Their half term was spent in the not so exotic cities of Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye, both in Eastern Ukraine. Here the only rays of sunshine they caught were from the communities, families and individuals, all clients of World Jewish Relief, who, despite living in desperate poverty, brought light and energy to the school group.
This mission focused on showing the pupils just how different their lives are compared to their peers living in the Ukraine. We met Vladim (16) and Milana (13) who lived with their great grandmother, yes, great grandmother, in a dark, poorly lit, cramped house in Zaporozhye. This house had no kitchen and the toilet, which was basically a hole in the ground, was outside. The children's mother had left them to start a new family in Russia and when we asked Milana what she wanted most in the world, her reply was simple 'Mama'. The children shared a bedroom with their great grandmother and rely heavily upon WJR to provide them with Gifts in Kind, especially warm winter clothing, as their home has no heating or warm water.
The differences in lifestyles, priorities and material possessions were evidently clear, never before had the KS students felt so lucky, and seen the desperate need for help.
We also met with local madrichim who are working tirelessly to inspire a younger generation of Jews to become involved in the community which is flourishing through the regeneration programmes that WJR supports. One of the objectives of the madrichim is to visit the home-bound who are completely isolated, people who without their support and the personal home care provided by WJR, would receive no visitors at all except for a state social worker who changes weekly and does not have the time to get to know their name, never mind the fact that they have lost their children or cannot get themselves to the toilet, or to provide the basic care that they need so badly.
Our group also met Shlomi, an 80 year old man who was fortunately evacuated to Uzbekistan during World War 2. Shlomi had both of his legs amputated due to diabetes and spent all his time in his small apartment - wheel chair bound. Shlomi had not left his home in five years because there are no disabled facilities in Ukraine, no wheel chair ramps or lifts that are big enough to accommodate a wheel chair. The pupils from KS had a task at hand, and between them managed to lift Shlomi down the five flights of crumbling stairs out into the crisp winter air. The tears in Shlomi's eyes said more than a thousand words. He commented on how much the outside world had changed since he'd last seen it and then asked if the students were ok, concerned he was too heavy for them to push.
Although the students did not get the rest and relaxation they may be used to on school breaks, the experience they got will stay with them forever. Some of them have pledged to return to the Ukraine and others will never forget just how lucky they are to be able to step outside into the fresh air.