It’s been for many years running that girls from the Communal Institution Puhachiv Psychoneurological Treatment and Residential Care Center have been telling our volunteers about their dreams. This is a facility located in Berezneve village of Korosten District in Zhytomyr Region that takes care of children suffering from mental retardation at the imbecility stage and Down syndrome, of disability groups IІІ-ІV. So 65% of the girls kept saying that they dreamt to see the sea and real dolphins. Back then, we decided that we had to try and make that children’s dream come true. Five years ago, the girls came to Kyiv and visited the local dolphinarium. No one of us could even predict that the meeting of our little princesses with the sea animals could bring such a strong positive charge. In July 2017, the young patients had a breath-taking voyage by the steam ship “Hoverla” along the Dnieper. But still, their biggest dream was of course to see the sea and have a swim. So there we were reaching out for that dream...
“For nearly two years, we and our volunteers had been visiting swimming pools in the capital, looking for swimming coaches who specialize in training children with special needs and are capable of working with groups. And finally we got lucky. In summer 2019, we were invited by Yaroslava Tokar, Head of NGO Development and Rehabilitation Center “DAR” to visit the opening ceremony of the swimming center “Planeta Sport”. The good corporate citizen – INTERPUMPS GROUP LTD – was the first to respond. The company had acted before as one of financial sponsors for the project “Aquatoria Health and Wellness Area” implemented jointly by UWCF and NGO Development and Rehabilitation Center “DAR”. This project aims at the rehabilitation through hydro-kinesiotherapy, or hydro-gymnastics, of those children and youth who have disabilities, suffer from infantile cerebral paralysis, Down syndrome, autism, and other serious diseases, whether living at residential care centers or in families”, says Lyudmila Lysenko, UWCF programs and projects manager.
On 16 November 2019, 15 girls from the Puhachiv Psychoneurological Treatment and Residential Care Center, for the first time in their lives, visited a swimming pool, which they called “the sea”.
If children rarely go to a swimming pool, a visit to the sport facility may be quite a stress for them. Let alone those who can’t swim at all and have never been to swimming pools before – like kids from psychoneurological treatment centers. This facet of people’s routine life has never been within an easy reach for them.
Everyone was so nervous… but we knew that those kids would benefit from any contact with water as they are particularly good at getting new experiences. Swimming is one of the safest physical activities for children. As well as one of the best for their health: water exercises strengthen children’s health, ensure all-round physique and give good emotional release. Swimming improves our natural thermoregulatory mechanisms as the body learns to quickly adapt to any changes in the environment.
The treatment center’s medical staff was really careful in selecting girls for the trip. The matter is that a number of genetic diseases – such as epilepsy or convulsive disorder – are contraindication to swimming exercises.
That was the first time for our little goldfish to face the “big water” as they did not really feel any boundaries: it was as if the bottom did not exist and the swimming pool seemed enormous, and as a result, naturally, they felt overwhelming fear... Like it wasn’t bad enough, there was also a new person – the swimming coach – to get used to and start trusting right at once... However, coach Yulia did manage to win first their interest and then trust, so the fear was quickly gone.
Ms Lesya Petrenko, Director of the Puhachiv Psychoneurological Treatment and Residential Care Center shares: “I’ve sent my kids on this trip with a particular goal in mind – not to keep them in water for 30 minutes by any means, but rather to give them positive emotions, good impressions, and willingness to go in the water again. Our goal here is swimming and health improvement. So dear benefactors of the project “Aquatoria Health and Wellness Area”, get prepared – we are going to be frequent visitors. I knew that this situation was new for our patients and they might take some time to adapt to the big water. I was worried about them just like any mother would. You know, now I am really happy for my little mermaids”.
After forty minutes of swimming, our mermaids didn’t want to leave the pool. They kept saying that they weren’t afraid any more and would like to come again.
The water exercises were followed by an exciting entertainment program for the girls. United World Cultures Foundation had ordered a three-kilo cake topped by two princess crowns. We had two birthday-girls there present and decided to surprise them like this after swimming. Volunteers ordered some pizzas, fruit, and juice.
There has been another wonderful event to mention here – Metropolitan Nykodym of Zhytomyr and Novohrad-Volynskyi awarded Kateryna Ovdiyenko, detdom.info volunteer, and Lyudmila Lysenko, UWCF team member, with the Medal of the Venerable Martyr Anastasia, at the grand Benefactors’ Ball. This medal was presented to Kateryna and Lyudmila by girls from the Puhachiv Psychoneurological Treatment and Residential Care Center – those who had been calling them mum Katya and friend Lyuda for many years.
Additionally, quite on the spot, we have managed to add another trip to our program – this time to the virtual exhibition Wow Ukraine. Big thank-you for this trip to Tetiana Khoroshylova! That was an incredibly interesting experience for both children and adults.
We would like to thank volunteer Yan Soniachnyi for the amazing photos and lots of positive impressions!
Dreams come true, you just have to believe!