It is strange to be in a position where I am forced to look back and take stock of the last 4 months of my life (wow it’s four months tomorrow!) when for the last year (at least) I have been more accustomed to looking forward to these four months. I have not yet let it sink in that my time is “up” – I’m not getting on a plane for a few weeks, but my days here in Ukraine are numbered.
A long time ago I wrote a strange blog where I promised to tell you about my biggest challenges here and I never kept that promise (They all Places Bets). I will now. I couldn’t talk about it before because it felt like letting it out gave it too much power over me and over my time here. Now that I have just about reached the end and am confident in my successes I am in a position to better analyze the problems and challenges.
For the month of June (my first month at the Internat) and part way through July I wasn’t really sure that I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t as happy as I had expected to be working at the Internat. Actually to be quite honest my stomach lurched and knotted the moment I hit the base of the driveway up to the orphanage building. I really fought with this feeling – the nausea, the anxiety, the upset because I was committed to making sure that I was still giving the girls the best that I could.
I have this problem: I am afraid of my negatively coloured emotions (like I talked about in my Auscwitz post). I am so rarely taken over by negative premonitions and experiences where I can not find the silver lining that when it does happen I always fear the worst. This fear of the negative is exponentially multiplied when I’m alone and don’t have anyone to process with (I am a verbal processor – I need to talk through things to make sense of them). I struggled silently for nearly two months thinking that the feelings I experienced while at the Internat were related to the job, and the girls and not being fully interested or motivated. I was feeling like I was in the wrong place, and maybe even a little bit disappointed that I had worked so hard for something I didn’t really want. I didn’t feel like I could blog about it because I had built up an expectation in my self and in others, and was feeling really guilty that I thought I “hated” it. There was also this smell that wafted from the grounds that added to the nausea. There were days where it was almost too much to deal with and a few days I nearly turned around and went home. The first 15 minutes were always the most unpleasant and I really had to be strong and engage tons of positive self talk to stick them out and move on with my days there.
Finally I told two people about how I was really feeling: Felix and Devin. Lucky for me they asked questions and allowed me the time and space to process. I was able to sort through and unpack my feelings about being here…
The main thing is that there are many layers of things to fight through here. There is the language barrier, there is the culture, the systemic problems associated with disabilities, the politics, the economy; then there is the structure at the Internat, the boneheaded director, the uncaring staff, the lack of programming for the girls, and also fighting to form emotional bonds with the girls. I am a fixer: I like to/need to problem solve and implement changes that fix the things I think are wrong. In talking to Devin and Felix I managed to recognize that I was working myself up into a frenzy and exhausting myself with the “how do I fix it ALLL” every time I got to the orphanage. I was feeling really defeated and down trodden at all of this things I had to fight against to make the kind lasting change I felt I needed to make to feel successful at the end of my time here. I was also feeling pretty lonesome particularly related to the fact that I had no one to draw energy from, and no one to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with. I really need that kind of stimulation and I was definitely feeling it while I navigated my challenges.
I got through the days with the girls and at the Internat with a realization that the bottom line was that my time in Ukraine was intended to enrich the lives of the girls – to help them build skills and grow as human beings and no matter what I was feeling I had to concentrate on those goals.
A conversation with Devin helped to change things around. His advice was to focus on one area and make the most amount of change in that one area and then the next person to come and focus on a different area. This helped me to assess my priorities and set my goals and helped to relieve the feeling that there was just too much to fight against all alone.
My main priority the entire time has been the girls. I am concerned by the other things, but first and foremost it is about enriching their lives before attacking the larger more systemic problems. It was funny how quickly the switch in my priorities and goals translated to a switch in my experience. The next time I was at the orphanage the lurch and knots were gone, I didn’t notice the smell, and it seemed like all of a sudden I “clicked” with the girls I had been working really hard to bond with.
I noticed that the quality of the time I spent with the girls didn’t change, but it was easier to get up and get going in the morning and less of a fight to stay connected and be creative and engaging with the girls. With the shift in my attitude came a whole bunch of positive things and positive changes which made being here in Ukraine even more enjoyable than it had already been the first 2 months.
Since the switch in my own outlook I have had 2 months of incredible experiences at the orphanage and with the girls. I have seen changes in the girls in how they express themselves and what they are willing to do and noticed their personalities bud and grow. Maybe even more importantly I have seen changes in the way the staff work with the girls, and how they respond to me; they have changed over time from being resistant to allowing me to work the way I want to being unbelievably supportive of my efforts and even participating in activities.
I think that I really believe in the importance of challenges – even though I sometimes wish that everything could be easy. I am glad that I am finally able to talk about the challenges that I experienced here in Ukraine, but even more so I am ecstatic that I can report that I have been able to overcome the challenges.
Yesterday was my last official day at the orphanage (felix and I will be going to visit in my last week but that is a good bye visit and not a working visit) and as sad as I was to be leaving the girls, I was really proud of the progress we had made together over the time we spent together.
ALSO on a positive note: I found out that that terrible smell that wafted around most of the summer was from the bushes that line the entire property, and not just a general smell of terrible that came from the institution! I can not tell you how happy that made me!
I will write more “closing thoughts” in another post where I have a fresh group of 1000 words to work with *wink*
Thanks for helping me to run forward, and also allowing me the space to walk backwards…
Where I fit in the box of crayons....
- Do you ever get that feeling like there's more out there? That's the feeling that brought me to beyond borders. The global community is growing, and I have not yet become a part of it. I want to be a contributing citizen to the global community through participation and action. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for diversity and difference, and look for other ways that people are doing things. There’s a whole world out there beyond our North American perspective that has the potential to change the way I see things, and to change my life. Gahndi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I think we should not only find the change within ourselves, but also take part in the change we want to see in the world. I hope that Beyond Borders will offer a medium in which I can be the change I want to see in the world, and also take part in that change.