Students Raise Money for Russian Orphans

April 12, 2011

Each summer, a group of students from the University of Mount Union travel to Russia to spend time with children at the Ponery Orphanage. This year, students hope to bring the children soccer equipment and their very own soccer uniforms.
“Sometimes the children play other local schools in soccer matches,” said Dr. Mark Himmelein, professor of German and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures, who will be traveling with the group of students to Russia in May. “We want them to have their own uniforms, something that identifies them as a family, and not just second-hand donations.”
Visiting the orphanage isn’t uncommon, as Mount Union students have been traveling to Russia since 1998. The program of cooperation with Ponery State Children’s Home (Ponery Orphanage) grew out of a long-standing relationship between the Beta Iota Chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity at Mount Union, the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Russia Initiative Program, Kursk State University and numerous organizations and individuals in Kursk, Russia.
By traveling to Russia, it is Sigma Nu’s goal to bring both a sense of friendship to these children and to show them the power of caring and living the values of the fraternity – truth, love and honor. Although the yearly trip to the orphanage was initially started by the fraternity, Himmelein noted that over the years not all of the students traveling have members of the fraternity. This year, though, all are members of the Sigma Nu chapter at Mount Union.
The orphanage houses between 60-85 children, ranging from the in age from three to 17 years old. It is funded by the regional government, which ensures that the children are provided with clean, safe living conditions, after school educational opportunities and medical care. The majority of the children come from homes where the parents have lost their parental rights due to abuse, neglect or abandonment, whereas others are orphans in the traditional sense that their parents are deceased. The orphanage does not typically do adoptions and economic conditions in the area preclude much use of foster homes.
“The nice thing about this trip is that we go with no religious, political or personal agendas. There is no ‘our ways are superior, and you should learn from the United States’ attitude,” added Himmelein. “Instead, we feel that our work there with these children and their dedicated caregivers is the best way for us to demonstrate our personal values. And, that’s the exact reason why we have such a good working relationship with the orphanage.”
Students traveling this summer for a two-week stay in Russia pay for the entire cost of the program themselves, which is about $3,000. While abroad, students will learn about Russian culture and history, participate in Russian language classes, spend time at the orphanage, visit other schools and have free time to explore and do tourist-type things.
“We (Mount Union students and Russian orphans) might not speak the same language, but there is still a connection between us,” he added. “We hang out with them and play and do things that children their age want to do.”
In the past, Mount Union students have brought the children computers, books, art supplies and a Karaoke machine, among other items. This year, they plan to purchase soccer uniforms and equipment with the funds raised by Sigma Nu members this past year. All monies raised and donated are used exclusively for the children.
To learn more about the students’ trip to Russia or to donate to the cause, contact Himmelein at or (330) 829-8704.
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