It is important when life is stressful to find opportunities to laugh and celebrate and have fun with others, so we funded Christmas celebrations in four different locations. War orphans, widows, and the elderly gathered for carols, a Christmas play, a feast, plus fun and games for the kids. Children all received a pretty box filled with chocolates and cookies, and mothers each received an encouraging note written by friends of Global Pearls in Albuquerque and San Diego. As one recipient said, “It’s very special that people from a different country care about us like this. It is very special and deeply touching.” 423 people participated in the Christmas celebrations.

One of the biggest dangers among refugees is becoming isolated and depressed, so we decided to keep community gatherings going through the winter. Our families have been divided into groups of 30-60, and each group has an assigned day and time where they can gather for a hot, nutritious meal and socialization. Alessia and her team have been feeding over 400 people per week through the winter. They also continue providing firewood to new families, and volunteers faithfully fill containers with water when the power grid is down (a frequent target in the war) for distribution to all families so they have drinking water. It is heart-warming to see how our refugee families are pitching in to help one another through these trying times.

We faced another challenge this winter. Only schools with bomb shelters now hold classes in person, and these are too far for many of our war orphans to attend. Our children also don’t have access to the technology needed to receive lessons online, so they not only faced the trauma of war and the death of one or both parents, they lost their opportunity for an education. Starting a “school” for our children was therefore a big push this winter. We supplied a generator, computers, printers, and other needed equipment for three locations since our children are spread out geographically. We also hired one paid teacher to teach upper level math and science. The rest of the teachers are volunteers from the community.Officially, the students are “attending” the regional school, but they are able to access their lessons and take exams remotely, and our teachers patiently explain the lessons. When the children first started at the school, they were scoring 2s and 3s on their exams (on a 12-point scale). After just three weeks in our school their grades rose to 8s and 9s. One of our students even received the highest score at the regional school on a recent exam. The district administrators were skeptical of our plans at first, but now they are very enthusiastic about our school which they call the “American” school. They are even referring other students in the area. We currently have 54 war orphans in the school.

Now that the weather is warming, we are gearing up to expand our agriculture program. Refugees from Kherson and Bakhmut who arrived in the fall and winter – too late for our agriculture program last summer – have seen videos not only of the bountiful harvests, but of children laughing and playing with the animals. Our newer arrivals hope their own children will find emotional healing as they care for the animals. We are planning to give animals to 38 new families and seedlings to 79 new families. Goslings are already arriving, so this year we have a head start. We will start distributing seedlings next week.