December 27, 2004

Now that you know where Ukraine is....

I'm half Ukrainian. For years I've told that to people when they ask what nationality I am and they've just looked at me and nodded and pretended to know what I was talking about. Then I'd explain that it's part of the Soviet Union (or was, depending upon when we're talking about) and they'd suddenly look quite on top of things and nod again saying, "Oh, Russia. Right."
But that's not at all what I wanted to write about.
Rather, I thought that perhaps I could start to compile some of the info. that I've found concerning the trafficking of Ukrainian women and the plight of orphans in Ukraine (tied together by the theme of severe poverty in Ukraine as well as in many other Eastern European countries).

About two years ago, missionaries to Ukraine came and spoke at our church, and though my dad has been to Ukraine several times, and though I identify fairly strongly with the fact that I'm of Ukrainian decent, it wasn't until I heard from these people first hand what it was like over there that I felt compelled to find a way to do something to help.

About a year ago, after reading an article by Kimberlee Acquaro in the New York Times magazine about the international sex slave trade I became not only incensed, but convinced that I should find out more, make sure others knew, and try to figure out what I could do to make a difference.
Within the past 6 months these two internal imperatives have been prompting me more and more frequently to study, to learn, and to do. So far, all I can say I've done is to tell others, and to support an orphanage organization that a friend (who has spent time getting to know several teens in a Ukrainian orphanage) recommended -- Orphans Hope. And here is some of what I've learned.

* * * * *
"More than 120 million people in Eastern Europe earn less than US$4 per day. Where old Soviet economic systems have been disrupted or discarded, there has been economic contraction and hyperinflation, which has wiped out people's savings and security. In Ukraine, over 60 percent of the unemployed are women, and of those who have lost their job since 1991, more than 80 percent are women. The average salary in Ukraine is about US$30 a month, but in many small towns, it is only half that." -- Trafficking in Women from Ukraine, by Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana Denisova (Dec. 2003) -- link to pdf file here

"Sixty five percent of cases of trafficking of women from Ukraine was carried out by organized crime networks. They traffic women because it is a high profit business with low investment. The networks are highly organized, have large-scale operations, and are connected to corrup officials. ...The size of the groups varies throughout Ukraine. The largest criminal groups in Ukraine with 20 to 30 members are in Odessa. In other regions, the groups are smaller, with five to six members. The criminal groups have territories they operate in, and are known to collaborate with officials who provide them with protection and authentic documents for travel. Organized crime groups have databases of potential victims for trafficking from sources such as applications from women for beauty contests or marriage agencies. The databases include photographs of the women, height, weight, and personality traits. Traffickers in Ukraine receive from US$800 to $2,000 per woman they deliver to pimps abroad. The value of the woman depends on her appearance and the destination country. The higher the development of the destination country, the higher the price that will be paid for her." -- "The Transnational Political Criminal Nexus of Trafficking in Women from Ukraine," Trends in Organized Crime, Vol. 6, No. 3-4: Spr.-Sum. 2001, Donna M. Hughes and Tatyana Denisova (link to pdf here)
"Can people really buy and sell women and get away with it? Sometimes I sit here and ask myself if that really happened to me, if it can really happen at all." - A Ukrainian woman who was trafficked, beaten, raped and used in the sex industry in Israel. After a police raid, she was put in prison, awaiting deportation.

"Tragic statistics show that within two years of leaving the orphanage at age fifteen or sixteen, 60% of orphan girls turn to prostitution, 70% of boys fall into crime, and over 10% take their own lives." -- taken from Orphans' Hope literature

December 21, 2004


Ganache is basically chocolate butter. I know, that doesn't sound at all appetizing, which is fine. It just means there will be more for me. Ganache is often used to ice cakes, though it can also be cut into squares or rolled into balls and then dusted with cocoa or sugar to make chocolate truffles. (Yes, that's what a truffle is, ganache.)

3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
8 ounces (227 grams) chocolate (pick a chocolate that you like the flavor of, but it should lean toward semisweet or bittersweet)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cognac or brandy

First break the chocolate into small pieces in the bottom of a bowl. Then bring the whipping cream (and butter if you choose to use it. apparently it makes the ganache shiny, though i make my ganache to eat, not to look pretty) to a boil.
Pour the whipping cream over the chocolate and (here comes the hard part) let it sit for about 5 minutes. (I'm always so tempted to start stirring, but when you stir too soon, you end up with a lumpier mixture.)

You can then use the ganache to ice a room temperature (or colder) cake or torte. (This recipe should cover one 9 inch cake.) Once the cake is iced, put it in the fridge for the ganache to harden.

Or, you can do what I do, pour the ganach into little bowls, set them in the fridge and pull them out to each straight later. :-)

If you'd like to make truffles, roll the cold ganache into balls (or cut it into squares) and dust cocoa (or some such) over them. Viola! That's all there is to it.

December 10, 2004

Christmas thoughts

"Ask Umbra" recently tackled the age old question, "Which is better for the environment? a once-live tree or a reusable plastic one?"

Personally, I'm hoping to find a way to make a larger than usual nativity set that we can place our gifts around and just skip the tree altogether. It seems a little crazy to me to celebrate the birth of God incarnate by killing a tree.

Do you feel like you're already drowning under a sea of STUFF? Are you worried that for Christmas you'll end up with a bunch more STUFF that you don't need or want? Why don't you suggest to your friends and fam. that they give donations in your name this year -- Gift ideas that may just make a difference .