Day 2 in Dneprepetrovsk (which felt like Day 2 AND 3)
Another great day with an-even-more attractive (only because I’ve gotten to know them better) group of fellow travelers. Everyone is interesting and interested – and it’s easy to get to know one another when seated together at a meal or on the bus.
Started the day with a trip to the Women’s Clinic and Hospital. The doctors were very proud to show us the mammography and ultra sound machines donated by their contacts in Boston—as common as those are to us, they are rare here. The visit laid bare the dichotomies here. On the one hand, the clinic staff were well-trained, smart and motivated—the best of what doctors are—really, I’ve never seen better (OK, Dr. Tabesh, you might be the exception). But the corridors (and other aspects of the structure) were showing the wear and tear of time without resources to invest in building plant. The pride in their connections to Beth Israel Hospital was clear—the certificates on the wall, the stories of training and interventions abound. Most significantly, they are using every bit of technology and know how to make a difference. For example, this clinic focuses on wholistic women’s health including prevention and rapid treatment. Before the clinic opened, 48% of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer were dying from it. They have brought that rate down to 2.4%--even without fancy statistical tests, we know that’s a very powerful result.
Already behind schedule, we rushed over to Beit Baruch—the highlight of the trip so far for me. Beit Baruch is an assisted living building housing 51 frail seniors, which has been supported by JCHE since its inception. We met the very talented, deeply committed staff. We not only took an instant liking to them, but they engendered enormous respect. But the best part was watching their deep sense of partnership with and admiration for Francine Godfrey, our fitness director. She is the rock star of senior care here. They trust her and value her professional guidance and support. And, get this—somehow, by following her training and protocols, they have managed to get 100% of their residents to participate in some regular exercise program! Francine’s husband Anthony is traveling with us and I can see how proud he feels—we share that pride, he just has claim to proprietary rights to the majority of it!
At Beit Baruch we barely got to meet any residents, because now we were hugely behind schedule. That was a shame. In the brief encounter, one woman sang a moving rendition of “Yiddeshe Mama” and another demonstrated her embroidery technique (No exaggeration: there were probably 50 embroideries on the wall and she did them all!)
We saw a Jewish Medical Clinic sited adjacent to Beit Baruch specializing in geriatric care for all. The primary care system completely broke down with the fall of the Soviet Union and most seniors don’t have access to basic medical care. This clinic is already making a huge difference and hopes to expand to provide even wider portions of the population with sensitive, respectful and efficient care.
We went to Beit Chana Teacher’s College where 150 young women from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) are trained to become Jewish educators. We saw a very cool map showing all the places that have teachers trained by the college. The highlight was the luncheon, which is beyond my powers to describe. Suffice it to say that we all stuffed ourselves on the 12 different entrees that were on the table—only to discover that they were the appetizers and were followed by three other courses! The food was extraordinary, truly outstanding (even coming close to the quality of our dinners at Shillman House!).
From there we were whisked to The Educational Resources Center, a beautiful school for special needs children. Prior to its creation, there were no schools for these children and they were not allowed in the mainstream schools. The teachers are believers in the potential of each child and it shows. We were privileged to be part of the presentation of a new van to ERC by Women’s Philanthropy Division of CJP. Penny Goodman, the incoming president, is on the trip. Her remarks were touching and the appreciation of the school staff could not have been more evident. The kids then performed a play, but being even further behind schedule, sadly we had to leave mid-act. Loved what we saw.
No, we were not done yet. Next we heard from the director of a microfinance program that is helping women entrepreneurs start businesses. All Jewish women are entitled to free technical assistance to prepare strong business plans to justify a small, below-rate loan. Non-Jewish women are eligible for the loans too. Remarkably, they have achieved a 100% payback rate. The organization just pushes every method to keep them successful. We then went to visit three of the businesses. The first was a fitness studio run by a lovely 24-year-old dancer. She teaches everything—dance, yoga, step aerobics, and other exercise regimens—and is already successful. That visit, of course, put us even further behind so by the time we reached the 2nd business, a beverage maker, we could only meet her on the street and hear part of her story. Whoosh—then off to the Judaica store which is a tiny room with mostly imports from Israel.
We then got a giant one-hour break, so I ran to the nearest supermarket to see what it was like—this is my shorthand way to get a sense of how people live in a place. It was fascinating—one entire aisle dedicated to vodka! (Don’t worry, Mitchell, I know I can’t pack that in my already-stuffed luggage to come home. Sorry, mom.) Two aisles were for candy. Meat is only available on request, and most of the options seemed to be salami in different widths. Potatoes cost something like 60 cents for a 5-pound-like bag (I couldn’t read anything). Fewer fruit and vegetable choices than we are used to, but the ones that were there looked very good.
Then back to dress for the evening with the philanthropists of Dnep. They are very generous, joyous at our partnership and great partiers. The food was exquisite and super-plentiful (at least it was all displayed so you knew how to pace yourself). The various kinds of fish were gorgeous and delicious—everything prepared to perfection. There was a lively and talented band. Two sons of the bandleader joined the performance. The younger was just 8 years old and played drums in a way that even almost rivals Carl Zack. We all listened and watched open-jawed. He even did a drum solo that made us all stop breathing. The older son, who looked about 12, played an incredible guitar solo and sang in English, beautifully. We were entranced—these two young boys are ones to watch (and hear).
Finally, back at the hotel for a little breath-catching and presumably sleep (they’ve allotted us 5 or 6 hours, I think). More tomorrow………..