I’ve been getting several emails and calls and questions about my trip to the orphanages. Truth be told… I don’t know how I feel about my visit. Was it good? Was it bad? I do not know but it opened up a lot of questions in my mind on who I am and who I want to be in this world. And I’m beyond thankful for the chance to go.
So because my mind is all over the place ….I’ll ramble. Rambling is kinda how I roll these days.
Before we even hosted with New Horizons for Children I spoke to a team member about the interview process for the kids and in my mind thought it would be amazing. Yes, riding on bumpy roads in the back of vans with luggage piled on your lap not stopping for food all day and not sleeping at night and being wrapped in a bed bug sack so you don’t get eaten alive and using lice shampoo so you don’t have to worry about hugging on a child and not being able to take a shower or wash your clothes for several days …. Yes, this sounded amazing to me. Because I could meet the children. To see them in their environment. To love them, even just for a moment in time. To experience their culture. To get a travel bug and sense of adventure out of my system that has been placed in a cage since having children. But I never asked NHFC about the trip because it was for the veteran hosters and volunteers. Not me …not a newbie. And then we hosted A. And then he left us …our family is and was confused. And my husband Rick said “I just wish I could see and feel where A lives to understand him and his needs better.” and then an hour later I got the email …”Do you think you would be able to come to the interview trip to Ukr@1ne with us?” Um, hello God. Yes! So I dropped everything. Rescheduled clients. Created an army of friends and family to watch the boys and get them to school and back. And I left knowing that I would come back a different person. And knowing I would be so close to A but not able to visit him …that was hard.
So I prepared. Met with friends. Spoke with photojournalist. Learned the rules of photographing there …I would not be able to take extra pictures of the orphanages or be invited into rooms or to be invited to dinner to be able to photograph the grounds …nothing except profile pictures or my camera might be taken from me. Which made me sad.
After four days of travel and sleeping on my suitcase in airports in strange countries where I didn’t have a phone or way to communicate with family and friends to let them know I was okay and a very scary arrival ….I was here. I made it. Let the adventure begin. I got to the apartment where the team was staying at 3:30 am and we were scheduled to leave at 7 am. Most of the days we drove 10 plus hours …through cities which were filled with details and beauty only Europe could provide. Through the country. We saw shepherds (like totally old school with a staff), people walking goats, hobbles of houses and field upon beautiful field of sunflowers and corn. We saw statues and tanks from the Soviet years gone by. We saw little abandoned towns with buildings with trees growing out the windows and on the roofs. It was a different world and gorgeous in its own way.
But then we got to the first orphanage. I was assigned the “Lion’s Den” which means while the team interviews each child I play with the other children in the group…which is exactly where I wanted to be. See how they interact. Give them hugs. Do they laugh? Are they kind? Do they share? Are they shy? Are they okay if I hug them? But there is also a fear with this …we don’t speak the same language. Some look at me with love. Some stand extra close and just want to hold my hands. Sit in my lap. Some have a blank look …have not experienced love and kindness …what is this hug? Why are you being nice? By the end …sometimes an hour together and sometimes 5 hours together most of them were laughing. Smiling. Having fun. Even when they finished with their interviews and I took their pictures they came back to play with me. And now I know their faces …how they smile, how some are so hurt they can’t look me in the eyes and how some give the most amazing hugs and how some have a crooked grin or like to giggle. And the fear continues because now I care…. I know their names. That their favorite color is blue and they like potatoes but don’t like math. They are all more than a statistic but people. They are kids. Kids who just want the basic things in life …to be loved. To have someone love them. A family. Over and over I heard the team ask the question “What are three wishes you want?” and over and over I heard the children say “A Family.”…. not toys, a sports car, a million dollars, video games …not once did I hear that. But over and over …a family.
And you know the rules of not being able to photograph outside the box …first place we visited I was welcomed to take pictures. I was invited to dinner with the children. I was invited upstairs to their rooms so they could show me artwork. So they could show me the pictures they have of their siblings. And I have to share one photo from this …here is a teenage brother and sister. They are kind, warm, caring, wonderful and funny. And until now they did not have a picture together. Their one photo was each of their younger photos in their file pasted together. Wow …again. Children growing up and no one is there to capture these moments …these milestones of first lost tooth, 100% on a spelling test, game winning goal, smooshed cake on their faces at a birthday party…. nothing.
And in another orphanage the Director gave us a tour and welcomed the pictures…wow. Again and again the walls of what I was told I could not do, I was able to. And I did. But sharing everything I saw in photos I don’t want to be taken the wrong way. So I’m not sharing much. I want to help these beautiful children but I also want to respect their privacy. The orphanages work hard to meet their basic needs …they have a place to sleep. They go to school. They have food. They have clothes. And some places are warm and caring but others are not. But there is a lot the kids don’t have….simple things. Like a family. Someone to help them with their homework. To cheer them on at their soccer game or art show. To model family behavior. To slip an “I love you” note in the lunch bag. To give them a hug. To read a bedtime story. And once the kids age out, the statistics are stacked against them for their future. They are hard facts.
So what can you do? You can host. Honestly it took us 2-years of praying before we hosted. And guess what, he is coming back for Christmas. And guess what, they approved his middle brother to come visit too. When I found that out I cried….happy tears. It is going to be a challenging, small Christmas for our family but it is going to be so full of love and exploding with the true meaning of Christmas…and isn’t that the point of it all anyway? Or you can support someone who is hosting financially. I realize that not everyone can or wants to host. God needs us all to be unique in our skill sets and work in different areas …so maybe you can bless someone financially (it is about $3k per child per hosting …yep, we owe $6k to get A and T here for Christmas…it makes my head spin but I know it will work out). Maybe you can make a meal for a family hosting (it can be stressful adding kids in the mix with different needs) or maybe you can pray or send words of encouragement. But I hope all my ramblings make you think. Open your eyes just a little. Love more. Be more thankful for what we have. Or just make you want to hug your children one more time today because you can. And because they love it. And because they love you.
And thank you for all your patience. I’ve been SLOW on email. I’m trying. It’s hard. Sometimes I just have to space out at night as I’m getting back in the grove of things. Process what I’ve heard. Process what I’ve seen. And think of what more I can do.