A Twist On Mother’s Day As Woman Reaches Out To Motherless Kids In Ukraine

EDMONTON, Canada -- Kindergarten teacher Danielle Kowalchyk will be thousands of kilometres away from her six-year-old twins this Mother’s Day in an effort to bring joy to dozens of motherless kids in Ukraine.

Danielle Kowalchyk, a kindergarten teacher at St. Francis of Assisi School, poses with items she is taking with her for kids in orpanages in Ukraine for Mother’s Day. She was photographed in Edmonton on May 7, 2013.

About 50 children from various towns will gather this weekend in Lviv, Ukraine, with several Edmonton volunteers, attending church and a Mother’s Day breakfast, making crafts and going out for a treat, likely ice cream.

“I just can’t wait to see their faces,” said Kowalchyk, a teacher for the past 14 years with St. Francis of Assisi Catholic elementary school, at 6614 129th Ave.

“Every time I see pictures of them when they’ve opened a (donation) box, I just want to be there.”

Kowalchyk joked she’ll have to pack her waterproof mascara for the emotional two-week journey that takes her away from her own kids, son Maxim and daughter Zoryana.

“I’ve prepared my children that this year it’s Mama’s turn to go and be with the children that need a mom,” she said.

“My son was very kind and said, ‘They need to have hugs from a Mama on Mother’s Day.’ ... We’re so fortunate here, oh my goodness, and it’s nice that we can teach our own children that they can help someone else.”

Maxim and Zoryana helped pack shoeboxes of school supplies, clothing, toys and personal items such as toothbrushes and soap that are delivered to the kids in Ukraine.

The twins have seen photos of children in the orphanages there, she said.

“My children couldn’t believe that there would be six or eight or 10 children sleeping in one room, with little beds."

"And these kids are so thrilled to hear children from another country would care enough about them to send such goodies for them. It’s going to be hard being there.”

Kowalchyk is visiting Ukraine for the first time with her sister-in-law, Wanda Kowalchyk, and her mother-in-law, Luba Kowalchyk, who founded the Edmonton-based charity Bridge of Hope about 13 years ago and visits the country annually.

Bridge of Hope is supported by the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton and works with the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate in Ukraine.

The organization helps children at nine orphanages and street kids at 14 Bridge of Hope centres through a variety of programs, including summer camps, child sponsorship and shoebox drives that deliver approximately 3,000 boxes annually to orphanages in Ukraine.

Danielle, Wanda and Luba are visiting at least five different orphanages, travelling through about two cities and six towns in Ukraine, and helping the nuns set up the children’s summer camp.

Several Edmonton schools have held bottle drives and other fundraisers to contribute to Bridge of Hope.

Danielle, Wanda and Luba will use donations to buy food for the kids, such as yogurt and fresh fruit, Danielle said.

“Some of them have never had a banana or grapes or a cantaloupe,” Danielle said. 

“Hopefully when we get to Ukraine, those children will feel the love of the kids of Canada. The children sent family photos in the shoe boxes and letters and international stamps so they can write back. It’s made a really connection for them and I think that’s important.”

Teaching kindergarten, Danielle works with many higher-needs children at St. Francis of Assisi School, which serves a socially vulnerable population, said principal Katherine Dekker.

“This really is just an extension of her into another country.”

Chronic poverty, particularly pronounced in the 1990s after Ukraine achieved independence from the former Soviet Union, has been hard on the country’s children, said Luba Kowalchyk.

Many children are abandoned because their families can’t afford to care for them, and human trafficking remains a serious problem.

When Luba visited an orphanage that cared for about 140 children in Ukraine in the 1990s, there were a few toys neatly displayed.

“They didn’t have that many toys so the kids were only able to look at them and not play with the teddy bears and stuffies. For me, that was very difficult to take, knowing what my kids had here (in Canada).”

Luba came home and worked with her church to organize shipments of toys for those kids.

That venture later blossomed into Bridges of Hope and partnered with the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton.

A family friend who died in 1998 left part of his estate to benefit the Ukrainian children, which allowed Luba to invest the money and use the interest to strategically expand the volunteer-run charity.

Luba used her background in administrative management work with the nuns in Ukraine who had easier access to work with orphans there than westerners.

Luba bought the sisters office supplies and computers and taught them to keep records to provide accountability in Canada.

About 200 Canadian families, most in Alberta, now sponsor kids in Ukraine, and Bridge of Hope works with vulnerable kids through 14 centres as well as nine orphanages.

Luba remembers visiting kids at a Bridge of Hope summer camp who piled clothes and materials on the floor to build a bed soft enough for her to stay the night.

“The facility was a field with the tents we had shipped from Canada,” Luba said.

“It was so primitive. They camped by the river, and the kids were so happy. I was amazed. I thought I would not be able to find one kid in Canada who would want to attend that kind of camp if I walked from sea to sea, but they loved it.”

Bridge of Hope is opening a Home of Hope this August that will support orphaned girls who would otherwise be on their own at age 16.

Alberta Bishop David Motiuk will be blessing the home during an event there Aug. 9.

“Especially as we’re approaching Mother’s Day, these children do not have a mother or a father but maybe we can be that family,” Motiuk said.

“We’re going to continue to give them a place of security, a place of hope, a place of love.”

Source: The Edmonton Journal