Masha, our delightful Ukrainian intern has been splitting her time between our offices in Atlanta and Cherkasy since the beginning of the year. Masha shares her impressions on how 7 of our Orphan Graduate Girls have managed to get through the pandemic while living in our Girls Flat.
When I first visited the Girls' Flat back in February, all the girls seemed busy with school and a daily routine of laughs, late-night talks, and willingness to learn how to live together and love each other well. Everything seemed normal. However, everything changed on March 12, the day Ukraine officially announced a mandatory quarantine. The following Spring and Summer months were challenging, different, and emotionally draining for all the teenaged girls in the apartment.
Just like the rest of us, adjusting to a new lifestyle during a pandemic was not easy, especially for young women sharing a tight living space. Once their schools were moved online, paying attention in class required additional screen time and extra schoolwork. Some of the girls expressed their exhaustion from constant exposure to digital screens and electronic devices. Getting used to online studying and the inability to physically be present in classes significantly reduced the amount of time the girls spent outdoors. As a result of staying home most of the time, the girls began to feel helpless not only physically, but emotionally too. Some of them shared their fear that the quarantine would last forever. Rusana shared that she could not surprise her older sister Karina on her 18th birthday with a present or a fun celebration since all the stores were closed!
This monotonous lifestyle led to finding new ways to escape boredom by cutting and dying each other's hair, drawing, re-adjusting a cleaning schedule, going to bed very late, sleeping in till noon, and wondering about the trustworthiness of the news on the virus. Watching or reading the news really impacted the way the girls perceived information and events happening outside their little apartment. Having no one older and mature enough to interpret the news made it harder to choose what to believe and who to trust. One of the girls sighed, saying she purposefully avoided the news since it was likely to increase her anxiety, cause nightmares, and lead to more stress.
As the quarantine progressed, the girls started irritating each other, fighting more, and getting on each other’s nerves. Each girl lost weight due to an unbalanced diet and lack of necessary vitamins growing teenage girls need to maintain good hormonal balance. The situation worsened with the progression of cell phone addiction, which became almost fatal to their emotional and physical well-being throughout the time of the quarantine.
However, as the summer came to an end and the beginning of classes was approaching, the girls realized that the bad habits they formed over the past 4 months were not that easy to break. While September 1st seemed far away back in March, the end of August suddenly woke the girls up from a deep sleep. When I personally asked some of them if they were ready to start school two days before the classes began, all they said was: “Of course not, we did not have time! And now we have no time to buy all the necessary school supplies, clean the apartment, or get back to our normal schedule!”
When Cyndee came to Ukraine at the end of August, the girls invited her over for dinner. As the conversation at the table centered around how the girls coped throughout the quarantine, Cyndee talked about the different ways many people in the USA spent their time during the pandemic. Some folks took better care of their health with daily workouts and proper meals; while others spent their time getting drunk, eating excessively or wasting money on unnecessary things. She said that some people used this time wisely by reading books, learning a language, getting educated online, or investing in their personal relationships with others; yet other people allowed their anxiety to creep in and take over their emotions, becoming more isolated and addicted to social media. Some Christians used the extra time to pray, read the Bible more often, or gather with their roommates and housemates for praise and fellowship. She said she thought that most people would come out of the pandemic as either a hunk, a chunk, a drunk or a monk! And which would we be?
Over the last couple of weeks, the girls finally started realizing how much free time they had on their hands, and how easily and effortlessly they wasted most of it. The girls could have learned how to resolve conflicts and communicate better with each other. They could have started their own Bible study and prayed together, building new traditions in the flat. The older girls could have helped the younger ones go through hard times together, giving advice and supporting them when school or personal issues were overwhelming. At last, they could have researched more about their future dream jobs or universities. They could have done so much more, but they didn’t.
In the midst of uncertainty, no one can predict the possibility of a second wave quarantine, lockdown, or distance learning. But what can we expect from 7 girls (aged 16 – 19), living in a small apartment by themselves, not having any parents taking care of them or mentors physically visiting them for a long period of time? Growing up in an orphanage, throughout their lives they have been told what to do and how to live. Without having any supervision, they got lost, anxious, and weak in making decisions on their own or taking the initiative. Thankfully, hard lessons were learned, and with the start of the new school year, our graduate girls started putting more effort into creating healthier sleep schedules, preparing nutritious meals, and submitting their homework on time. Now, the girls are planning to grow spiritually, learn from their mistakes, take advantage of the opportunity to use their time wisely, build strong character, and develop healthier habits if quarantine strikes again.
Will you partner with us as we walk alongside these girls until they master independent living? Please consider a monthly gift to our Orphan Graduate Program of any amount today.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9