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Making adjustments in life


Healing touch of Imlay City chiropractor builds humanitarian bridge in Ukraine


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Dr. Clif Clendenan adjusts the spinal column of a young Ukrainian during his recent visit.

October 08, 2008
Taking trips together is a right-of-passage for many fathers and sons.

Such trips often involve hunting, fishing, camping or just spending some quality time away from the homestead — without mom and sis. They are a chance to talk about things that might not be discussed at home. To share experiences, establish bonds and build traditions that foster a lifetime of memories.

Rarely, though, are fathers and sons able to venture off to far-away continents; to witness and experience cultures dramatically different from their own.

Recently, Imlay City chiropractor Dr. Clif Clendenan and his 16-year-old son Josh were fortunate enough to take such a trip.

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In late July, Dr. Clendenan and Josh joined Imlay City Christian Reformed Church Pastor Ken VanderHorst and his son, Avery, 10, on a two-week adventure that took them to the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union.

The purpose of the trip was to promote "Healthy People, Healthy Churches," an international program designed to develop spiritual, emotional and physical well-being among peoples worldwide.

The program would take the local entourage to the Ukraine Christian Reformed Church in Mukacevo, Ukraine, a small city of about 20,000 people.

While Dr. Clendenan's role was to introduce the people to chiropractics, the experience afforded him a rare glimpse into a country whose people struggle to make the transition from communism to a free market system.

Complicating matters for the local contingent was the fact that few people in the former communist-block nation speak English.

"The language barrier was a challenge," said Clendenan. "We would have been lost without our two translators. There's not a lot of tourism over there and there is little English spoken."

The chiropractor also faced challenges from some Ukranians who were at first reluctant to allow him to adjust their spinal columns.

"They know nothing about chiropractics because they have no chiropractors there," said Clendenan. "A lot of them seemed concerned that the adjustments would cause them pain.

"There was some fear on the part of the kids," he said. "But by the end of the first day, they were all lining up for me to work on them. They became comfortable and were very appreciative."

Clendenan noted that the Ukrainian people he met were generally friendly, open and curious about the American visitors. He detected, however, an underlying sadness — possibly an enduring malaise left over from the communist regime.

"One-on-one, everyone was friendly and kind," said Clendenan. "But out on the street, there seemed to be little contact with one another.

"In general, there didn't seem to be a lot of happiness. It seems to be a hard life for people over there. There is laughter, but I think it's a big struggle for them day-to-day."

While the lingering spectre of communism can be seen everywhere, said Clendenan, the country's new-found independence has created new problems for Ukranians.

"They gained independence almost overnight," he said. "As a result, there was virtually no government left. After independence, the only structure that evolved was the Mafia, which is still in control."

Although the Russian ruble became worthless and there was no money in the banks, Clendenan noted, most Ukranians still went to work — despite not getting paid for a matter of years.

"Under communism there had been a black market," he said. "Although everything was supposed to belong to the state, everybody had been keeping a little something for themselves."

The rise of the Mafia has created an uncomfortable new status quo for Ukranians, said Clendenan.

"We could walk around on the streets and never feel any fear," he said. "That's because the criminals run the place. There's a lot of corruption."

Not everything is bleak in the Ukraine, said Clendenan. A side trip to a ski factory provided a high point for the visitors.

"If you ask my son, Josh, what the best part of the trip was, he will tell you it was the ski factory," he said. "They make hockey sticks there and each of the boys was given a stick. They liked that a lot."

There were other positive signs. Clendenan said it appears the newest generation of Ukranians is making giant strides socially, educationally and technologically.

"I think communism kept them behind the rest of the world for a very long time," said Clendenan. "Now, the kids are getting a better education than their parents and grandparents did. The teenagers seem to be much like ours."

Clendenan said there exists an odd blend of primitive and modern in the Ukraine today. On one hand, huge monuments and statues stand as stubborn testament to communism's oppression. On the other, farmers are seen cutting hay with scythes, while cell phones hang conspicuously from their belts.

"I learned a lot from this trip," said Clendenan. "I view history with a greater interest now.

"Josh's mind was open-ed up a lot," he continued. "He now understands what it's like to live without the conveniences we all enjoy, like air conditioning and hot water and indoor plumbing.

"We still refer to some of the things we saw or did there. The experience has made a lasting impression on us."

Besides enjoying the chance to treat dozens of children and adults through chiropractics, Clendenan acknowledged a particular emotional high point during the trip.

It was the time he spent at the home of his translators; sisters Viki and Chilla Barath, who live with their parents in a small village of about 1,200 people. He described the family's dwelling and living conditions as "modest" in comparison to American homes.

"The girls' father, Tibor, lived his entire life under communism," Clendenan recalled. "For all those years he was a mechanic in a bus garage. He was always told what to do. Everything was controlled. There were very few choices he could make for himself.

"When we said goodbye," Tibor had tears in his eyes," he said. "He was surprised that we had come all the way from America to his little village."

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