In 1996, not longer after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine experienced hard times. Many companies fell apart and poverty was commonplace. This sudden change in the society left lots of people unemployed and was something which left hundreds upon hundreds with nowhere to turn. Several of them wound up on the streets, families fell apart, and some resorted to crime to survive.
A man named Sergey Kostin went around asking people for clothes they could spare and began distributing them to the needy on the street corner. He told me he couldn’t believe how many of them there were. He knew this is what he would be doing with his life from then on.
This small, but desperately needed, beginning would become what is today the largest organization of it’s kind in Ukraine. Today, The Way Home organization has 80 full time employees, in addition more than 40 volunteers work regularly in various projects. They work out of seven locations in Odessa and operate offices in Ilichovsk and Ismail, cities close to Odessa with an operating budget of over $1,000,000 annually. Read more here at The Way Home’s website.
Some of their work includes housing street kids who are willing to go to school and follow the rules. At the main facility they have many other activities for the children. They also have a house for homeless men and another which works with the HIV infected. They print up newspapers for the street kids to sell on the street rather than beg, and bring hot soup and education to those who still manage to survive on the streets on their own. Being as many of the people on the streets aren’t all that into reading, they bring them comic books created themselves at The Way Home with the help of the children there.
In the last 20 years many kids came to Odessa from Romania and Moldova choosing to live on the streets rather than the trying circumstances at home. At times The Way Home sent many of them home only to find out eventually many of them had such terrible living conditions that this was not helping them at all. Nowadays, before sending them home they investigate their previous situation before deciding if they should send them home or not.
Thousands of homeless used to live under the streets of Odessa and HIV spread rapidly. Ukraine has the highest HIV rate in all of Europe and the highest rate in Ukraine is in Odessa. Although, The Way home fights this statistic by educating the children they meet among other preventative measures. Things have changed a bit since the 90’s. While the economy in Ukraine is far from what anyone would consider good, it is a little better. Many of the manhole covers have now been welded shut by the police, where many of the homeless used to find shelter, others have been captured by police and forced into orphanages, and many other organizations have sprouted up over the years trying to help however they can. Because of this, the number of homeless has decreased, but there are still plenty of needy children on the streets.
Last week Lera and I had great joy to join two people who work at The Way Home as they went out to feed some of the homeless, as they do three times a week. They have to take a van to them as many of them are unable to commute anywhere far on their own. Their names are Inna and Roma. Roma is a living testimony of a recovered street child who now serves them. Inna is a former drug addict. They have both been serving at The Way Home for about 10 years.
They told us the story of a reporter from Britain who was making a documentary about the street kids in Odessa. After riding along with them in their van for a day, he went back and reported to the police where all the spots the homeless kids were living. The police raided all of them and took the children into custody. Inna and Roma were left with no more street kids to help for a short while until more would be found.
We asked them how they go about finding them. This is one reason Lera and I wanted to work with these guys because it is not easy to find the homeless kids you want to help. They told us they just walk the flat building through the neighborhoods and peek into the holes leading under them. If they find signs of people staying there, bottles, needles, etc, then they return later to talk to them. They assured us thsis was dangerous and they have faced dangerous situations but have managed over the years to earn a respected reputation with many of them. I suppose for many of the street kids they are seen as one of them in a way, and a sign of hope.
However, for the Americans or Europeans who sometimes come to visit they are not always received very well. They can kind of give the impression that they are looking at them like something in a zoo. They can make the mistake of showing their expensive phones, or hiding their food and hoarding it to themselves. One person even refused to buy them water, after one of the street kids asked them to buy them water, saying they were not there to buy them water. Sometimes people have gone to visit the homeless and returned beaten or without whatever money or things they brought with them. It really helps to know how to talk to them, especially if they are billigerent. They were happy we had brought socks and underwear to help us make a connection and build trust with them. Often people go and bring nothing like they are on a site seeing tour.
The guys you will see in the picture below are permanently crippled from a drug many of the homeless here have used called Baltushka. It gets into your bones and soon messes up your nervous system and your speech. Roma informed us this condition can be removed, but it costs about $15,000 per person.
Lera and I hope to build a recreation and ministry center in the future which serves the homeless and other less fortunate people in Odessa. Our focus will be Gospel bent. For now, we can learn a great deal from these people and seek to help however we can. Currenlty here are no public recreation centers at all in Odessa.
We bring socks as a way of showing compassion and beginning to build a relationship with them. If you would like to buy us some socks and ship them over you can visit our instructions at the Socks in a Box section of our website. Why don’t we buy socks in Ukraine instead of shipping them over, you might ask? Because the quality is poor here. It is a great thing to give people quality socks, underwear and other warm clothes who are so often left to settle for poor quality leftovers. Of course, if you are opposed to shipping over a box of socks you can always send financial help instead.Our ultimate aim is not to rehabilitate everyone, as many of them choose the streets, but to earn their trust, show them compassion and teach them the Gospel. We would like to build a relationship with them as someone they can trust.
In the future this recreation and ministry center will be a safe haven for all kinds of people needing various help. We aim to also provide training for life skills to the orphans. The programs at the orphanages are terrible. Once many of them leave they enter lives of crime to survive, because they were taught little life skills. To give to this endeavor simply click on the side banner which says “Join Our Team”, or click here now! Everything you can give, however small or big counts, especially in God’s eyes.
God bless you and thank you for reading. What practical ways do you find to help people who don’t want to help themselves? Let us know in the comments section below!