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Trip Blog

Kelly - Sat Jun 30, 2012 @ 11:29AM
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This will be my last entry from Ukraine.  We fly home tomorrow.  We returned to L'viv last night--this time our driver was pulled over for talking on his cell phone; however, he managed to talk his way out of a ticket.  Today has been spent enjoying this beautiful European city and buying every souvenir we can get our hands on.  It's a gorgeous day so we began by hiking to the top of High Castle, a scenic overlook with a picturesque view of the city below.  We wound our way through the souvenir markets; hunting for the best deals.  At about mid-afternoon the whole team met up at a cafe for an afternoon snack.  I ordered kaba (kava) glasse, which is espresso with ice cream.  Yum!  And a cheese strudel with vanilla sauce.  To die for!  I could eat in European cafes sitting out on the cobblestone streets for the rest of my life.

Last night was the best time I've ever had in my six years of coming to Ukraine.  First of all, my demeanor changed drastically with the end of the conference and the enormous weight that was removed from my shoulders.  For dinner we went to a military themed restaurant.  You are greeted at the door by a man in uniform carrying a machine gun and he demands a password for entry.  He says, "Glory to Ukraine" and we must respond "And glory to heroes."  As you enter he pours a flavored shot of vodka out of a canteen; another requirement for entry.  We were led downstairs into some amazingly decorated underground rooms.  Raid sirens periodically could be heard throughout the restaurant.  At one point the lights went off and we could hear people yelling and demanding answers (they were looking for Russians).  They came into the room where we were eating and demanded to know where the Russian was.  They accosted one of our translators; throwing her over someone's shoulder and carrying her out of the room.  She wasn't returned to us for about 15 minutes.  Safe and sound.  I shared a 1/2 meter long sausage with someone and it was one of the best sausages I've ever had.  On the way back to the hotel we passed a street musician playing a violin.  One of our group members, Johanna, has played the violin since she was 11 and was allowed to play for us using the man's violin.  She's extraordinary!  The street musician likes to play Appalachian folk music so he demanded we dance and taught us a simple square dance.  A few of us danced in the streets and had a blast!  Seemed like the perfect ending to a great week.

The conference ended on Friday on a high note.  It was a super day.  For some reason our message of 'we want to use your computer and your projector every morning' was not understood well.  Again, on Friday morning, it was not set up and Karen's presentation on Special Education Delivery Models was delayed by about half an hour as we waited for the equipment.  It worked out though because I was able to use the time to get feedback about the conference and ideas for next year's presentations.  The group really liked the set-up of the afternoon breakout sessions and had specific ideas for future topics.  I hope to use their ideas to draft a schedule for next year's conference early in the fall and use that to find volunteers earlier than April and May.  Lori gave a combined lecture of theory and practical approaches to teaching literacy, which was received well.  Both Karen and Lori consulted in the afternoon.  I finished the week by showing them how to conduct a preference assessment to find highly motivating reinforcers for their children and tried my darndest to finish my presentation on treating behavior.  I got through about 50 of my 80+ slides.  Other than not finishing, I felt really good about my presentation.  Unfortunately I had to stop at 2:45 because we needed to hold the closing ceremonies and hand out certificates, but Zhenya (my translator) told me they were upset that I wasn't finishing and would have stayed longer to allow me to finish.  I kind of felt bad I wasn't able to.  My presentation was about 3 hours worth of material and I only had two hours.  Plus, I too had technical difficulties.  The slides weren't advancing on the overhead and at one point they stopped advancing altogether.  They managed to find another computer and we were able to get it fixed.  Everyone was thrilled to get their certificates and stopped to pose for pictures with us.  We learned that the conference counted as a part of their mandatory professional development so they needed those certificates as proof.  That made us feel like we truly were helping the teachers.  It was official that we were helping.

It's been a topsy turvy wonderful week.  Thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement.  I couldn't do this without all of you.
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Kelly - Thu Jun 28, 2012 @ 05:06PM
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Kelly put together these pages for today.

 

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Kelly - Wed Jun 27, 2012 @ 04:18PM
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Today was a day filled with mixed emotions--quite the roller coaster.  I was pretty jazzed after hearing about the inclusive elementary school in Khmelnytsky, but then I heard horror stories from the VBS group working at a Level 3/4 Orphanage.  (The level 3 means the children have mental disabilities and 4 consists of children with multiple disabilities).  There's a 17 year old boy with cerebral palsy living predominantly in a crib.  His legs are the size of my wrist and severely bent (up around his waist bent) due to lack of use and therapy.  He uses a diaper, but his caretakers (at least the other day) didn't position the diaper correctly by placing it between his legs and securing it.  They somehow, instead, wrapped it around his legs.  On top of that, his mental faculties are completely intact and he's able to communicate.  He's even a flirt!  He blows kisses to his "nannies" (caretakers).  Megan, one of USNOF's annual volunteers shared pictures of her family with him and he told her he liked her 17 year old sister.  The only reason he's in the orphanage is due to his physical limitations caused by the cerebral palsy.  So...technically....he doesn't really meet the Level 3 or 4 criteria.  I can't help but think that if he lived in the United States he'd be cared for most likely by a loving family.  He'd have a wheelchair and physical therapy and probably have a job.  He'd have a life, or at least a higher quality of life.  Another 10 year old girl, again with CP, was found several years ago by her neighbors because they could hear the screams coming from a fallout shelter out behind her home.  They called the police who eventually removed her and placed her in the orphanage.  She too has good communication and cognitive skills.  She even spoke to Jenny, another annual USNOF volunteer, in English.  She knows how to say, "What's your name?"  These stories are beyond sad; however, they're reminders for why I've been doing this the past 6 years and strengthens my commitment to USNOF.  I'm trying not to be tormented too much by these heartbreaking stories and focus on the positive changes being made in this country.  It's hard though.  There were some uplifting stories from the orphanage yesterday too.  The children thoroughly enjoyed playing with bubbles and from what everyone has said I really wish I could have heard the squeals of laughter.

We had another successful day at the conference.  Karen Decker gave her first lecture today on ADHD.  ADHD is another disorder Ukrainians are very interested in learning about because it's something they're not aware of at the child's birth since it presents itself later in life.  We had technical difficulties again so Karen's presentation ran into the second morning session, which was supposed to be Lori's literacy presentation.  Lori really needed the full amount of time to complete her presentation so we decided to mix things up and I ended up finishing my nonverbal communication strategies presentation from yesterday.  I had the perfect amount of time to complete it. In the afternoon I taught a good dozen or more people how to use Boardmaker and then consulted for the next 2 1/2 hours.  Karen continued presenting on ADHD; this time providing strategies for teachers and parents.  She had good feedback from her presentations and good conversation came out of them.  Lori also had a successful session with an interactive, hands-on lecture on adapting materials and curriculum and using adaptive equipment.  Maria (her translator) wants it to be known that Lori made her crawl on the floor to great applause.  : )  She was modeling the bear crawl, which provides sensory input and builds strength.  Lori and Karen also had several consultations in the afternoon.

The Omni Center and parents group have been taking great care of us!  They've fed us lunch every single day.  When going out to lunch the first day didn't work out they decided to have the food delivered and put out a beautiful spread.  When we barely had time to eat it even then, they started getting it in take out containers and saving it for us so that when we're finally done presenting and conferencing we can have food.  Today we finally ate lunch at 4 pm.  While the overall feeling of today was good I also became very frustrated during my consultations.  I was continually asked to explain how I set up my schedule.  How do I decide how many minutes of services to provide to my students?  How do I teach my students; in whole group or one-on-one?  Do I teach the same thing to all my children?  Do I create year long lesson plans?  For anyone that's heard me talk about my job (or complain about my job) you know that there is no simple answer to those questions.  And our systems are so vastly different that it's incredibly difficult to provide explanations or answers to those questions.  Additionally, following two days of presenting on PECS and describing the various children that can use this system I was asked, "Can PECS be used with nonverbal children?"  I know I'm being slightly ridiculous and I was trying so hard to be patient, but some of it was disheartening, especially the PECS question, after trying soooooooo hard to communicate clearly and explicitly.  Plus I was reminded over and over about how far their system, their awareness, their knowledge, etc. has to go. I have to remember that these topics or ideas are virtually brand new to them and some nuances do get lost in translation as accurate as our amazing translators are or try to be.   Pray I have patience and strength please (and an iron stomach).

I continue to have a great time and love participating in the conference; however, I am looking forward to a "day off" tomorrow.  Well, a day off from the conference.  We're still going to meet with parents and children at the camp.  I'm also really hoping to visit the Level 3/4 orphanage first hand.  I'd enjoy an opportunity to love on some beautiful children.

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Jennifer Miller - Wed Jun 27, 2012 @ 03:44PM
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Dave - Tue Jun 26, 2012 @ 09:44PM
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After our second day with VBS, we are all a bit tired.  The weather was a bit cooler today, so we played with the little ones inside in the morning.  They are adorable and are really loving.  They loved playing with the parachute and with the play dough.  We have some incredibly talented translators as well that help us teach the kids how the activities we do with the recreation team relate to the Bible story they've heard from the story team.   The half an hour or so that we get with each class goes so quickly.

In the afternoon, we went to the orphanage for children with special needs.  To call them children is not completely accurate as there are men up to about 27 years old there.  Vania has epilepsy and I am repeatedly reminded by the staff to be gentle with him.  He has one speed though, and I cannot find the brake . . .  I have no idea how old Vania is as the only real communication I have with him is his smile and his infectious laugh.  Since I have to throw the ball "gently" to him, I need to get close to him.  But then he proceeds to throw the ball over my head so that I need to chase it.  He roars with laughter if he can knock some branches from the trees in the process.  And then Kate introduced him to sidewalk chalk!  He wrote Ukrainian letters over and over and threw in a picture of a smiling sun now and then.  

All in all, a wonderful day.  And we get to do it again tomorrow.

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Kelly Harris - Tue Jun 26, 2012 @ 06:06PM
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WARNING: Long email/blog.  A lot happened today!

Well, in a nutshell, our conference is turning out to be a HUGE success, or at a minimum appears to be interesting.  Yesterday there were approximately 65 attendants, and today over 90 people showed up!!!!  We keep running out of handouts.
 
Lori led off this morning by discussing nonverbal communication strategies. She reviewed communication development and discussed several ways to teach nonverbal children how to communicate such as through sign language or using AAC devices.  I borrowed a couple voice output devices known as Go Talks to share and use to demonstrate with during the conference and Lori brought her son's old Go Talk 9+ as well.  They seemed to enjoy learning about and interacting with the devices; however, Jason and I realized halfway through the morning that we should have purchased several of these $200 devices to donate.  Lori did donate hers, but I have to return mine to school.  We were thinking it was almost unfair to promote the qualities of this product and then not leave any for them to use.  So next time.  We'd like to be able to buy 4 or 5 and find the children that need them.  After Lori's presentations some people did come up to her and say, "You know? What you described is actually very simple, but I had NO idea!"  It's comments like that that communicate to us that we're doing pretty well; we're meeting their needs.
 
I followed Lori's presentation with more nonverbal communication strategies, specifically teaching them how to use the Picture Exchange Communication System.  I had some technical difficulties at the beginning of the presentation, and therefore, started later than I was supposed to so I ended up running out of time and did not get to complete my presentation, which was a little disappointing.  Many people asked about the videos I showed and plan to explore the system more on their own.  I'm hoping may be on Friday that I'll have an opportunity to finish my presentation.  I felt really good about what I was able to talk about though.  I was getting good responses from the audience.
 
I only had about 6 minutes to take a break, use the restroom, and inhale lunch before our afternoon sessions started.  This year we planned for the afternoon to consist of breakout sessions.  The three of us would be presenting simultaneously and the conference participants could choose which topic/presentation they attended based on their own needs and interests.  We've never done this before and I was a little anxious about how it would go, but other than a couple technical issues, it went wonderfully.  They did divide up between Lori's further discussion on nonverbal strategies and staying with me to learn more about Autism.  And a few people had appointments with Karen (more on that later).  My presentation on the red flags of autism went ok.  I saw a lot of people taking notes, but I felt like they wanted more than I was offering, meaning, they wanted to hear specific strategies or ways to work with children with autism.  Again, may be next time.  I just wasn't prepared for that this year.  My second afternoon session though went very well.  I introduced Applied Behavior Analysis, specifically discussing their methods for teaching verbal behavior such as how to request objects, label objects, imitate/repeat words.  I had some excellent videos for demonstrating each verbal behavior and it appeared like people were very engaged.  Afterwards several people asked for the videos again.
 
The conference ended at 3:00 and then I consulted individually with 3 mothers until 4:30.  The first mother has a daughter with Rett'sDisorder, which is apart of the autism spectrum but is very rare.  I don't know a whole lot about it nor have I ever heard of or worked with a child like this.  It's a regressive disorder so many of my suggestions would not necessarily be appropriate.  I didn't think that I was able to help her very much.  Karen is going to do some research on the disorder this evening and talk to her more about it tomorrow.  I felt better about the other two conversations.  Both mother's had children with Down syndrome and wanted to discuss behavior problems.  Now, correcting behavior I can talk about.  We discussed some strategies, which hopefully they'll find effective.
 
After the consultation we were invited to visit one of the local integrative Kindergartens.  In Ukraine, Kindergarten refers to what we call preschool and kindergarten age children.    Over tea, we discussed the special education programs in Ukraine vs. the US and how things are changing for the better in Ukraine.  Which brings me to the 3 1/2 hour (he may have been exaggerating) conversation Jason and Karen had with six staff members of School #8 in Khmelnytsky.  For the past three years, they have been providing inclusive education to elementary age children (6-10 years).  This year their school served 150 students, 27 of which were special needs students.  One teacher described her classroom of 17 children.  She has four special needs students (Down syndrome and CP).  I've been coming here for six years and the first year there were no special needs children in the regular schools.  More precisely, no children with special needs were invited to be at their school--they of course ended up with children with special needs, but they didn't necessarily know it when the child began school.  Over the years, I've met parent groups that are petitioning the government for support for their children, schools expanding to meet the needs of the special needs children in their community, and now schools that are teaching special needs children along with their typical peers.  It's amazing and I'm so proud to be a part of it, no matter how minute my role might be.
 
Please keep our team in your thoughts and prayers.  We're all hanging in there, but we are completely exhausted.  The room where we are presenting is incredibly hot despite fans and since it's summer they are doing some maintenance of the building.  Their maintenance is resulting in some pretty noxious fumes, permeating the entire building.  Several of us have ended up nauseous, dizzy, and with severe headaches from the fumes.  It also doesn't help that we're not really getting a break or eating much food.  I'm grateful that I'm not presenting tomorrow until 12:45.  I'm not giving a formal presentation.  Simply teaching some people how to use Boardmaker.  A past USNOF volunteers was able to get the Boardmaker program donated.  We'll be leaving it at the Omni Center and I truly hope that the teachers and parents use it to implement the Picture Exchange Communication System, positive behavior supports, schedules, and other visual supports that we've discussed this week.
 
So I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight....as long as I can put down Percy Jackson.  It's book 5 and it's getting really good.  : )
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Jennifer Miller - Mon Jun 25, 2012 @ 05:49PM
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Johanna gives us an honest and open account of her day in her personal blog entry.

 	Megan and Johanna with some new friends

 

Timothy2w.jpg

It is heart-wrenching to think about these children. USNOF is committed to our mission of making a long-term difference in the lives of children with special needs in Ukraine.

 

 

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Jennifer Miller - Mon Jun 25, 2012 @ 05:46PM
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We arrived safely in Khmelnytsky around noon on Sunday. Compared to the drive between Kiev and Rivne, this drive was relatively short; only 3 1/2 hours and we drove through beautiful countryside.  Unfortunately it was a bit grueling for me due to the swaying and bumpiness of the roads.  I wish I could adequately explain or describe what the roads look like--they are really bad!  Weathering and erosion have left them pockmarked with potholes and use has created large ripples.  There are no visual boundaries on the roads such as lanes so the drivers create their own lanes; often times driving in what appears to be oncoming traffic only to swerve back on to the right side of the road at the last minute.  Needless to say, the swerving, bumping, bouncing, swaying, etc. can make the motion sick person in the group a little uneasy and I no longer feel comfortable taking dramamine.  Fortunately I was able to sit in the front.  That did help.  We made it to Khmelnytsky without any flat tires or broken axles, thank goodness.  Our only hitch was a speeding ticket (No, Daniel, I wasn't driving!).

After checking into the hotel we had a great lunch, then headed to the Omni Center to discuss the conference. We always have some miscommunications that need to be worked out, but nothing major and our meeting went pretty well.  Last night ended up being a late night for me because I was watching England play France in the quarter finals and of course they had to go into overtime and penalty kicks plus I was working on my notes for my presentation today.  Luckily for me they serve incredibly strong coffee here and I was able to perk up and wake up with ease this morning.

We kicked off our conference today, and I'd have to say that it went, overall, pretty well.  We began with general introducations and description of the week's events.  Lori began the conference with a lecture on communication development and strategies for promoting communication.  Her topic sets up the ground work for just about every topic to follow.  At some point along the way something got lost in translation and one woman became a little aggressive in her comments and questions towards Lori.  She fears that the "take home" message did not reach everybody.  I personally thought she did a fantastic job and felt for her that it was spoiled a bit by this miscommunication.  Following lunch I gave the first part of my presentation on behavior.  I thought it was received well and my consultation slots are virtually filled up for the rest of the week, which is encouraging.

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Jennifer Miller - Sat Jun 23, 2012 @ 11:00PM
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In her personal blog, JohannasJourneys, first time USNOF volunteer/traveller, Johanna, reflects upon the team's weekend in L'viv before heading to Khmelnytsky.

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Jason - Sat Jun 23, 2012 @ 01:00PM
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The 2012 Trip finds USNOF in a new city, Khmelnytsky. In 2009 and 2010 parents from Khmelnytsky approached USNOF in Rivne and asked for our assistance. We are excited to have the opportunity this year to respond to their requests.

Two teams are involved in this trip. A team of educators will present a conference at the Khmelnytsky Omni Center  for educators and parents of special needs children. Topics to be covered include non-verbal communication, autism, ADHD, literacy strategies, special education delivery models, and behavior strategies. Meanwhile, a  Bible School team will visit two orphanages and love on the orphans through Bible stories, crafts, and recreation.

The impact these two teams will have this week would not be possible without the sacrifice of these travelers, the support of their families, and the financial support of those who have contributed to make this trip a reality. For all of this I give you my deepest thanks, but I encourage you to let the images and stories posted here this week be your ultimate thanks.

Jason Miller, Managing Director, USNOF

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