For three recent weeks, a small scenic town of Merefa located 20 kilometers from Kharkiv has become a hive of international communication.
The volunteers of Merefianska Alternative NGO held seven meetings with four international students and local children.
Three girls from China and another girl from Turkey were staying in Kharkiv in July-August within this year AIESEC program together with other international students. Their aim was to meet Ukrainian youth and children, find out about their life as much as possible and to hold speaking clubs.
However, most of the Kharkiv students left the city for holidays. Therefore the volunteer Natalia Ryabukha, who found out about the mission, invited four girls to come to Merefa town, one of the oldest settlements in Kharkiv oblast which was founded in 1595. The girls agreed happily as they got the opportunity to plunge into the authentic Ukrainian culture. Also, local children were excited to speak English and meet representatives of other countries, not native speakers but who use English as a tool of international communication.
“We arranged the meeting on the playgrounds where there were a lot of children in the evening. Usually, 30-40 children from 6 to 16 took part in the meetings”, says Natalia Ryabukha. “First, everyone was a little shy, but very soon the children got more relaxed and became talkative and excited. The guests were singing Chinese and Turkish songs, they played the outdoor games and danced. Also, they told about their occupations at home and the importance of education. Our children were incredibly interested; you should have seen their eyes!”
In their turn, Merefa’s children were showing the foreign students Ukrainian traditions, taught them their games.
The last meeting with the foreign students on August 9 was warm and open-hearted. Local handmade master Olha Doroshenko gave the guests her magic knot dolls “lialka motanka,” the Ukrainian amulets; the children made yellow and blue bracelets for them.
“There was also honey, Ukrainian black bread, and chocolates with pictures in memory of the generosity of Ukrainian land and soul,” say the volunteers.
“We also found it important to educate our children in Merefa, to show them that there is more good than evil in the world. And the changes come through communication, don’t they? Not everyone can go abroad but meeting foreign guests is an easy way to see the world,” Natalia Ryabukha explains.
Merefa residents are going to invite other students from AIESEC program, who are going come to Kharkiv for about two months in September and October. They are also ready to provide them accommodation in the old town with Cossack traditions and historical sites.
Text: Olena Sokolynska
Photo: Natalia Ryabukha