UCU Student Charity Center Visits Kids in Institutions

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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To help children, not only with money but above all with attention, time spent together, and education is the goal of the Student Charity Center of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU).

For a number of years now, UCU’s Student Charity Center has visited the children’s institution in the village of Lavriv and the special school in the village of Dobromyl, and also helps children from needy families and other needy people. For the 18 years of its existence, hundreds of students with various majors have volunteered in the organization’s programs. For social pedagogues and psychology students, this is at the same time instructional practicum. To find an approach to challenging children, to help resolve a crisis, or to discover a child’s potential it is necessary to make much effort and to have much knowledge and a big heart.

“It’s possible to visit once with gifts and money that disappear. Or it’s possible to visit regularly, interact, and teach the child something,” explains the head of the organization, Yulia Palazhii, a 2nd-year student in psychology. “First of all, we want to socialize them, and so we need to be attentive to them, to show them necessary resources so that they can help themselves in the future. Some can’t even do something elementary like making tea for themselves, because at the orphanage everything is given to them and they don’t learn anything. They need to learn to do things with their hands. Some children have psychological difficulties and they need a psychologist to work with them. The staff psychologist simply can’t meet each one’s needs. I am now planning to organize help for a boy in the class that we work with. In a week we’ll bring girls from Lavriv to a School for Well-mannered Girls that Plast [Ukrainian scouts] organizes. The girls will be able to learn useful and interesting things. Previously not many people visited Lavriv. Now they even have volunteers from Belgium. The conditions there have become much better and it is clear that the children have changed.”

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In addition to trips to Dobromyl and Lavriv, 15 students together with UCU’s Emmaus Center of Spiritual Support for Persons with Special Needs help children and youth with special needs who live in the city of Smila.

The students also visit Lviv Children’s Institution No. 2 to help the children with their school homework. There are now more than 40 student volunteers. Each one picks a convenient day to visit. Seven students can handle 14 children well, says Yulia Palazhii.

Her task as the head is to plan programs well, to assemble a team and maintain order. Before she became the head, she was a volunteer like everyone else for some time. That’s a rule of the organization. The steering wheel can come into your hands suddenly, even when you don’t expect it. That’s what happened with Yulia Palazhii when her predecessor, Viktoria Panas, left to study abroad. Previous leaders have included Tetiana Lyseiko, Oleksandr Reshetukha, Khrystyna Butynets, and Anastasia Myronova.

One would expect to see many social pedagogues among the volunteers, but in fact they are a minority, says Yulia. They are involved in a number of other projects, for example, mentoring at children’s institutions. Instead, there are many students of psychology and theology, and even IT. The students have designated Thursday as “IT Day” at the children’s institution.

“I never thought that IT students could be so open with the children. The kids shout and run up to hug them. They know how to get the kids to do their homework quickly and then they can plan. On Thursdays male and female students visit. The kids really like it when male students visit, in part because they are very energetic, and in part because most of the staff at the institution are female. And with whom can they run and jump, if not young men? Such great attention at one time is great happiness for the children,” explains Yulia.

IT student Oksana Oleniuk says that she has a little experience of working with children and knows how to play with them, because she has a little brother: “Yulia Palazhii and I dorm together and once she suggested that we volunteer. Many of my fellow students responded. All together we, let’s say, ‘socialize’ them. These children have a very small circle of contacts and we want them to open up, to become more joyful. So, in addition to helping with homework, we play with them a lot. In letters, the children wrote much for us about themselves, their families. After reading these letters, I began to appreciate better what I have, because there are some truly difficult stories there.”

Not all the children initiate contact. Some are very closed in and only start to talk after a few meetings. They express their wants and, in general, react to requests. And some want too much attention – when you are talking with other children, they start pulling hair. They do everything possible to get attention, note the student volunteers. Such “fights” for attention can only be resolved by increasing the number of volunteers.

“I communicate with the most ‘closed’ children. There was one boy who wouldn’t even tell me what gift he wanted for St. Nicholas Day. He said ‘no’ to everything I suggested. After almost an hour, I was able to convince him. I said: ‘How will you feel in the spring when the guys have balls or a soccer uniform, what will you want?’ Then he thought and started writing. Another girl had no reaction to my question. You talk to her and she looks away. But the worst is when the kids misbehave. Some of the volunteers are very afraid of this and after the first such incident they don’t want to come back. I try to explain in advance and prepare people for such unexpected reactions, especially in work with challenging children,” Yulia shares her experience.

In order to work with children, you need to love and to be responsible, say the girl volunteers. The children feel love, and on each visit they give hugs and ask questions when you come again. They run to you. In order to develop a good approach to children’s institutions, you need a strong group of people who will unite not only at holidays but work regularly. That’s the kind of volunteers Yulia Polozhii would like to see at the Student Charity Center.

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