Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Stats on Ukrainian Orphans

Lately I've been reading various blogs and various websites and hear people making different statements about the "orphan situation" in Ukraine. I want to use this post to educate on some current stats and also help eliminate some of the twisted or unclear information that people often state as fact.

I'm not claiming to be an expert on statistics in anyway--but I'm drawing from the most current stats we use in our ministry that were gathered by the ministry of Family Youth and Sport in Ukraine and additionally gathered by some partners of ours in Kiev that did extensive research. The stats were taken in 2008, but are the most current that we have.

The most common statistic that is often quoted is that there are "100,000 orphans in Ukraine."  This statistic alone is quite misleading, as adoptive families come over and are shown very few children at the adoption department and are left thinking, "I thought there were 100,000 children in need of a good home, and now there seems to be hardly any!"

Let's shed some light on that stat of 100,000... 
According to government information there are officially 103,000 orphans and children deprived of parental care.  However this number can be misleading, as this includes the number of children that are in guardianship care, foster families, and living with relatives.  This is not the number of children living in orphanages.

30,000 children are being raised in state institutions for orphans and children deprived of parental care (11% of children are under 7 years old; 89% of children are between 7-18).  This number is also confusing, as this is the number of children living in the orphanages who have orphan status.  This means parental rights have been terminated and they are wards of the state.  In theory this should be the number of children registered and available for adoption. But this number is not a representation of the number of children who are currently living in the orphanage.  As many know, the number of children living in orphanages without official orphan status is very high. Sometimes as high as 50-60% in some orphanages.

The number that is lacking in all stats is the total number of children living in orphanages in Ukraine.  Because not all children who live in orphanage are classified as true orphans, they remain uncounted.  In reality the government should be able to have an accurate account of this number as we know that there are 275 state run orphan institutions in Ukraine (number from 2008)--however the amount of children being raised in those institutions does not seem to be public knowledge.

Clearing up old/wrong information...

I've heard quotes lately that there are 100,000 orphans living in orphanages and another X amount living on the streets because the orphanages are all full. This information is misleading and not correct.  The orphanages are far from over-crowded in Ukraine, if anything they are getting smaller as foster care is increasing and many have been closed as kids have been shifted.  Though there remain street children issues in Ukraine, the problem is much less severe than it was 10 years ago.  Kids on the street have either run away from orphanage situations or from negative home situations-- but it is not because orphanages are full.

Graduated orphans....

5-10 years ago it used to be that at the age of 16, orphans would be finished at the orphanage and turn to life on their own- who knows where,  with no money and no assistance in life. In the recent 3-5 years this situation has drastically changed.  Some orphanages have schooling till grade 9 whereas others have schooling to grade 11 (up to age 18 in some institutions).  Upon completion it is the director's responsibility to see that their graduates are placed in trade schools and technical colleges in the nearest region.  Though they are given almost no choice as to what education they'd like to receive, the cost of this education is covered by the government and they are given housing and a living stipend.  This stipend continues until they are 23 years old, as long as they continue to study.  The stipend varies and depends on the region and what is provided by the trade school.  So some trade schools provide clothing and food and a low stipend, and others provide a higher stipend and no food and clothing. Personally we know of kids getting 550 grivna--2,000grivna a month ($70-$250) depending on the region they live and the basic provisions of the trade school.

However, just because they are no longer "kicked out on the street" the situations surrounding their post orphanage life is not much brighter...

Consequences of being raised in an institution
Only 16% of orphanage graduates have families
Only 25% of orphanage graduates have stable employment
Only 1% of orphanage graduates obtain higher education (University)
Only 44% of orphanage graduates receive some kind of technical training (completion) 

What are children afraid of when they graduate from the orphanage?
76% of children are afraid to leave their institution
70 % believe that they will not be able to get a good education and obtain the profession of their dream
52 % are afraid that they will not have a place to live
54 %  are afraid that they will not have enough money for transport, food, and other necessities.
50% think that they will not be able to find a job
30%  are afraid that they will remain alone and have no support
27% are afraid they will succumb to bad influences
26%  are afraid of the negative attitudes towards themselves in comparison to “home” children 
10% are afraid to live with strangers (even if they are their relatives)
18%  have no clue what it is to live independently

These are all very troubling stats and remind us of the continued need to work with these youth.

In light of what is mentioned above, the statistics that give me hope for the growing orphan care movement in Ukraine are these:

28,500 Christian churches in Ukraine (9,700 of them protestant or evangelical)

Over 280 Christian missions

Over 400 Christian rehabilitation centers

I am very excited to share that there is a new movement among Christians in Ukraine surrounding adoption and orphan care.  My organization is partnering with about 5 other key organizations in Ukraine and Compassion International to host the 1st ever all National conference to launch an Aliance called "Ukraine Without Orphans."  The conference will be in November and we plan on having about 500 leaders, pastors and people passionate about caring for the fatherless in Ukraine.  The goal is to approach these issues before society and government as a united front and see drastic changes in the near future as the body of Christ raises up in Ukraine to protect the rights of the fatherless.

Good things are happening in keep praying!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Remembering Dasha

In the summer of 2003 I made my first trip over-seas, to Russia. It was a mission trip through my University and we spent 6 weeks outside of Moscow and in St. Petersburg working with an orphan ministry.  It was on that trip that I first stepped foot in an orphanage, first held an abandoned baby, first considered adoption and first was given a picture of God's heart for the fatherless.

7 years have passed, and yet there is one face that remains in my heart from that trip. It's a face that continues to look at me everyday, as I have her picture taped to the wall in my office.

It is the face of Dasha.

Dasha was probably about 10 months old when I met her in August of 2003. I only spent 2 weeks with this darling little baby, but her sweet smile took my heart from day one.  She would always be standing in the corner of her crib when we would enter the room (like she is pictured above) and her little face would light up when she saw us.  I would hold her for the afternoon and the second I would put her down she would start to cry.  I clearly remember that first day when we left the baby home and how I was overwhelmed with the emotions I was feeling at leaving little Dasha behind.  I cried a lot in that little room holding those babies.  I was thinking of all the ways I could sneak a child out of the baby home...and then out of the country!  Obviously this plan was never carried out. :)

7 years later I still look at that 10 month old picture of Dasha and I continue to pray for her.  It crosses my mind every once in awhile that she is no longer a baby and instead is now an 8 year-old little girl somewhere. I don't even know what she looks like.  My prayer continues to be that she is in a family and that she is being loved and that she is learning about Jesus.

I've often had this fantasy that maybe someday I would adopt an older child from Russia, and it would end up being Dasha, or that someday I'll be divinely connected with a family that already adopted her.

But until one of those two day-dreams comes true,  I'll keep praying for that sweet little baby I remember from the picture...her little brown eyes will forever be looking into mine, as they were this afternoon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Move over Katie Couric...

Okay- I know I'm not the next Katie Couric....but I did have my first live TV debut this past week- so I guess that is worthy of a blog post! And if one wouldn't be nervous enough to be on LIVE television in any situation, I had the challenge of doing this in Russian.  

My friend took a web-shot while we were live

There is a TV program that films live weekly out of our TV studio at our ministry office here in Kiev, and they were doing a special program that featured several topics focusing on America. Thus they decided they needed an American guest.  Here is where I enter the picture.  

I can't say I was thrilled to speak on behalf of 'America', but they were in a bind and said my level of Russian would suffice for the program.  Okay I thought to myself...why not add a little adventure to my life? Besides, if I make a complete fool of myself, at least it will only be seen by the Russian speaking world.

I was given a list of topics the night before (to be discussed in a format kinda like The View) and spent hours pouring over internet articles trying to obtain an educated opinion on the various themes to be presented...which were as follows:

1.) Where were you on 9/11 and what was your immediate reaction? (this one I found an easy one to sound intelligent on in Russian, as  I was in NY the week leading up to the attack and flew out on one of the last flights on the 10th-- that made for an interesting perspective!)

2.) The proposed building of the mosque near ground zero...and my personal thoughts

3.) The faith of President Obama (what does he really believe?)

4.) The life and beliefs of British Scientist Steven Hawking

5.) Father's Day in the world and the proposed implementation in Ukraine

6.) A group of orphans that climbed Mt. Rainier this summer with the host of the TV program (this was more of just a news piece then an actual discussion)

Ummm yep- talk about a RANDOM smattering of topics to be covered in a 60 minute program.  4 men, and me, the American girl.  :)

I was stressed out all day leading up to the show. First, I was stressed about making a million grammatical mistakes (despite what you may think, I am far from fluent), second about saying something stupid, and third, and most important, about what shoes and dress pants to wear!! I mean, a girl has to look her best on TV, right??  So after careful consideration I picked out a very cute pair of black shoes and my dark pair of 'skinny' jeans-- thinking that this combination with my white shirt and blazer would make for a nice dressy casual look--professional, but relaxed...  

And wouldn't you know it...I sat behind a desk the whole time! :) Vanity...vanity....all is vanity!

All in all the program went great.  I avoided saying something totally stupid, I was understood, and I managed NOT to spill the glass of water that was placed to my left (another fear once the camera started rolling!)  I actually had a bit of fun and forgot about the fact that we were being filmed!

For those of you that will be amused at watching me banter in Russian with 4 Ukrainian can click on the link below.  You will recognize words such as "America," "Papa," and "Obama"  :)

Don't worry...I won't give up my day-job...not just yet anyway! :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Glimpses of answered prayer

Meeting Anya in Dec '09

Last December I met a 14-year-old girl named Anya. From the moment I met her, I couldn't get Anya out of my mind.  

We were visiting her orphanage in Kolininska to put on a Christmas program- but in reality we weren't even supposed to be at her orphanage that day- we were supposed to be at the other one in the same village-- the one that at the last minute decided not to let our team come in!  We were quite upset not getting to visit the kids we knew- but decided since we'd come all that way we might as well put on the planned program at the orphanage down the road.... Anya's orphanage.

Anya was super cheerful and came up to me right after our program finished. She seemed very excited to meet an American, as she really wanted to learn English.  As we talked I learned that her younger brother had been adopted abroad- to where she was not sure. Anya also expressed her desire for a family.  The whole time we were talking I was racing through my mind and trying to think of possible families that I know who would be interested in adopting a girl Anya's age. She had stolen my heart within 10 minutes.  

I quickly took down her birthdate and name and made a mental note that I would have a friend of mine check on her adoption status, to see if she was available.  I came back to Kiev and couldn't get her out of my head! I felt like maybe God had us go to that orphanage so I could meet Anya- so I could tell her story and so that she could have a family. So I prayed for that family- and that they would be found. however, I was hesitant to say anything about Anya, as I was waiting to find out her status and didn't want to get my hopes up- incase she wasn't available.  

Winter and spring passed and I was still not able to obtain the information about Anya's availability and as summer began I learned that I would need to write an official letter and submit it to the adoption department to receive an official letter in response.  I remember thinking, I'll do this when summer is over and I have more time and can find a family to write the letter.

This brings me back to our most recent summer camp. At camp I met a girl named Lena. I wasn't initially drawn to her, but as I watched her hang out on the outside of the group and not really 'fit in' to what was going on, I decided to get to know her a bit. 

With Lena at camp in August
One afternoon we were sitting and talking for awhile and she was sharing about her life and how she ended up in the orphanage. Sadly, yet another story of family alcohol abuse, poverty and broken relationships. She then shared about how God had given her a best friend at the orphanage, and how this friend had been the kind of friend you tell your secrets to, the kind you cry with and that understands you. This friend's name was Anya.

 Lena talked about how things were harder right now for her, because Anya was adopted 3 months ago and now Lena didn't have a close friend. 

Suddenly it hit me that Lena was from the same orphanage as the Anya that I had met in December...suddenly the pieces were falling into place.  I asked her the last name of Anya.....and yes- sure enough, it was the very same Anya I had met and had prayed for- the Anya that I had prayed would be given a family.

I sat there, my eyes welling up with tears, simply overwhelmed with God's goodness in showing me this answer to prayer. He didn't have to show me this. I could have just let my glance pass by Lena when I saw her, and not talk to her at all, as I did with other kids at our camp.  But instead the Lord put Lena in my path, and as a result allowed me to be given a glimpse of how he is faithful to answer prayer!  I am humbled.

I reflected over the course of the last 6 months and how I had never been able to find out about her availability and had never told any potential families about Anya. Instead, God had already been at work and had a family picked out for her!  

The story is even better, as I learned that it wast a solid Christian Ukrainian family that adopted Anya.  Apparently the family had adopted another child already, but then the mother was given a strong impression from the Lord to adopt again, specifically an older girl- and when they saw Anya's picture- they knew immediately it was her!  Wow.

God is so faithful. 
Prayers are heard....and answered!

"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.  The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.

" Psalm 10:14

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Ultimate Gift...the Ultimate Camp

So I’ve been back in Kiev for about a week and have been procrastinating in writing anything about our most recent camp! The reality is that when I come back there are so many thoughts, so many moments, so many stories, that I really don’t even know how to begin to process them all or begin putting them into succinct words.  Instead I just avoid writing anything at all!

I’ll use this post as a general summary of our time and then write some more personal accounts later on--I think the writing process will serve as therapeutic for me!

We had 78 youth between the ages of 15-19 attend the 10-day camp that took place on the Azov Sea.  We had anticipated more of the youth being repeats from last year, but I think there were only about 8 or so that were returners.  On one hand this was disappointing, as we weren't able to follow-up with as many as we had hoped, but the advantage was we were able to recycle more games and activities from last year!

our poster displaying the 9 'gifts' we gave at camp
Using the themes from the movie “The Ultimate Gift” worked out really well and provided us with good subject matter for morning discussions, evening teachings and even helped inspire some of the daily games. 

The kids were in for a real shock on the first morning when we surprised them with the “Gift of Work” by having them get up at 6:45 and do some manual labor on the beach!!  I’m sure they were thinking, ‘how did we end up here??’  However when we showed the corresponding clip from the movie later that day, all ruffled feathers seemed to be gone and they understood the gift they were being given—to value work and to work hard.  

We had an amazing donation made by the website affiliated with the film, which allowed us to present all the youth with a bracelet memento that held charms that represented each of the days’ themes/gifts.  They all were thrilled about getting the bracelet, and loved the practicality of being able to look at the charms and remember what they learned about work, friendship, gratitude, giving, problems, love, and other ‘gifts’ we presented them with throughout the week.

We didn’t do a traditional “alter call” this year, as many of these youth regularly attend events put on by our partner ministry, Agape and almost expected this.  Instead we gave the youth concrete challenges throughout the week and encouraged them to talk to their leader or our main pastor if they were ready to accept Christ and desired for Jesus to direct their lives. As a result of not doing the alter call we didn’t have the ‘masses’ as we did last year flock forward (and then turn away 2 months later), but there were about 7 or 8 teens that took the step in talking to their leader and prayed to accept Christ.  I know many many more were open to hearing about God, and made steps in His direction.
Youth at the evening program 

Any way I look at it, this was a tough group to work with.   If you take a group of  15-19 year olds that grew up in 'normal' families, that would be a challenge in itself….but when you take kids who spent the majority of their lives in an institution,  it is another story all together.  We had girls present who have had multiple abortions,  girls that were pregnant, one with a baby, youth that have been addicted to smoking since the age of 9, youth that were sexually abused by relatives or others in the orphanage, and those that have undergone regular abuse by caregivers.  And our task is to 'reach' them.  To show them that Jesus is relevant in their matter what they have come out of.  It really is a challenge.  The encouraging thing to know is that ultimately it is not up to us or how hard we try.  God is faithful and I saw that even through the transformations that began to take place throughout the camp.

Lena doesn't want to say goodbye!
We always joke that they cry when they come and they cry when they leave.  And that is truly what happened again this year.  We witnessed amazing changes take place in their hearts and in their characters, in just 10 days!  When they all collectively piled off the bus on day 1 there were looks of angst and fear and the desire to flee. However on the last evening, as we were all gathered around the camp fire, person and after person would share about how they came with one expectation (negative) and are now leaving with great appreciation for all  that they learned.  Many were saying that they didn't want to leave at all! They expressed deep love and admiration toward all their leaders and our camp staff.  

When it came time to leave on the last day, the same kids who had been in tears when they arrived were tearful again as they hugged their leaders goodbye.  "You really showed us what true love and care are this week, and I won't ever forget that.  I'm sorry it took me a few days to recognize it for what it was," said one girl on the final evening as the microphone was passed around the camp fire.
enjoying the sunrise on the final morning
These camps are hard. Plain and simple.  As a team we average about 5 hours of sleep each night and are faced with some of the most challenging 'kids' we've ever met and all the issues they bring with them.  But no matter how hard it is, I still see a great need for this specific type of outreach and the follow-up that goes with it.  We are planting seeds and I know that in many of these youth these seeds are taking root.   No not all of them...but then again, we never really know.

 "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear."  
Matthew 13: 1-9

Let your prayer be that they will not only have listened, but they will have truly heard.

*An extra special thank you to Orphan's Promise, Northshore Baptist Church and all of you individuals who gave to make this camp possible!  

Some photo highlights....

my team of singing boys (after a week of english lessons)!

our amazing team of volunteers!!