In September, I made my first trip to Ukraine and fell in love. I honestly didn’t see it coming; there are days when I wish I could drop everything and go back. The country was beautiful and I quickly learned that the people were friendly and willing to chat! It was on this first trip that I had my first visit to a Ukrainian orphanage. I had seen the films and read the data. I was prepared for skinny children staring at the ground and stone cold directors with rulers in their back pockets. What I was not prepared for was Perlynka.
We left for Perlynka on a train early in the morning and had a long ride. We were met at the station by the director, Alexander. He was very tall and lean with a wonderful smile and no rulers hiding anywhere! As we made our way to the orphanage, I was anxious. What if the kids didn’t like me? What if it was just all too sad and overwhelming? It was a lot of pressure.
We drove through beautiful fields. The wind was blowing through tall grass and the sun was gorgeous. I waited for the scenery to change, for slums and poverty, but they never came. Instead we pulled up to a beautiful lemony-yellow building with flower gardens, white picket fences, and laundry flapping in the breeze. A couple of young men and a friendly dog greeted us. These young men had aged out of the orphanage a few years earlier and were coming back to visit “Uncle Sasha,” as we found the children all called Alexander.
Inside the orphanage was, again, not what I had expected. Yes, there were lots of kids but they were smiling and excited to see us. They were all happy to see that Uncle Sasha had come back safely and eagerly hugged him. Alexander gave us a tour; upstairs were wide hallways filled with sunlight and rooms with bunk beds and brightly colored, decorated walls. There was art from the kids and photos they had taken. As we walked room to room, one little guy peaked around corners and in “3 year old ninja style” kept tabs on us! Downstairs was a play room and cafeteria with caretakers preparing lunch and some of the teens helped. More children greeted us downstairs and we were given an opportunity to talk with some one on one. Some of the children were nervous and the caretakers often popped out of the kitchen to tell us some of their favorite things about the children.
It would be easy and look like a place like Perlynka and think “orphanages aren’t so bad”. But an orphanage is not a home. A director and caretakers are no substitute for parents. Alexander will be the first to tell you that. But for these children, who have suffered more in their tiny lives than I have in almost four decades, this place is often the first where they have felt peace and order. They spend their breakfasts, their nap times, their sick days here. In these orphanages, they finish school projects and whisper secrets about boys. They ride their first bikes and kick their first soccer goals. The time they spend in these orphanages is a new beginning, a time to move on from a rough past into a big future.
But it is not their forever home. This is a way station, a place for them to pause and heal, a place to start to experience connection in healthier ways. The work that Uncle Sasha, and all the workers at Perlynka, does is vital to the future of these children. They help older teens learn life skills and support the young ones as they start to process their hurts. It is in this space that children are given opportunities for growth and connection, from hosting to adoption. Without Perlynka’s devotion to preparing these children for the future, there would not be opportunities for future permanency and connection through experiences like hosting.
And while hosting is beautiful, there’s something more for you and I to do, a missing piece to complete the circle. Not all children are chosen. Many wait, longing for connection. Alexander and the caretakers at Perlynka are caring for these children daily. We want to come alongside Alexander and Perlynka and help fill in this missing piece through the Orphan Care Fund.
The Orphan Care Fund was established to meet specific needs in orphanages and foster homes with whom NHFC partners. As we speak with caregivers we are listening for specific needs that we believe will impact the quality of life for the children in their care. NHFC hopes to be able to meet some of these needs through donations given to the Orphan Care Fund. 100% of donations to the Orphan Care Fund go towards purchasing and delivering these gifts. The items are purchased by NHFC and delivered through our staff, volunteers, or traveling families. As we meet their physical needs, we hope to continue to build relationship, share Jesus, and meet spiritual needs as well.