A mother's love for special needs children in Ukraine
"While my daughter was growing I was praying for her and I wanted to see what is God's will for her life, what vocation she has and now I see that maybe this is her task in life and I'm very happy that she can do this and maybe in some way because of her God did all this," Lena Yushenko told me recently during my latest visit to the Hearts of Love Special Needs Centre in Konotop, Ukraine.
Lena's dream for this special centre began when her daughter Valeria had a number of medical conditions including epilepsy and subsequently her father walked out on the family. Through all these struggles many other families with special needs children began coming to Lena for help and spiritual support.
However Mercy Projects was able help fulfil Lena's dream to set up a centre to provide this much needed help by purchasing and refurbishing an abandoned building, which has now become a life-line to so many special needs children and their families. For the past five years I've had the privilege of bringing Mercy Projects summer camp teams to the centre from the UK and USA.
Now against all odds Valeria has graduated from university and is part of a team of teachers at the centre who provide vital skills and an education to several special needs children, who otherwise would have nowhere else to go.
Valeria's face just brightens up when she tells about the children she teaches: "I'm conducting a computer class. I teach them letters and logic. I see changes in the children. Vladislav started pronouncing letters and Nikita can count to ten. I want them to start talking and then go to school so that they would have the same opportunities as other children."
Lena says their work is both heart-breaking and inspiring: "The biggest challenges are when you see children who have problems and you want to help and it's hard and you have this discomfort in your heart, you can't really do something about that but then I realise if I don't do anything then who will help these children.
"But with time I started loving these children and they are like my family now and I'm always thinking about them and all my life is connected with them. I'm praying for them and thinking how to help them. So they are my life now."
Vicky with her special friend Ira
Another teacher at the centre is Vicky. She has a young Down syndrome girl called Lira sitting on her knee quietly playing with plasticine. Vicky tells me she loves to see breakthroughs with the children that medical professionals never believed were possible: "I like to see when children learn something that a doctor previously said that child would never achieve, or they say this child is never going to walk. And then they do it and I say 'yes they can, they were wrong!'
Lena appealed for everyone to pray for everyone involved in the Hearts of Love centre: "Please pray for the children and all the teachers, because we can't do anything without God."