"City of Goodness": how Chernivtsi volunteers help mothers and children in need
To date, the Chernivtsi Crisis Center has helped about 3 hundred mothers and rescued almost 8 hundred children. A story that inspires good deeds.
Hundreds of women who've faced domestic violence dream of changing their lives, hearing "You're not alone!" and feeling the necessary support by deed, not by word. But, unfortunately, even reaching a critical point, they're often forced to remain in dangerous conditions, because not everyone has the resources to run away or correct the situation on their own, especially if the child is in their arms.
Sometimes in families that are customarily called unhappy, women simply don't understand how to behave in adulthood. For example, orphanage school graduates or girls who grew up in troubled families. They have never been loved or embraced, so they have no idea about normal family relationships, aren't taught to cook food, lead a life after giving birth, don't know how to take care of a baby, don't know the "mother-child" type of behavior. This helplessness is also often accompanied by psychological and physical violence from the partner, or, worse, changing partners with the model of relationships not changing in the family.
Teaching life, condemning and labeling is easy, but only a handful lends an actual shoulder to those in trouble, who deserve a normal, full life no less than others.
In Chernivtsi, mothers with children who, because of certain, often independent circumstances, find themselves in a difficult situation and need financial, psychological, legal, and informational support, are helped by the charitable foundations "I'm the Future of Ukraine" and "City of Goodness."
Not all the stories of the mothers in the crisis center are made public, but they still shared the story of one of the mothers with us.
25-year-old Nina was one of the first to arrive at the City of Goodness. She grew up in an orphanage, after graduation she went to a vocational school to study cooking. Then she met a guy, fell in love, and they began to live together. He started to drink, and later raised his hand to her, not even paying attention to her being pregnant. Nina hoped that when the second child was born, something would change. But it didn't happen. Nina hid behind her mother-in-law, and even her mother couldn't stop him. When the police arrived, the man behaved in an exemplary manner, and after their departing, hell began again. One day Nina saw a car of the "I'm the Future of Ukraine" Foundation, distributing aid, and asked for things for her children. After learning about the "City of Goodness," Nina gathered the children and ran to the center without a penny, driving by car shares. When she first arrived, she was virtuously destroyed, depressed, didn't know her future, and didn't want to live. However, she didn't stay in the center for long — 5 months. During this time she flourished, believed in herself, and met her true love. The future husband responded to the ad for a volunteer job to fix the furniture in the "City of Goodness." That's how they met. The new father of the family arranged a house and soon moved Nina and her children there. "During graduation," a project volunteer Yelizaveta Korenko recalls, "we gave Nina a sewing machine, on which she learned to sew skillfully during her stay in the center. Now, even sitting at home with children, she can earn. We communicate and follow the life of Nina's family. We're very happy with their success."
We learned from the "City of Goodness" how they help other women and when to contact them.
Why is there a "house for moms"?
The "City of Goodness" isn't only one of the foundations, co-founded by a young Chernivtsi resident Marta Levchenko, it's also the name of a shelter for women and mothers with children needing support, without lectures and judgment. The elegant and cozy house isn't just a crisis center. It's a place where women wanting to remain mothers to their own children can do so by changing their lives. A place where they receive comprehensive care, and from where they go into independent living. And, of course, it's a place where you can live, learn something new, communicate with other mothers in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and friendship.
From the very beginning, the "I'm the Future of Ukraine" Foundation has cared for orphans and children deprived of parental care, focusing especially on children with disabilities and rare diseases that require special medical equipment, medication, and care.
The idea of a house for mothers arose out of necessity. "At some point," Marta Levchenko says, "we encountered a woman in a hopeless situation; she had nowhere to go with her child, then we met another one, being waited at home by a tyrant husband, and she had to run and hide to survive; then with the one that needed supervision and support 24/7. They all desperately needed a place to revive. That's how we realized that the center was to happen! First, we rented a house for that. Then, when there was no place left, we started building our own."
They built on their own. All projects of the "City of Goodness" and "I'm the Future of Ukraine" are implemented exclusively with charitable funds, with no subsidies from the state. Besides, members of the foundations deliberately refuse to associate with any political force, believing that, when it comes to children, there's no place for their own career ambitions. Everyone who wanted to help did so as ordinary citizens, without party symbols and banners.
"Usually, when I'm asked how we managed to find a lot of money for construction, people think I don't want to reveal a secret," Marta Levchenko laughs, "but it's not like that. Everything was happening gradually. When our builders approached me and said, "We need to cover the roof, and there's no material, we need to solve it urgently," I replied with humor: "You work, and the roof will come." We announced on all platforms, that we needed roofing, started writing to the shops selling it, the companies making it, and there was always someone to help us. It was so from the very beginning until now because the construction around the house is still going on. Of course, we're constantly doing something to make more people learn about the City of Goodness: holding initiatives, participating in events, promoting as much as we can. But, I think, the main sign that we're doing the right thing is that people needing our help appear on our way. The world is big and sometimes scary, but it's full of good people. And if you believe in them, then heaven won't leave you.
Thanks to this, I think, in the fall of 2020, the "City of Goodness" opened its own house. We can now accommodate up to 80 people at a time. And we continue construction. On the front wall of our "City of Goodness," we hang gold plaques with the names of those who helped our house to be born. There are more and more of them."
Who's this place for?
Currently, the City of Goodness accepts women with children and elderly grandmothers who have nowhere to live. There are very few restrictions: you need to be ready to work diligently on yourself, not to use alcohol and drugs, and do fluorography and test for Torch infection (during the quarantine, they added a test for covid to the list of required tests). The center doesn't accept people with psychiatric diagnoses, because the stay is set up to educate independence, and the "City of Goodness" volunteers cannot provide proper supervision and constant care for such patients. But the center is adapted to people with very different somatic diagnoses; it has both mothers and children with disabilities.
"We don't pay attention to citizenship, documents, religion, city, or country of origin. We have mothers from all over Ukraine, and from Ghana in West Africa, even. That's why a woman just has to contact us, by phone, in messengers, in the mail, and we'll contact her and try to help. Sometimes we are approached by representatives of social services or hospitals when they see that a woman needs help. Sometimes we're told about the trouble by people who've witnessed it, like neighbors, or just passers-by. We try to check every appeal and, where necessary, help everyone we can."
How do they help women?
The City of Goodness Crisis Center provides not only situational protection and shelter to the offended women. Here, based on each woman's situation, they offer an individual program of resocialization and prepare for a fully independent life. They teach to look after children, run a household, help to get an education, find a job. Physicians, psychologists, teachers, and lawyers work with women. Doctors also come to the shelter, talk about how to take care of themselves and the child, talk about sex education. Police officers inform how to behave and counteract domestic violence. Volunteers teach women the things that could help them for free, i.e. sewing, carving, cooking, making dolls, writing a resume, working on a computer.
"It seems to me that if you try not to judge others, but want to understand why they do as they do, you automatically want to help them," Marta Levchenko shares. "There's an expression in English "hurt people hurt people.' It means hurting people harm others, and it's not an excuse to hurt someone, but it allows reaching out to those who need it.
The "City of Goodness" uses the same principles. And yet, another rule is not to be lazy. All our mothers are constantly busy; they have homework with their children, studies, self-development classes, help others, for instance, preparing food for the homeless or sorting things. One of the prohibitions is no bullying. We don't allow harassment, deliberate insults, or displacing anger on children. Here, simple and universal rules reign: love, faith, and no judging."
To date, the Chernivtsi Crisis Center has helped about 300 mothers and saved almost 800 children. The timeline of stay in the center is always different, from several months to several years. Everything depends on the specific situation and what measures the family needs to recover. Some mothers came to the shelter 4 times! The woman came to the center, wanted change, but it was hard. She walked away and returned to her old life. And it happened three times. But the center never refused help and accepted her for the fourth time. And only then everything worked out! "We believe," they say at the center, "that only love, acceptance, and non-judgment can help people grow. That's why we follow all our contacts and take care of those who need help."
According to Marta Levchenko, almost all graduates of the "City of Goodness" become volunteers in various fields. While still living in the City of Goodness, they feed the homeless, help abandoned animals, and take an active part in other activities of the foundation. "And charity is a phenomenon that you can start, but can't stop. That's why they often come to visit us, help in the City of Goodness, and each look for their path, search ways how to thank the world for their second chance."
Team is everyone willing to help
In a professional sense, the "City of Goodness" team is quite small: Marta Levchenko is the head of the foundations and the mind behind all joint projects, six girls-volunteers, drivers, accountants, and lawyers. In fact, a tiny number of people coordinate, execute, cover and design.
But the City of Goodness declares that their team is huge! These are all subscribers on social media spreading information about shelter for mothers, supporting it, sharing funds. The Ukrainian diaspora, collecting money and things in many countries around the world, entrepreneurs supporting with opportunities and finances. Artists and craftswomen who share a talent for free and teach moms different professions. Without each person, the "City of Goodness" wouldn't exist. Therefore, volunteers consider all those joining the activities of the foundations in any way their family.
Of course, the foundations also cooperate with relevant authorities: social services, police, the office of the Commissioner for Children, and others because the charity foundation and public organizations can't solve many issues on their own.
Marta Levchenko's charitable foundations now have a lot of projects, and with them, volunteers try to cover all major areas of life. This winter's major project was the Hungry Quarantine, aimed at supporting families during quarantine restrictions. Poor families don't have "financial cushions," and they were the first to lose their jobs because they worked without social protection for the sake of survival. Such families in quarantine have nothing to pay for utilities, no money for food and medicine. More than two and a half thousand families have already received targeted assistance from the foundations.
The primary plans are to expand the geography of the crisis center. According to Marta Levchenko, Ukraine needs at least four "Cities of Goodness," even more would be even better. First, Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv are considered, and they also select a place in the East. "We don't look at the geographical location of our wards now, and we accept women from any community, but if they don't have to travel across the country, if the center is closer, it'll be easier for them to make a decision."
"I'm the Future of Ukraine" and the "City of Goodness" are always happy for any help. Everyone can really change someone's life. Parcels with clean things in excellent condition are accepted here. They're distributed among the needy. Often the "City of Goodness" needs the volunteer support of professionals. So if you know how to do something and are willing to share your time and skills, write to the community pages on Instagram and Facebook, your help will always be useful. The center sells dolls, sewn in the "City of Goodness" by wards. And if you choose such a doll as a gift to loved ones, they'll be thrilled too. Even a simple repost on social media can allow new people to learn about the activities of foundations and help save someone's life. So, one click is also a great help. In just a few seconds, you can be influenced by a miracle.
"Personally I can't help but do it," Marta Levchenko says. "Apparently, it's a vocation. I was in charity before I learned about this word. As a child, I felt sorry for a sick or hungry child, an abandoned puppy, or an unhappy person to the point of physical pain. I couldn't pass by then and I can't now. My mother still hoped that I would grow up and understand that one can't help everybody. I grew up and understood that we should try harder to help everyone."
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By the way, in the "City of Goodness," a story happened when a 10-year-old boy with a deadly disease was accepted into the ranks of the patrol police to make his dream come true.