Ontario,Canada-based Loads of Love Humanitarian Aid and Mission Society has been helping Ukrainian orphans for decades
When Ed Dickson stepped into an orphanage in Dnipro, Ukraine 22 years ago, the “horrendous” conditions he said he witnessed pushed him to find ways to help the children.
“It’s like one of those moments, you’re kind of like, ‘Wow, do things like this still exist on Earth?’” he said. “I really struggled, kind of like the idea of, ‘What did these kids do to deserve this?’” Dickson said many of the children didn’t have arms or legs and were crawling around in a dirty environment.
The Leamington-born man and former Sarnia resident works with the charity Loads of Love Humanitarian Aid and Mission Society based in Chatham.
He said he became connected with the group after playing on a baseball team with people from Chatham, who invited him to their church. Dickson said he had just been through a divorce and was struggling “with a bunch of stuff” at the time.
“The pastor of that church had just started a thing called Loads of Love where they were shipping containers to Ukraine for churches and stuff like that,” he said.
Dickson started traveling to Ukraine with the pastor and in 1996 delivered a suitcase full of toys to the orphanage for the first time.
“One of the kids even came up to me and gave me his toy back,” he said. “I asked the translator why he is giving his toy back and the translator said, ‘He wanted to thank you for coming and he doesn’t have anything to give you.’” Dickson said after he left he realized that since he came from a relatively “well-to-do place,” a Mennonite family in Leamington, he thought he was “supposed to help these kids and change their lives.”
The charity has moved beyond delivering toys to the children. Dickson said they have funded about 200 operations for the children at roughly $600 each.
“We then get into medicine, doctors, care, even stuff like dental appointments and making sure they get seen by a dentist,” he said.
Loads of Love also sends containers from Chatham filled with shoes and clothing. Dickson said the children at the orphanage attend the same schools as other children in the area.
“When all the other kids are coming to school with their new clothes and new stuff and these kids were going to school with nothing,” he said. “Imagine how they feel, kind of like second class citizens.”
As well, Dickson said McDonalds is seen as more of an “elite” place to eat in the Ukraine, so 16 years ago Loads of Love began bringing the children to the fast food chain around Christmastime each year.
He said they now have about 3,000 kids who take part in the meal.
There have been some successes at the orphanage, said Dickson, who noted they had three children win silver or bronze medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
He said the food at the orphanage has also improved drastically since 1996. The kids also get some help through services like physiotherapy, he said.
“There are some companies, even medical insurance companies that have joined up to help there,” said Dickson. “There is a massive brand new playground behind the orphanage now.”
Dickson and his family rotate between two years in Ukraine and one year in Canada. In the past, he has spent the off years in Chatham and Sarnia, but for this year he will be based out of Barrie.
However, Dickson said he will return to Chatham for Loads of Love’s annual golf tournament and auction scheduled for Sept. 29 at Links of Kent Golf Club.
He said he plans on bringing a quadriplegic woman from Ukraine named Natasha Nikolenko who paints with her mouth. Dickson said Nikolenko grew up in the orphanage and has been recognized on national television for her work.
More information about the event is available at www.loadsoflove.ca. Organizers said they are still accepting items for the auction.