I was blessed to be a part of the last trip to Ukraine and had such an amazing experience. Preparing for the trip, I really had no idea what to expect. As a physical therapist, one of my main jobs in preparation was to gather and prepare equipment. I was overwhelmed by the amount of donations that we had received since the last trip. I have to admit that while we were packing, I thought that there was no way that we would be able take all of this stuff with us. There were not enough people to carry it all or room on that tiny Fayetteville airplane to hold this much. Fortunately, God does not have the same narrow vision that I did, and with Him, things are possible that I do not see as possible. It was quite comical the number of people from the airline that were in the terminal studying all of our equipment and problem solving about how to get everything through.
So through the help of many, we made it to Ukraine with 5 wheelchairs, 3 strollers, 8 walkers and 10 LARGE suitcases filled with supplies. (And 4 more arrived the next day). So now the equipment was here, what do we do with it? We delivered some to the orphanage we visited, but since our group has visited this orphanage many times before, they were not in need of equipment as much as education and assistance. But then came day 3, our first day to meet with families in Ukraine who have children with special needs. The line had already formed when we arrived. Some of the families had been seen by our group before and others had just heard about us. Some came with hopes for equipment and others with questions and need for advice. All came because they have a deep love for their child and are trying to do all they can in a country that does not support children with special needs. We divided into 2 groups of 3 therapists and began what was to be the first of 3 long days of nearly constant family visits. The first two children my group saw were tall, adolescents who were unable to stand or walk. They were unable to join their family on outings, as it was impossible to transport them. We were able to give a wheelchair to each. There are no words to express the excitement and joy on the faces of those kids and family members. This was life changing for them.
We delivered many walkers, wheelchairs, strollers, and braces that day. That night as I tried to sleep (nearly impossible with the time change and the fact that I couldn’t turn off my brain), I reflected on the day. I was humbled by the experience of the lengths that these families go through for their children. I was joyful at the equipment we were able to deliver and the professional advice we were able to give them. I was hopeful that we had made a difference in the life of a child today. I was thankful that so many people from home donated equipment, time, and money to get us here. I was grateful that, while all those people helped, I (and the other therapist’s here) got to be the one to deliver it all. But I was also worried. Worried that we gave so much away today. We still had 2 more days. What if we didn’t have enough? What if a family came to me with a real need, and I wasn’t able to help?
We went through 2 more days, seeing families and delivering equipment. I can’t say that I always had just the right piece of equipment, but nearly always I could modify something to make it work for the child. And then, it happened again. . . God making it obvious to me, since I am such a doubter, that he was really in control and making the most of our supplies and time spent here. We had one wheelchair left and we were wrapping up our last day. The cutest, sweetest little boy came through the door. The last family for the day. He needed a wheelchair and the one we had fit him perfectly. I will never forget that little boy’s face and that sweet smile. He taught me that I should worry less. God is in control. He takes care of his children. He took care of that little boy and he takes care of me.
We spent our final day in Ukraine working with many children and families who traveled to see us. Several of them had visited us in previous years, and showed great progress. During this trip, we were able to give away ALL of the wheelchairs, standers, gait trainers, and strollers that we brought with us, and a majority of the walkers and orthotics as well! The last child of the day today needed the very last wheel chair we had left. We are very thankful for the prayers over the packing and distribution of the equipment we brought, God’s hand was definitely on it.
We also made one last trip this afternoon to the orphanage to post goals for the children above their cribs, and to follow up on a few of their needs. The goals were made up of the most important things for each child to improve their development and it is exciting to know that these goals will serve as a constant reminder of how important each of these children are.
This week we were also able to share bibles and bookmarks with Psalm 139: 13-14 with families as we worked, we are so thankful to share God’s love for each of them.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14
We have been so very blessed by all of the families and children we have been able to spend time with this week. They are all loved, children of God and we are so happy to be a part of their individual stories. We truly appreciate all of the encouraging words and prayers this week! We leave to travel to Kiev in just a few minutes and will begin our travel home early Sunday morning. Please keep our group in your prayers as we start the trip home!
We were extremely blessed to accomplish several exciting things today! We presented the NICU at the local hospital with the gift of window coverings, which they were very grateful for and asked us to come back next time we are in Ukraine. We are very excited about continuing to develop this relationship and are excited to think of the changes these curtains will have on the environment for the babies in the NICU by making it more beneficial for their growth and development.
Today we were also covered by the local news, which will continue to spread the word about the therapy services we provide to children. We are thankful that their own local media is helping shine light on children with special needs. Through publicity and word of mouth, we had several children visit today from a new region. We were able to spend a good amount of time with each child and their family, which allowed us to address more specific needs for the children. A small group of us met with a representative of a charitable foundation that serves children with special needs in a neighboring town. They are very interested in partnering with us to educate their medical group on specific therapy techniques. It is exciting to see all of these new opportunities develop and how God is providing ways for our group to reach more and more children with special needs.
Another very exciting thing from the day was that speech therapy was able to make amazing differences in children’s lives today by educating families on oral motor and language development. This is great news, because on previous trips, we have run into some difficulties with families recognizing the importance of communication, often overlooking communication skills due to greater physical concerns. The majority of our equipment has been given away this week. Please pray that all of the famillies we will meet tomorrow will be provided for, we are trusting that God can use what we have left to best serve each family we will see during our last day here in Ukraine. Continued prayers for wisdom, endurance, health and safety as we finish our day and begin our travel home are appreciated.
We traveled this morning to a neighboring city, where they warmly welcomed us at their special needs school. We arrived early to set up and families were already lined up waiting to see us. We dove right in and started evaluating and ended up seeing over 45 children. One of the remarkable stories involved a teenage boy who was first seen by us in 2010 at which time he was carried in by his mother. In 2011, he returned and received a wheelchair from us. This trip, he was able to take independent steps with a walker. He told us that walking was his biggest wish! We were also able to give a wheelchair to a 9 year old girl, who instinctively began moving the wheelchair on her own. Her mother was so happy and said she could not believe her daughter was able to do this. We enjoyed watching her leave independently.
We saw a very wide range of ages and diagnoses, and were able to educate parents on ways to continue care at home. We were also able to give away lots of equipment including walkers, wheelchairs, beniks, braces, and developmental toys. Once we had seen all of the children, the director expressed her gratitude and presented us with a gift made by the children of the school.
Tomorrow, several families will come to see us here in Kramatorsk. We truly appreciate all of the encouraging words and prayers!
This is the boy we saw in 2010, 2011, and again today.
A team of 3 therapists visited the Children’s Hospital today. We started out in the NICU, where we reviewed positioning techniques and taught oral motor techniques to improve feeding. They were also receptive to the idea of curtains for the bright open windows in the NICU, and we are having them made to be delivered later this week. We were very encouraged when they asked if we would visit a different part of the hospital to examine a little girl with a cleft palate. Connie was able to give them great ideas for helping this little girl.
During the morning, our other TEAM group was able to see several parents who have kids with special needs from the nearby area. We were able to see one girl from the previous year whose mom reported they have worked on strengthening for the past year and she can now change sitting positions independently and her balance has also improved. We were able modify her therapy plan to include more advanced strengthening for PT and OT, and speech was able to discuss vocal strengthening and oral motor strengthening. In addition to several other children, our group was also able to see a 10 year old boy who was walking slowly without equipment. With our PT’s help, he left the clinic with new braces and increased confidence for his 4th grade class. Speech was able to provide him with some articulation exercises and word lists for practice to increase his intelligibility.
We ended our day with a heart warming thank you from the Director of Antoshka and the head Neurologist. We feel very blessed and privileged to have seen the children we have worked with before and develop new relationships with families.
Please keep us in your prayers as we are expecting to see over 50 families tomorrow in Slavansk!
Our 4 missing bags were delivered to our hotel late Monday afternoon. We were so so thankful! We started out with Day One by returning to our home base orphanage where we were warmly welcomed with hugs and smiles. We saw many of the children we had visited on previous trips and did follow up on education and adaptive equipment. We saw great progress in some of the children we had worked with the previous year who were very weak. The caregivers have been very receptive to suggestions and have helped the children become stronger through positioning and play.
We also had the opportunity to meet several children that were new to the orphange. We were allowed to see more children and had access to more rooms than ever before! We look forward to sharing updates about our final day at Antoshka tomorrow, and at the children’s hospital. We appreciate your continued prayers!
TEAMWorks Ukraine will be traveling back to Ukraine! Our TEAM of 6 therapists (physical, occupational and speech) and 1 trip coordinator will take off with 14 suitcases full of educational materials, equipment, toys and supplies along with wheel chairs and walkers on September 29th! We are very excited and thankful for this trip. Our plans for that week include providing ongoing education and care for the children with special needs in our “home base” orphanage, spending a day in the local hospital helping in their NICU and orphan ward, and spending several days working with children with special needs and their families. We know that many of these places and families wait on us from year to year, and we are so excited to see them again!
Please join us in praying for the trip. Specifically, praying for health and safety for the group, that relationships will be fostered and maintained, wisdom for each person as they work, and that we can show God’s love to all that we meet! In addition to praying, if you feel led we are currently raising funds to support the cost of the trip. All donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE and can be made by check or by PayPal, please follow the link below and click on “Give”
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” -James 1:27
Today the TEAMworks group went room to room with bags of gifts and handouts for the children and caregivers. Along with the gifts of toys and equipment, we also decided to write out individual goals for each of the children with special needs in the laying down rooms. We felt this would be very beneficial to give them a written copy of our therapy ideas since we had given them an abundance of information in such a short time. We had the goals translated into Russian and were able to tape them on the wall above each child’s crib. Along with the goals we were able to add one of our most favorite verses from Psalms 139.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. ” Psalm 139:13-14
Caregivers and therapists were excited to have these written goals and we were told they will be writing them down in each child’s records. We have already seen signs of carry over with some of our suggestions, and even though this is a long road to follow, every little improvement makes a difference in these children’s lives. We are thankful for the privilege to follow God to this place this week. We have enjoyed a heightened awareness of God’s presence as we’ve clung to the hope found only in Him. He has given us perseverance, clarity of mind, and strength to endure travel and long, emotional work days. Despite the sadness that is bound to come when we think about the special children we had to say goodbye to, we trust that God has a special plan for each of them and He will be glorified in their lives.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’” John 9: 1-5
A big highlight of the day was when Amy was asked to give her professional opinion on a little girl who does not talk. The little girl was 4 years old and reportedly understands everything that is said to her but is unable to speak. After observing the little girl and showing the therapist some techniques to elicit speak sounds using visual, verbal, and tactile cues, the little girl imitated movements of her mouth and ended up producing several consonant and vowel sounds for the first time. After we all said goodbye in Russian, she imitated this as well. This was definitely a God sent moment because therapy like this usually takes awhile. The therapist at the orphanage was amazed!
Today was a full day for occupational therapy with tackling several rooms. One we have dictated the “rocking room” because every child sits and rocks 24/7 which we have observed several times. Not only did Allison end up brushing kids right and left, but we discussed vestibular input with caregivers for one of the children who bangs his head on the ground enough to leave marks. The only time we saw this boy smile was when we were swinging. He had such a beautiful smile. Allison could have just sat there and swung with him for hours to hear that laugh again.
Kate focused on emphasizing the importance of human touch to the caregivers in each of the laying down rooms. We demonstrated how easy it is to gently move the children into different positions in their beds and get them out of their beds and hold them close. In each of these rooms, we really tried to encourage the caregivers about the importance of their jobs and how they have the privilege of working with such special children created by God.
Today we were warmly welcomed back to the orphanage we’ve been working at for several years, and everyone was so excited that we were there. They were anxiously waiting for updates from all the families back home who adopted children from this orphanage. Telling them about all these children who have found such wonderful homes was one of the highlights of our week.
We started our day in Group 4 which is the special needs group at the orphanage. We were able to play with and work with all the children in this group. There was a little girl in this room with significant weakness, who spends most of her day in a bumbo seat. We were able to fit her in braces and shoes and demonstrate she is able to stand in a stander. This new position will prevent her from getting joint contractures, improve her strength and endurance, and it gives her a new place to interact and play with caregivers.
We evaluated a new child that we have not seen before and the caregivers had many questions. She presented with characteristics of Cerebral Palsy and all three disciplines were able to make recommendations to improve her development and quality of life. Kate fit her for braces and provided education about stretching to the therapist and doctor. She also recommended a standing program every day. Amy was able to talk to the caregivers about feeding. The child was described as a very poor feeder, and she was able to show them ways to eat more successfully. Allison addressed a key concern of the caregivers with this sweet girl chewing her hand. She was fit with a Benik hand splint with a small chewy toy attached to allow her to chew the toy instead of her hand. Allison also provided education for stretches to the girls neck and arms.
Another child we met last year but were not allowed to work with due to concerns over his health was brought to us in the gym. He presented with significant torticollis (twisted neck), scoliosis, weakness, and overall developmental delay. Doctors considered this boy to have a spinal condition which is why we were not allowed to work with him last year. We provided them new information about torticollis and the importance of early intervention to facilitate development and prevent future spine and neck contractures. We discussed developmental milestones and what the caregivers could be working towards. We also provided exercises for stretching his neck and back and strengthening techniques. We were able to provide braces and shoes. He has amazing potential and we can’t to see what the future hold for this little boy who was once isolated from touch because of a misconception of his physical appearance.
Overall we had a very productive day and are very thankful to be back at this orphanage.
On a funny note we are staying at a “health resort/sanitorium” for pregnant women. They provide “4 delicious and balanced meals a day.” We have many laughs when we get home at the end of the day, the pregnant women are every where!