The Way Home in Odessa is filled with animals. There are cats everywhere, and as a natural result there are also kittens. Another result is that there are no rats. There’s a wonderfully chill dog, and there’s an aquarium with fish living dangerously. The children who live at the centre have either lived on the streets or were at risk of ending up on the street because of their family situations. In caring for the animals, they learn responsibility. They also learn to trust and love again. When living in sewers and cold cellars, sometimes stray cats and dogs were their only friends. The children open up around animals, holding them and loving them, and in turn allowing themselves to be held and loved.
The children at The Way Home in Ukraine want to learn English. During one of my visits I came up with some suggestions. For example, while they are dancing, they can start using instructions in English. They can print and learn the lyrics to their favourite songs in English. Another idea was that they could perform short plays in English. The next time I came back, two girls had written a play which they performed in English. It was great! One girl played a tourist who had gotten lost and was in a hurry. The other girl played a local old woman who knew her way around the city. The lines they were using will come in handy if they ever need to help a tourist in Odessa, or if they get the chance to go abroad and become tourists themselves. The applause was thunderous as the play ended.
Gradually, a large change has taken place in the NGO The Way Home in Odessa. More and more of the children who visit and/or live in the centre for former street children have begun attending higher education institutions. When I first visited The Way Home, most children were struggling to attend school. The Way Home had to provide a lot of extra classes and homework support. Eventually, a few children continued on to university and maritime academies. They became role models and inspired younger children. Everyone now saw what The Way Home had believed all along: that these children, who have survived the cruelty of life on the streets and sleeping in sewers, have the strength and talent to change their lives and to get an education. When I last visited The Way Home, all the children spoke about their future studies. They spoke about their future jobs. They spoke about their future.
Photo of two girls from The Way Home who are attending university in Odessa.