Irina Galina

Encouraging medical professionals, building relationships and learning what is happening in medicine throughout Ukraine frequently requires Jim to travel. Typically these trips are by overnight train, maximizing his time and allowing him to arrive at his destination reasonably refreshed.

Recently Jim and his assistant Anatoliy had the opportunity to travel to Odessa. They stayed with International Messenger missionary Ron Winkler.

This particular trip had several different aspects, including meeting with health care professionals. This involves helping them become more competent and compassionate as well as introducing them to a Christian view of medicine. We often see God’s common grace at work as we meet people who sincerely care for the people they serve.

On this visit, we met with Irina Galina, a woman who is a champion and advocate for children with disabilities in the Odessa region. Twenty years ago, at the age of 60, she established the Janus Korchak Institute for Rehabilitation of Children with Disabilities. Her center started with the help of private funds and now is mostly funded by the government.

Each week 250 children with a wide range of disabilities are cared for at the Institute. Among other services: the beginnings of an early intervention program; a daycare program combined with treatment that encourages parents to be responsible for the care of their own children; and an inclusion program that allows children who participate to learn how unique and special each child is. As the children progress they are taught skills of daily living to help them become as independent as possible and there is also a program to help individuals work in a sheltered environment so they may earn a small salary.

Initially, there was significant opposition to these programs. But over time, due to the steadfast leadership of Dr. Galina and her staff, positive results and improved outlooks began to speak for themselves. Opposition began to wane and support from the community and government began to grow.

The staff is a dedicated group, many of whom are parents. This reflects the philosophy of Dr. Galina that parents should play an active role in the care of their children. The parents initially learn therapy to help their own child. After seeing the improved outlook in their children, they often develop a desire to provide assistance to other children and support other parents.

Since training for teachers and therapists is limited in Ukraine, another source of staff are students who come to study treatment methods, and also volunteers. Whether parents, students or volunteers, after being exposed to the loving care and dedication of the staff, they often pursue further training and ultimately become full time staff.

Common expressions in Ukraine for children and the people who care for them are invalids and defectologists respectively. These words are not used at the center out of respect to the children in the belief that each child is special and deserves to be raised in a loving caring environment.

When the Institute first began there were many trainings and visits by German-trained professionals, but over the past several years the number of trainings has decreased. There is still a great need throughout Ukraine. Our hope is not only to offer training through UMO but to encourage these Ukrainians to participate as trainers themselves. We also would like to invite Irina Galina to teach at our conferences, along with members of her staff.

Current statistical estimations show there are about 1,000 children in the Odessa region living with disabilities. This means there are at least 750 children in need of the assistance that Dr. Galina provides. Dr. Galina will not be satisfied until these children are also receiving good care. Therefore, she and her team are planning to open a second location in Odessa to further address this need.

Please join us as we pray for this woman and her vision.