Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stray Dogs and Street Children in Kiev

Walking and traveling by car in Bucharest, Budapest and Kiev I'm surprised at the number of stray dogs wandering through the streets and parks. A friend told me that this is a sign of the "Economic Crisis" here in Eastern Europe. Many people who had dogs as pets can no longer feed the dogs so they abandon them. It is sad. Also there are many construction projects that seem to have been abandoned overnight. Cranes stand like statues, unfinished masonry and siding is changing color with the weather, giving the strange appearance of being old and new at the same time.

Yesterday, Michael and I visited the Aspern Center, a program for children abandoned or taken away from their parents because the parents are unfit to care for them. We sang and played together and then visited with Vera, the director and founder of the center. She is a marvelous advocate for children, community living, families, and the Ukraine but her job is made more difficult by beurocrats who undermine her efforts with absurd policies and greedy maneuvers.
Vera showed us photos of a home that she and the children worked on for years to restore it and make in a place where they could live more like a family. A government official decided the government could make better use of the home and they were told they had three days to move out. When Vera fought this and asked what she and the children should do the official replied, "It's not my problem!" Thankfully people like Vera are fighting for the children. She showed us photos of several children who have been adopted and are now living happily in family homes.
The Aspern center is being supported by the International School of Brussels and the students in Cheryl Terry's Class. Cheryl is a BOPH board member and a terrific teacher. I'll be working with Cheryl and her class in May when I visit Belgium. It was through Cheryl and a friend of hers named Bart, who volunteers at the center, that I was told about Aspern. I'm hoping we can find a way to connect with some of the these children through writing, music, art or some form of assistance.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Koloszvar School and AIS Budapest

Our visit to the Hungarian School Koloszvar Primary was a success. Over 100 students from the two schools came together for the first time to sing, laugh and play beneath the Bridges of Peace and Hope Quilt. Representatives of the US Embassy assisted graciously in arranging the visit, providing transportation, translation, and helping in every way possible, including a last minute stop to purchase a harmonica, a task I wouldn't have pulled off without help. Presenting with the aid of translators Monika Vali (Embassy) and Livia Suvada (AISB) the program was uplifting and exciting. We concluded singing "We Are Walking" in several languages and then did "Love Grows" in a circle of over 100. AISB teacher and BOPH board member Joe Giulietti was leading the singers and signers with his magnanimous spirit.

The embassy AV team (Norbert and Attila) did great job of videotaping and photographing the event and US Cultural Director Carolyn Glassman was wonderful to work with. Following the show and photos we talked with the principal and teachers about how the new school can join us in BOPH projects. It was a great learning experience for me. The photo shows the principal, Monika, Carolyn, and a teacher.

The visit at the American International School of Budapest was also a delight. I did two assembly programs and 7 workshops plus an evening family concert that was sold out with close to 400 children and their families attending. Most of the kids made it onstage at one time or another. Thanks to Conway and Kathy, Joe and Sharon, everyone at AISB, and especially their parents organization PSA.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dobry Den

I'm reaching the half way point on a 2 week trip to Eastern Europe. The first week has been a buzz of activity every day and the days have melted together. It's been a great week for the Bridges of Peace and Hope project. I brought approximately 20 packages of letters to Bucharest from students in the US in the hopes of finding pen pal classes for them. At the conference in Romania I was able to deliver all the packages. The teachers who took the letters are interested in being part of our BOPH team. The new group includes teachers from Poland, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Lithuania, Finland, and Australia, with other possibilities too.

Flying from Bucharest to Vienna my head was swimming as I was copying down names and email addresses and thinking about all the wonderful teachers who want to help build bridges. Looking out the window at the snow covered Alps below it seemed like I was flying over an ocean of whipped cream. It was an exhilirating and fantastical sensation. I believe the project is going to grow in many directions in the coming years and feel grateful and humbled to meet and work with so many dedicated educators.

My two days in Kiev have also been productive and uplifting. I visited with all the K-5 classes and did several songwriting workshops too. BOPH board member Michael Palmer's class has done wonderful work on the "Hear My Story" storytelling project and his students have some marvelous stories to tell. We worked on getting the students ready to tell their stories for a video presentation that will eventually be on the new web site. I've been treated royally by Christina, Laura and Benjamin Taylor who have graciously made me feel right at home in their home. Many thanks!

On to Budapest tomorrow for three days of school programs and an evening family concert. Included in the Budapest schedule is a visit to a Hungarian School that was organized by the US Embassy in Budapest. I'll be going there with a delegation of students from the American International Schools. We'll be singing to the Hungarian students; they'll be singing to us; and we'll be singing together. I'm hoping that the school will agree to become a "Bridges" school and send us some writing and art for the web site.

I'm coming back to Kiev to do a family concert on Sunday and then will be very happy to head home.

Hope you're well.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bridges Blog Take Two


In October 2007 I started a blog at another address. In spite of good intentions that blog has withered, dried up and disappeared. (Translation: I no longer remember how to get to it or make entries, and it seems a new beginning is in order)

So, as the Bridges of Peace and Hope Project is beginning to change and grow I believe it's time to start again with a more regular means of staying in touch with the students, teachers and friends who have helped with the project. A lot of exciting things have and are happening in many places and this blog may be a way to keep those who are interested informed.

I leave tomorrow, March 18, to travel to Bucahrest Romania and the CEESA (Cent and Eastern European Schools Association) conference. I will be doing a presentation about BOPH at the conference and will also have an exhibit table. I hope to meet teachers interested in joining the wonderful core group who are already involved in BOPH. I am bringing penpal letters from approximately 20 classrooms in the US. If we succeed in making penpal connections these may grow into active "Bridges" sites.

After leaving Bucharest I travel to Kiev and Budapest where I will spend time writing and performing songs with Bridges classes at Pechersk School International in Kiev, Ukraine, and at the American International School of Budapest in Hungary. Bridges advisory board members Michael Palmer (Pechersk, Kiev) and Joe Giulietti and Conway Chewning (AISB Budapest, Hungary) have done tremendous prep work to make these visits possible. I have done skype teleconferences with both schools in anticipation of visiting with them. We will be doing BOPH family concerts at both schools too.

While in Budapest, Joe Giulietti and a group of students from AISB will go with me to visit a Hungarian School. This visit has been arranged by the US Embassy in Budapest. This "bridge" to a non-english speaking school is a terrific opportunity to expand our connections to learn about others whose life experience and cultures are unfamiliar to us.

The new BOPH web site, being built by the Business Media Center at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tennessee is going to be an incredible tool for connecting classrooms around the world. The design is nearly finished but we need to spend some time making adjustments and organizing content before the site goes online live, which will happen later this spring.

If any of you have not seen our daughter Katie's Peace Corp blog from Cameroon and are interested in doing so the address is

Thanks to everyone that is helping keep this project alive and growing, especially;

Gael, Tom, Meg, Ken, Ray, and Maureen in Connecticut;
Mary Jain, Darlene, Rich C, John C, Lorraine,
Carol G and teachers at John L Edwards,
Craig, Gabby, Kofi, Colleen, Jack, Maggie,
Patrick and Ann Marie in NY;
Joe and Conway in Budapest;
Michael, Christina and Nadine in Kiev, Ukraine;
Cheryl and Jill in Brussels, Belgium;
Nancy, Dawn and teachers in Barcelona, Spain;
Carline and teachers in Haiti;
David John and Marj in South Africa,
Lesley, Tertia and teachers in Namibia;
Katie in Cameroon, Africa
Jane B. and Caroline E. in Great Britain;
Kent B. in Pennsylvania;
Kevin and Paul and team in Cookeville, Tenn
Ayesha Beg in India;
Paul M in Amsterdam, Netherlands

To those I have forgotten, please forgive me.

Hope to hear from you soon.

All the Best,