Interview with Carma Ryan & Ramona Barden
"People Helping People" charity coordinators
GO2KIEV: Tell us about your charity work through the International Women’s Club Kiev?
Carma Ryan: We have been the 2007-2008 co-coordinators of all the IWCK’s charity group’s activities. During our one year cooperation we conducted the annual Grant Competition, of which over USD $100,000 per year is funded to support the beneficiary groups targeting older persons, people with disabilities, children and women.
Ramona Barden: We also monitor humanitarian support to various charitable organizations in the Kiev region through ongoing collections, specific drives and distribution of needed supplies; such as clothing, toys, soaps and more.
GO2KIEV: Who are some of the recipients of the annual Grant Competition?
Carma Ryan: The Charity Institution Civic Initiatives (CICI) is an “abandoned baby” support project that has grown dramatically within the past several years in their provision of cribs and supplies for newborns and children up to two years old for 5 new hospitals in the Kiev Oblast region. Another very successful recipient is the Community of St. Egido where a very enthusiastic and motivated group of volunteers support the homeless through their purchase and distribution of food and medical supplies. We also purchase food for their annual Christmas dinner. This amazing group of people work full day jobs and then volunteers their time on a consistent weekly basis. I find their dedication to be quite inspiring.
Ramona Barden: The Elena Petrusevych Foundation “Horses Are Our Healers” provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons for 50 children per month with physical and mental disabilities. Also, IWCK funds On-Going Grants which are core projects that receive open ended support but whose funding is re-approved annually in December. One group recipient is the Elderly Food Delivery which is a monthly food program for 53 elderly professionals and persons who are home bound due to disabilities. The food baskets contain cooking oil, canned milk, sausages, kasha, and some baking goods.
Carma Ryan: I think it’s important to note that the annual Grant Competition’s mission is to support a grass roots concept of common people working together as support to humanitarian causes where Ukrainian organizations can function and develop in a more independent manner of growth.
The IWCK Annual Grant and the On-Going Grants information and contact representative sheet can be read on-line through http://www.iwck.org/content/view/29/43/ and http://www.iwck.org/content/view/30/44/.
GO2KIEV: Do you develop friendships with some of the charity group’s recipients?
Ramona Barden: Absolutely, the elderly food delivery program has been a wonderful vehicle to build friendships upon. I have become very good friends with a young man, Alex, who is home bound due to his cerebral palsy condition. We have delightful conversations together by sharing stories of family and friends when we are looking through each other’s personal photo albums. Alex is approximately 21 years old and his knowledge of English is very good. We even share email messages on an occasion.
Carma Ryan: Yes, through the food delivery program, I have been able to meet a fascinating mix of highly educated retired professors who all live in a solitary and isolated environment. Through my Ukrainian language studies, I feel we share in warm and interesting conversations. It’s been a privilege to meet these women for I feel I am an honorary ambassador of good will. This simple of act of volunteerism reaps such immeasurable rewards.
Ramona Barden: I agree. There are so many moments of shared laughter and human connection. I also visit an elderly woman in her mid-eighties who possesses a self-deprecating humor by announcing, “I’m still alive…very good to see you! You might see me alive next month.” I just shake my head with laughter and smile back at this spirited soul.
GO2KIEV: Do you two ladies of have any prior experience with volunteer work in your home countries?
Carma Ryan: No, not necessarily. As an American citizen, I earned my Master’s Degree studies in Grant Writing for which I was planning to use in the geriatrics medical field. Two years ago, my husband and I moved to Ukraine and I had hoped to find immediate employment utilizing my medical studies background. Well, it seems there were to be other plans. Within two weeks upon my arrival into Kiev, I accompanied a fellow IWCK member to a nursing home due to the delivery of two wheelchairs. It was the first time I had seen Ukraine’s aging population’s state sponsored health and home care. It was a disturbing shock to view the living conditions of the elderly but I quickly comprehended how people in this country can adapt to their living conditions. At that moment, I felt the awakening of volunteerism and still marvel at the synchronicity of desire and events.
Ramona Barden: As a Romanian, I grew up during Ceausescu’s Communist regime. The concept of volunteerism was not a natural concept to think or live in my home country. I do not remember such a harsh way of life in my childhood village because basic living necessities where provided for within my family. It’s the old adage: what you don’t know – won’t hurt you. Initially, I did not want to move to Ukraine for I imagined it would be a distinct reminder of reality in a post-soviet country. When I accompanied my husband on a first time visit to Ukraine, I quickly fell in love with the city’s panoramic landscapes as well as the vast array of beautiful churches. It gave me such joy to see Ukrainian folks visit a church any time of the day and go in for a short meditative prayer. Instantaneously, I knew that religion played a natural part of Ukrainian’s lives. This small but powerful sign told me I was to accompany my husband to Kiev. At the present, my Master’s Degree studies are not being utilized for charity work. But I feel this particular moment is a natural progression of life. I simply volunteer because I can. Life has unexpected detours so it pleases me that my time and energy are being directed in a way that provides great satisfaction.
GO2KIEV: What changes have you witnessed regarding Ukraine and the concept of charity work?
Ramona Barden: Just recently I saw newly built wheelchair ramps in the city center. Little by little there are some positive changes in Ukraine regarding the associated stigma of being physically disabled.
Carma Ryan: I strongly support Ukraine’s formalization of an independent country and identity. I see and feel that Ukraine is on the verge of a middle class which will evoke very powerful changes. And, personally, I have witnessed grassroots’ Ukrainian charities thrive and grow to become more autonomous and successful organizations.