You Get What You Give

April 3, 2018

Peter Santenello in Ukrainian village

Last summer, I lived with a family in Osypenko near the Sea of Azov.   My intentions were selfish: I wanted to live in the Ukrainian countryside, remove myself from my ordinary world, and experience something out of my comfort zone.

I learned many lessons during my stint in the countryside, but the most formative lesson was the power of giving.

I stayed with the Burkut family—displaced from Avdievka far in the east. They had left the frontlines of the war, abandoning their apartment, jobs, and way of life. With no money and just an old home that was left from a distant relative, they’d started anew in Osypenko—an economic dead zone with no jobs.

The Burkut family had little, materially, but they were happy to give what they could.

Peter Santenello with children

The mother, Anna was the first family member whose generosity I witnessed. On my second day living with the Burkuts, Anna asked me to come along, where she regularly donated her time at a local school helping with arts and crafts. Many of the children brought broken toys, which we helped glue together.

Then, I observed the father, Valeriy giving to his neighbors—rice that he’d received from an aid organization. He also checked in on a few people with alcohol and drug habits—people who were hanging on the edges of life—to make sure they were eating.

I lived with the Burkuts for six weeks. They offered material goods, time, energy and kindness to those in need. They had no running water, and the toilet was far from the house. We walked to a nearby abandoned home to get water from its well. While this wasn’t a huge inconvenience in the summer, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in the winter.

In a short time, I developed a close connection with the family. I saw them constantly giving, and never complaining. I realized I could have an impact if I wanted to, so I decided to start an online fundraiser to get water into the Burkuts’ home.

What happened next surprised me. People from Ukraine—and from all over the world—donated to the fund. Some people donated as little as $1, while others gave as much as $200. I have the utmost respect for everyone involved. Going through the motions of setting up an account to donate any amount of money to strangers is admirable, and can make a real difference. Together, everybody’s donations added up.

Generosity campaign by Peter Santenello

The fund reached $2265—enough to install a working sink, shower, toilet, and septic tank. While this isn’t a ton of money, it was enough to help a beautiful family make their lives easier. Actually, a lot easier. Getting water from outside the home wasted a substantial amount of time.

The family gave, which inspired me to give, which ultimately inspired my YouTube following from all over the world to give. This ripple effect was remarkably powerful and raised the quality of life for everybody involved.

This winter, I went back to visit the family and see the running water in their home. They were grateful.

Video of water in home.

Before I left, 6-year old Alisa Burkut grabbed her savings of 43 UAH ($1.62) and gave it to me as a present. This unselfish little girl has learned the reward of giving from her selfless mother. The Burkut family has shaped my life—and the lives of many others around the world through their story—in a very positive way.

The family, always gave without expecting anything in return, but the universe/karma rewarded them for their kindness.

…Because you get what you give.

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