Meet Petrusia Perogy, the talking, dancing dumpling who encourages Manitoba kids to study Ukrainian
Mascot of Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education visits students, parents to promote bilingual education
She's escaped certain death at the hands of perogy lovers and even had a song written about her, all while teaching kids the value of learning the Ukrainian language.
Petrusia Perogy, or Petrusia Perih in Ukrainian, is a human-sized perogy who promotes the English-Ukrainian Bilingual Program, which allows Manitoba children in grades kindergarten through Grade 8 to take up to half of their classes in Ukrainian.
In reality, she is Mary Jane Wasney dressed in a giant perogy costume wearing traditional Ukrainian clothing, including a floral printed skirt and sash, an embroidered blouse and red leather boots.
You may have seen her walking alongside the Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education float in the Santa Claus Parade in Winnipeg.
Wasney is a parent and former board member of the Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and expanding the English-Ukrainian Bilingual Program in public schools. Currently, the program is offered in 11 schools in Manitoba.
Petrusia Perogy was born about 12 years ago, when Wasney dressed up as a perogy for a masquerade party to celebrate the program's 30th anniversary, where attendees were asked to dress as their favourite Ukrainian symbols.
Wasney approached her children's school about using the costume to promote the bilingual program and the rest, as they say, is history.
"She was so popular that she just evolved into representing not just our school, but the whole English-Ukrainian Bilingual Program in general," Wasney said.
As part of her mission to inspire kids to study Ukrainian, Petrusia Perogy visits classrooms where kids are enrolled in the program (however, those visits have been put on hold as many schools in Manitoba have shifted to remote learning).
Oftentimes those visits involve reading her book, The Daring Escape of Petrusia Perih, which tells the story of Petrusia's escape from those who would like to make her their dinner.
"It's loosely based on the gingerbread man story, but she has a better outcome than he does," Wasney said.
In addition to learning another language, the program also allows students to learn about Ukrainian culture, said Paulette Monita, president of Manitoba Parents for Ukranian Education.
Though the program has many students who have Ukrainian backgrounds, it attracts a mix of people, Monita said.
"I think families who enrol their kids are families that value bilingualism, so really understanding the benefits to brain development for their child," she said.
The program also has children from newcomer families who speak Ukrainian already and are are now learning the English language, she said.
"But ultimately, there have been children of all backgrounds that have been a part of it," she said.
"Just having that ability to connect with another culture comes back to valuing diversity and having that awareness of many cultures and basically what makes us similar versus what are our differences."
Petrusia Perogy used to come out to many in-person school events or events for parents and children interested in the program.
Without having those events available to them, Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education has been making YouTube videos of Petrusia Perogy giving tours of some of the schools that offer the Ukrainian language program, Monita said.
"It's just an opportunity for families, and the students themselves, to be able to get a sense of what a school would be like, and have a happy dancing perogy show you around."
You can watch one of these videos, featuring Petrusia Perogy, here:
With files from Kate Schellenberg