I tried to make her feel comfortable and welcome as I began to talk to her. She did not think that we could do much for her, but she wanted to see us and talk to us anyway. Her clothes were old, worn and as nearly all older people, her outer clothes were caked and stiff with layers of imbedded dust and grime. Her underclothes showing through the holes looked stained brown, as though they had never been washed with soap. Soap costs money. Old people do not have money. I looked closely at her features, as she talked at first in response to my questions and then more spontaneously once she realized that we were interested in her and her story. Yes, she was old and wrinkled but also unusually pale. She had no color anywhere. Her face and eyes were as white as paper. I took her hands in mine. This poor lady was suffering from severe anemia. After brief physical examination, I found no signs of any other significant illness. She badly needed a bath but nearly all old people there rarely bathe as bathtubs are rare and soap, well soap costs money. Her feet were dirty and her toenails were long and thick and deformed making it impossible to wear any shoes. She had walked to the clinic in two layers of thick stockings and soft but thick slippers. Upon further questioning, I began to realize that this lady’s anemia was very likely nutritional.
SHE WAS SLOWLY STARVING TO DEATH, alone in her little dilapidated old house and no one in the village was helping her!
“How could this be?” I asked myself.
Most people in the villages of Ukraine have enough food because they spend essentially all year
raising and growing their food. Huge gardens (several acres) for vegetables, fruit trees, more land
to grow grain, their chickens, geese, turkeys, pigs, cows in the barns by the house. They would raise
enough in the summer to preserve and store for the winter. Occasionally they might have a little extra to
take to the local bazaar on Friday or Saturday morning to barter for some household goods or clothes
for the children. Yes, they had plenty to eat. But this poor old Baba was too old and weak to
care for a garden, or raise chickens or geese. She had her own 2-room house but only tall weeds and grass
were growing in her yard. She needed vitamins, iron pills but mostly just food, plain ordinary food. In addition, of course, a bath and a good trimming of her nails. We asked her to go home and soak her feet in warm water for half an hour and told her that we would come to her home after clinic hours and clean her feet and trim down her extremely long and thick nails. She was happy to hear us say that, but I do not believe that she thought that we would come.
We told her that we would come and so we went, the four Canadians and the young Ukrainian doctor in tow. The little Baba’s home must have been one of the poorest in the village. The fence was falling over. In the yard, the grass and weeds were long and there were no signs of a arden or flowers. The house, set back in the yard, was old and badly in need of repairs. There was a faint path leading from the gate to the only door in the house, open for anyone or anything to enter. In the yard, a man was pasturing his cow in the tall grass. There was little good grazing left around the village so this tall fresh grass was a bonanza for him and his cow. He said that in return he and his wife would give “her” (the Baba) some milk. There was no word of giving her any other food, or assistance. She was to fend for herself. I thought of what the cow would leave behind and how no one would clean it up. This would just increase the mess and unsanitary conditions within which this Baba was living.
We went into the house. There were two rooms, both untidy, cluttered, dusty and filled with old things. The floor was dirty and mostly covered with sacks, a few scraps of wood for her stove, pots and clothes. Other than a few old potatoes, we did not find any food in the house. This was indeed the home of someone who was very poor and unable to do much for themselves. The home of someone who, although not abused or forgotten, was not thought about and so was neglected. Someone who was to just keep quietly to herself, cause no guilt for others, and stay home and die alone. The Baba was sitting in an old chair, her feet still soaking in a pan of warm water, three hours after we had seen her. When she saw us, she smiled beautifully and with a sigh of relief. We could tell she believed that we did care for her.
Ukraine has now been independent for the longest time in the entire history of her people. The people are free and they rejoice in this. However, having lived in subjugation for almost forever, they do not know what democracy is or what to do with or expect from their freedom. With time they will learn, as they have all the potential to become a great, wondrous and rich country of free and happy people. In the meantime, the Ukrainian people need help. Help to keep up their hope and not fall back. Help to learn how to work together to build their country for themselves and not give it up to others. Help to know that
others care and want to help. Who better to help than the people of one of the freest, safest and most prosperous countries in the world: Canada? You, and you, and you, and me...and us! Medical Mercy Canada works at the bottom of society in the places where it finds people are in need but forgotten by the world. We feed the roots. In Canada, we call it “grass roots”. By helping the poor in the villages of Ukraine, the people who make up the majority of the population of Ukraine, we can help a compassionate, democratic society to grow. Moreover, every time a country develops a compassionate, free, democracy, the entire world becomes a safer place for all of us in which to live and raise our children.
Please help us to help all the old “Baba and Didos” of Ukraine. Open your wallets and donate.
Volunteer and/or come with us to work with them.
Show that you care and share. You will feel better, and sleep better.
- Myron Semkuley