, "Maybe our wedding will be next."  How exciting to see God transforming the lives of children who in turn set an example for their parents!

Silvia and Slavic have taken the first step.  Next they would like to become members, be baptized and have their two daughters baptized.  May God's transforming grace continue to be at work in this couple's life and in the lives of their extended family!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Future Pianist's First Performance

Abigail performed in her first piano recital today.  She was the youngest student and played two Ukrainian duets with her piano teacher, Ira.  We have been blessed to find a gifted and patient piano teacher.  She has gone to a lot of effort to find easy pieces that Abigail is familiar with.  Abigail goes to the music school twice a week for a 45 minute lesson.  Her teacher refuses to let us pay her more than $1.25 a lesson.  I think she's a keeper!!!

Abigail and Matthew like to list all of the things they want to be when they grow up.  Abigail's list consists of a piano teacher, ballet teacher, figure skating teacher, and golf teacher.  I wonder if she'll be a teacher when she grows up??? :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Suffering Under the Curse of Babel

русский язык (Russian).  українська мова (Ukrainian).  Magyarul (Hungarian).  Zakarpatian.  These four languages are all commonly spoken around us.  When you come in as a foreigner, which one do you learn? 
     * Ukrainian is the "official" language and is predominantly spoken in western Ukraine.  Most children study Ukrainian in school. 
     * Russian is very widely spoken by adults, having been the official language under the Soviet Union.  Most of the capital city, eastern and southern Ukraine speak Russian. 
     * Hungarian is a minority language spoken primarily by ethnic Hungarian living near the border with Hungary.  Many of our friends are ethnic Hungarians and speak Hungarian at home. 
     * Zakarpatian is a non-written local dialect consisting of a mix of 8 languages from this region (Ukrainian, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, Slovakian, Polish, Ruthenian, and what am I forgetting...).  It is commonly spoken in rural villages.

George studied Russian at a university in Kyiv for a year and knows it fluently.  He preaches in Russian and when he's preoccupied, he'll even talk to me in Russian!  Living in this region of Ukraine, however, he's seen his accuracy in Russian drop.  Hardly anyone speaks any one language purely and Ukrainian and Russian are often mixed.  After some time, it's easy to pick up on the "mistakes" and not be so sure of the correct word or spelling or grammatical ending. 

Because George spoke Russian, I also started learning Russian.  I didn't want to share a conversation with friends in two different languages.  I'm ashamed to say that I'm not very skilled but can struggle through a conversation.  My excuse is that it's hard to find time to study with three little kids always interrupting. 

George and I both speak Hungarian fairly well.  I learned it while living in Hungary for 3 years and George learned it because he was initially invited to Ukraine to work with the ethnically-Hungarian Reformed church in their outreach to Ukrainian/Russian-speaking majority.  We can both converse easily in Hungarian.

Now, the big question has been - WHAT LANGUAGE SHOULD THE KIDS LEARN?  George and I speak Russian.  Many of the kids' friends speak Hungarian.  Ukrainian is most widely spoken by children in our region.  We settled on Ukrainian and asked a friend to work with the kids to teach them.  She's now too busy and we're searching for someone else.  Abigail knows a lot of Ukrainian and Russian.  (She mixes them.)  She is also able to play comfortably with her Hungarian-speaking friends.  She has a gift for languages and if she could be systematically exposed to just one language, she'd be fluent in no time.  Matthew, on the other hand, struggles greatly.  Even after weeks of practicing phrases like "What's your name?" and "How old are you?", when his teacher asked him, "What's your name?" he would answer "5".  Languages don't come easily for him and he can't tell the difference between Hungarian and Ukrainian which are two completely different language groups.  Elizabeth is still concentrating on English but has picked up a few words in Ukrainian, Russian and Hungarian. 

There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't wish there was just ONE language spoken around us.  It's confusing, tiring, and complicated trying to communicate in so many languages all in one place.  In our situation, which language would you choose to learn?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Power of Community

Yesterday we returned from a two-day church retreat held in the Carpathian Mountains about an hour from our town.  It was a great time of fellowship and learning.  I think the total count of participants was 42 including two infants.  This, our fourth annual church retreat, was the largest so far.

George led four sessions on community including accepting one another, encouraging one another and living in harmony with one another.  In small groups we discussed questions and performed skits to demonstrate different aspects of what we learned.  I think it was all very good but the "final exam" comes in actually living it out.

Most of our time on the retreat was spent "in community" taking hikes, working on a puzzle, or cooking potatoes in a campfire.  I appreciated the time we could spend together and the conversations we shared.  Although I wouldn't join the kids in saying I'd like to live there forever (the food wasn't that good), I can say that I love these people and am glad God has placed us among them. There's no other place I'd rather be. May He use us to build His Church here in Ukraine!