Interview with Iryna Drobot
Advocate and Protector of the Homeless
GO2KIEV: Please tell us about your work with the city’s homeless.
I am a committed volunteer through the “Friends of the Community” Sant’Egidio Community - AKAP organization. We support the homeless in the Podil and Maidan Nezalezhnosti areas by providing food and medications. The “Friends of the Community” organization does not actively fund-raise monies so many of the sandwiches, sausages, tea and coffee are purchased out of each volunteer’s pocket which comes to approximately 150 UAH a day to feed 30 to 50 homeless individuals of whom which may change on a weekly basis. I am pleased to say we have been awarded a generous monetary grant from the International Women’s Club Kiev, so now we are able to purchase over-the- counter medications from a local pharmacy (apteka) to provide relief from stomach and head pains as well as topical ointments to heal cuts and burns.
GO2KIEV: Are there other organized events sponsored by the “Friends of the Community”?
Yes, we sponsor an annual Christmas Dinner on January 7th which is on the Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas Day. This is such an important holiday event because it can trigger the pain of being alone for many people. Over eight years ago there were only 16 people in attendance. Now there are over 150 people that include the homeless, elderly pensioners, and children. This sponsored holiday celebration mushrooms into a family atmosphere of shared conversation, smiles and laughter. The Christmas dinner is held at The Kyiv-Mohyla Academy canteen which is transformed into a festive party atmosphere with decorations, tasty food, and prayer time services that are performed by Orthodox priests.
GO2KIEV: Who are the homeless?
These are people who are forced to lead a life on the streets through ordinary and universal life occurrences: an eviction notice; family tensions without positive solution; the loss of a job; or an illness. If there is no helping hand, these life events can transform people having up to that moment a “normal” life into people having nothing. Contrary to popular belief, living on the street is almost never by choice.
GO2KIEV: How do you make contact with a homeless person?
Initially there is great deal of resistance because of the homeless person’s basic human need for dignity. You have to understand that those who are forced to live on the street suffer from the difficulties of everyday life. For example: changing dress, washing themselves, and shaving become a great problem -- thus, there is a profound sense of self-imposed isolation due to humiliation. Truly, those who have become homeless have lost their social skills. Many times homeless people have to be persuaded to get help, eat food, or even speak to a volunteer. These people have lost hope and are afraid to receive help.
GO2KIEV: How are you able to break down the barriers of non-communication?
Firstly, name recognition and greeting someone is a humane and decent thing to do for it demonstrates the importance of a homeless person being recognized as a human being. Really, this is an important step. Also, I can listen to each person without presuming to know the answer. This allows me to lay the groundwork for friendship through a human contact relationship which can provide immediate responsive results.
GO2KIEV: Can you share a story of personally helping a homeless person?
My first experience, many years ago, was when I was in a metro station and I telephoned to have an ambulance paramedic come and take a man to the hospital. When the paramedic arrived I was told that this was a waste of time because it could have been an opportunity to save the life of a normal person rather than a dirty, comatose bum. I absolutely felt helpless and became speechless. The paramedic refused assistance and left the metro premises. It was a window of opportunity that forevermore slipped away. Nowadays, from experience, I ask the police or ambulance paramedics to “listen to their hearts” rather than follow the orders of their superiors. I have learned how to speak persuasively and it allows me to penetrate into the hearts and conscious of those who initially do not want to help. I feel I have become more successful in my efforts because I am rarely discouraged and do not stop in asking for help. Another little trick is to travel in volunteer groups for there is less chance of refusal of medical assistance. I explain that the homeless person will NOT be forgotten. Their medical treatment will be paid and that my volunteer colleagues and I will visit this person in the hospital. It’s amazing that a small group of like minded people can make powerful changes for the lives of others who have no hope or money and who have become destitute.
GO2KIEV: Why did you become a volunteer advocate and protector of the homeless?
It took me years to find the courage to work with the homeless but this type of commitment and work, to help others in need, has been in my life for over 16 years. Back in 1991, during my teenage years, I began volunteer work with children who lived in institutions. Seven years later I progressed to volunteer work with pensioners who were living below poverty level. I know there is a spiritual force that enables me to work with the homeless. My personal satisfaction is that I am better able to appreciate the simple joys of life’s treasures. Volunteer and philanthropy work is relatively new to the Ukrainian culture but within the past ten years there has been a small but dynamic evolution. There is a shared experience of human and spiritual connections that make volunteer work a vital part of my life.
If our readers are interested in learning more about the Community of St. Egido – AKAP they can contact Iryna Drobot (who speaks English / Italian / Ukrainian / Russian) by telephone at 8067-504-8372 or at the volunteer office address: 15 Khreschatyk St., Apt. 52. The NGO Contact representative is Julia Kukrochka (Russian) at 8044-278-1281.