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I am writing to you so I will never forget what may be the most life-changing experience I am having right now. I am writing very late at night, because this is the only time my mind can write. Last night we had planned on going sightseeing and souvenir buying. Doc, Bro. Howell, and I are on a missions trip to Kiev, Ukraine. We are working with Pastor Sasha and Irene Mezpa.
Before we went to bed, the phone rang. It was Irene. She said Alexandra, a lady in their church who interprets English, was able to get us into a boarding school. We would have to leave at 7:30 the next morning, and, oh yeah, all the children are blind. I went to bed thinking, “Okay, we are going to a school for the blind children.” Boy, I didn’t have a clue! Well, it was hard to get out of bed because of a full day before, but we were all ready to go at 7:30.
I am writing because I could not take pictures. If you were there- you would not have taken pictures either. Blind in the eyes, they could not see with their eyes. At this point, this is what I could see: poor, blind children who were reading and doing mathematics in Braille. They were working with fractions. The teacher gave them two problems. Quickly, they wrote them out and came up with a solution.The teacher proudly read the correct answers off a boys page. They all seemed very shy. They knew Americans were in their classrooms, yet they could not see us, or hear us, we could not find our speech nor did we know what to say. Instead, we silently followed the line out of the room. My heart was aching for these children. I wanted to be their servant, but what could I do? We went on to a geography class where a boy read us a few sentences out of his book. They were learning the history of ancient China. His fingers moved swiftly across the page as he read aloud in Russian.
We visited the gym. There was a young boy around 10 on an exercise bike, peddling his legs as fast as they could go. About 5 feet in from the walls, there was a rope tied all the way around the room with bells on it. The children used the sound to stay inside and find their way around. There was another small boy around 8, a girl around 7 and a girl around 12. The two girls were playing catch with a really big red ball. It was very hard to watch. Every time the bigger girl would bounce it, it would roll right past the the little girl as she stood with both arms straight out to catch the ball. An old man was their gym teacher. He took a black rubber ball off the far wall and showed us how it sounded when shook. He says the children need balls with sound ,but these are much too heavy. He was right- it was quite a weight! He gave it to the girls, so they sat down and rolled it back and forth. The small girl was able to get this much easier because it rolled right to her. He then brought over another girl, took her hula-hoop and gave her a jump rope. She could jump rope very well and very fast. He told us about their equipment. The big red ball was already glued, and all the equipment was in very poor shape. They have no money to buy new supplies. He was very proud of how they were learning. He was not sure it could be done- but they were doing it. My eyes were beginning to pour over with pity.
We went to an art room, where the girls learn to sew, embroider, and cook. Today they were working with clay. Some just had balls, and some had animals or structures. Our last classroom was a workshop for the boys. They were making knives. They used a large file to sharpen a piece of steel. Some were sharp and some were dull. It was hard hearing of children who were working so hard, yet many of the graduates are unable to find work.
We went to the third floor and saw their dorms. Some had seven beds and some only four, but all were spotless, with neat beds and straight pillows. They had not even been expecting company. The rooms were all bare. The beds were extremely small. There was one or two small nightstands per room and one closet.
After the tour we went into the sort of “school history” room. It was filled with children. We sat in a row of chairs facing them. The headmistress spoke and introduced some of the students. Two older girls read poetry they had composed. It was beautiful. The first was about autumn. She described it so beautifully it is a wonder she hasn’t seen it! The second wrote of summer. After the recitations was the most touching of all. Two boys came in carrying accordions. The first boy played a button accordion. It was black with many many white buttons on both sides. He played extremely well. The second boy handed a beautiful red piano accordion with black buttons and white keys, the most beautiful I ever saw, to a tall, lean boy who was completely blind. They got him seated in the front as the headmistress explained he had played with a very famous accordion player and had received this accordion as a gift. His piece was the most beautiful I have ever heard on this earth. I could not take my eyes off his swift, precise fingers as I listened in awe with a tear-stained heart. I learned then what true beauty was.
When he finished, there were no more performances. We were asked if there were any questions. I struggled to find my voice. As everyone sat in silence, I pushed out enough of a sound to tell Alexandra that I would like to say something. I stood from my chair and looked at my audience. I no longer felt pity for them, but for me. Now my tears were of honour and beauty. I cannot recall my exact words, but my first line choked out was, “It is an honour to be here.” After I recovered I said a few words on how we do not use everything we have. Three years ago I had started accordion lessons, but had slacked off very much. I now felt sorry I had not used my accordion and practiced. They were all a challenge for me to use what I have. I did not say much, but my heart was on the floor. After I sat, Doc spoke. He too was choked up, but he has a great way with words and said many things I felt. He was able speak much longer than I. Bro. Howell said something also.
Afterwards we were told we could go to the children and ask them questions. Doc was talking to the boys in the first 2 rows. But there was a girl I noticed in one of the classrooms and again in the hall. For some reason I was looking towards her the whole time in this room also. As some of the children were dismissed, she was the only girl left. I asked Alexandra to help me talk to her. As we approached, I could not find what to say. I asked her age. She was 14. I told her I was 17. I think she has been at the school for 6 years. She likes to sing and dance. I asked if she could tap dance. She said the Russian folk dances are a mixture of many dances and do have some tap in them. She also enjoys reading poetry, but like me, cannot write it. Many of the students there write poetry. Mathematics is her favorite subject- like mine. She said with a shy smile we have many things in common. When she had to leave I told her it was a pleasure to meet her, and it was. My soul was moved from this visit.
We then went to the office and got our coats. I shook hands with the headmistress and told her I would pray for them. I also gave her a donation. She, also, seemed very touched. They really do see miracles there every day. Children who are blind have proved to me they see much more than I and many other people do with physical sight can see. I will pray for them. I feel good knowing Pastor Sasha said his church will start to help them in whatever way they can. This was also the first time he has been there. This was truly the most touching thing I have ever experienced. ~Heidi age 17