The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Monday, March 8

International Day for Women

Today is the International Day for Women. At Hearts of Love, we celebrated a few days early with a special event. I am not sure it would be considered politically correct by those who keep score on such things. Still the young girls, who participated, and their families were so proud and happy.

The International Day for Women harkens back to Soviet times. It got tied to socialist politics and rights for women workers in the early 20th century. Maybe that is why it never really got much noticed in America. The UN adopted it in the 1970s and promotes a different theme each year. This year the focus is on ending violence against women.

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Since the break-up of the Soviet Republic, it has lost some of its socialist stridency especially in countries like Ukraine. Woman’s Day has evolved into a combination of Valentines and Mother Day. It’s a time to honor women and recognize their contributions.

Unknown to me, a plan to commemorate Women’s Day was being discussed at Hearts of Love.

That’s the way it works here. I use to think that Ukrainian people did not plan. I was wrong. They just use a different kind of planning. Instead of flip charts and formal meetings or proposals and board of director decisions, a project is formed during informal discussions. Slowly, a consensus emerges, volunteers step forward and the project is underway.

”What are you doing,” I ask seeing two young women working on the office computer? “It’s for the International Day of Women. We’re making a beauty pageant for our children.”

“What,” I say? The two ideas collide in my head as I nod and feign a smile. I think they notice my lack of enthusiasm and tell me more about the project. I am being brought into the discussion.

The idea began with our December St. Nicholas party. As part of our outreach to the community, contact was made with Miss Konotop and her court of beauties. They came to the party coiffured and dressed in evening gowns, sashes and crowns. Our young girls were giggly with excitement. Everyone wanted their picture taken with Miss Konotop.

Could we replicate something like Miss Konotop for the children at Hearts of Love? The plain truth is that our children don’t get a chance to be recognized as beauties. Some are retarded or autistic. Others have internal disabilities like heart conditions or epilepsy. And still others manage with palsay and other physical disabilities. Hearts of Love has brought together a wide range of special need children.

It is hard on them and their families. I am told that during Soviet times, physical strength and perfection were applauded. Just take a look at the prowess chiseled into Soviet monuments. Disabilities represented failure. These kinds of children were hidden and a source of shame.

But times are a changing….why not a beauty pageant for our children? I warm to the idea.

The big day arrives. Fifteen girls participate and about 75 parents and friends ring the stage.
The music starts and the young girls walk down four steps and across the floor. They strike a pose and move on with poise and dignity. I look around and everyone is so proud.

Then I notice a little commotion on the side. One young girl has been crying. Nerves, I think. But then, I discover that one of her legs is deformed and she cannot walk without crutches.

On this day, she does not want to be seen with crutches. I identify since I spent several years on crutches when I was about her age.

She is beautiful in her evening gown, but apparently embarrassed to tears. Yelena kneels and talks to her. Then two men lift up the chair she is sitting on and carry her to a place beside the others. Everyone applauds and applauds. Another girl gives her a hug. She gives a tentative smile.

The beauty pageant continues with self introductions and talent performances and the making of love cards for mothers and grandmothers.
They all do such a splendid job.

At the end, everyone is awarded a title and a sash. The little girl confined in the chair becomes Miss Spring. I learn that she has been enduring a series of operations so that maybe one day she will walk just like the others. Let’s hope….

What a wonderful way to celebrate the International Day for Women. It makes me proud to be here.

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