Meeting Lumos

At 6am on Wednesday, February 7th, Alla Soroka our Project Manager and I climb into a wide bodied, dark blue, diesel powered Opel station wagon, our BlaBlaCar (yes, really, that 's what this kind of inner city car is called) to travel from Odessa, Ukraine to Chisinau, Moldova. We have a meeting with the directors of the European and Ukraine operations of the Lumos Foundation. Lumos was started by J.K. Roling in 2006 to deinstitutionalize children globally.

Irina Malanciuc, Lumos Head of Europe, Robert Gamble and Alla Soroka with J.K. Rowling behind.

When you leave the city of Odessa in the dead of February and drive through the countryside of Ukraine and Moldova, everything is one color: what I call hopeless brown. The roadside, the trees, the fields, the buildings all blend together and rise to meet the gray sky.

The road is two lanes and not always smooth. Large trucks travel sometimes at 30mph, like road equipment. Our driver often hangs no more than a bodylength behind one truck waiting to pass another. Now and then, the road takes a sharp turn to the right or left. There are few signs to guide you. In residential areas, we must slow to school zone speed because officers are eager to fine any who exceed the limit.

Galina Bulat, Lumos Ukraine, Robert Gamble and Alla Soroka with J.K. Rowling over the shoulder.

It's all good though. You don't need a sunny day and sunflowers for a trip like this. It's better not to get your expectations too high. I'm fine with hopeless brown, and content, also to be on lumpy back roads behind massive and slow moving trucks. These are all reminders, signs, even metaphors for the speed and challenges of change in this region.

Even with all the hindrances, the longest of which is 15 minutes at the border while customs agents check our passports, we arrive five minutes ahead of time for trip that began at 6am and lasts just short of four hours.

Lumos has a nice building in the suburbs of Chisinau. We spend the next five hours drinking tea and coffee and meeting first with the director of European operations and then with the director of Ukraine's operation. It all ends with salad, pizza and and some wonderful Moldovan dessert.

It seems, we will work together. They will take on the legal and political and structural changes needed in our region of Ukraine, and we will do the people to people work of preparing youth from orphanages and families in the Odessa region for life together.

On the way home, in the same BlaBlaCar, we have more passengers and drive in the dark. At the border, there is a problem with the car registration. We are told it is a problem, but suspect it is a ploy for cash. The driver, in a quiet rage, grabs a fistfull of documents from the glove box and marches to the customs station door. It all takes 25 minutes, and we are on the road again. One last attempt by the dark side to thwart the good.

I am happy but won't let my hopes go too high. Change will not come overnight. Whatever part we play, we will be part of something historical. Lumos has deinstitutionalized thousands in Bulgaria, Moldova and the Czech Republic. Now it's time for Ukraine.

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