October 26, 2009

For Kate, Scholarship Trumps Every Hardship

Six years ago, young Ekaterina Gudkova (“Kate” to her loved ones) lived in a modest but comfortable apartment with her family in Rustavi, Georgia. There was a kitchen and a private bath, as well as a piano and other precious possessions that had been in the family for years. Suddenly Kate’s childhood world was stripped from her when crushing debts forced the family to sell their belongings and move.

Today Kate is 15 and lives with her mother, Nina, and her grandmother, Vilgemina, in a two-room dormitory apartment also in Rustavi. Past comforts are a memory. The building is in serious disrepair, missing doors and windows. The communal areas reek of the sole, unsanitary toilet serving each floor of 10 apartments; only a makeshift curtain provides privacy. The tap near the toilet is the only source of water for the entire floor.

The small room of their dorm is also missing an outer wall, leaving it exposed to the elements.

“In winter it is extremely cold,” Kate writes. “We heat the facility with a wood-burning stove, and since wood cost a lot, my granny and I collect pieces from the forest nearby. In winter, I do my homework wrapped up in plaid to keep warm.”

Making matters even more challenging, all three family members have serious health problems. Vilgemina is elderly and disabled; Nina has diabetes and cannot work. And young Kate is pre-diabetic and must constantly check her blood sugar. Aside from the change they get from collecting and selling scrap metal, the family’s only source of income is grandmother’s $37/month pension.

Despite these hardships, Kate is a bright and capable young woman entering 10th grade, popular with her teachers and other educational program instructors. She dreams of one day becoming a doctor, lawyer, or teacher.

Fortunately, Kate’s aspirations—and her family’s day-to-day well-being—are being nurtured with the help of JDC. Kate is a client of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ)-JDC Partnership for Children in the former Soviet Union since 2005. The Partnership provides welfare and other forms of assistance to approximately 25,000 Jewish children in the former Soviet Union, home to many of the world’s poorest Jews.

“I was five when I started coming to the [JDC-supported] Hesed in Rustavi,” she said. “Hesed rendered medical help to granny and my mother. Our family has received medications, clothes, hot meals, and many other necessary things. I’ve received school supplies, a debit card for food, regular medical check ups to control my diabetes, and winter relief, including clothes, bed linen, and blankets.”

Kate also attends classes at the center—in Hebrew and English, mathematics, and computers. “I try to have only excellent marks,” she says, “because good students have an advantage.”

The program also allows for Kate, her mother, and her grandmother to participate in JDC-supported family retreats every summer. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, these retreats have been a key JDC initiative, providing cultural and spiritual enrichment to multiple generations of Jewish families like Kate’s throughout the region.

Kate has known hardship in her young life, but she has hope—a powerful commodity under any circumstances. With the support of the IFCJ-JDC Partnership for Children, she is laying a firm foundation for the life of opportunity she knows lies ahead.

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