An update from Stephanie Norman who is currently in Latvia interviewing children for summer hosting!
Stacey asked me Monday night if I could share about the trip and give her some blog material. I had to tell her that I had nothing. The trip was, well, what an interview trip was. An eight-hour delay in Frankfurt, long drives on snowy icy roads, poor foster homes, good kids, involved social services people, little sleep, meeting new people, solidifying relationships, and more driving. But nothing compelling, nothing I would want to bore others with. No stories that were unique or especially heart wrenching, or moments where I really felt “Wow! This is why I am here”. Until yesterday (Tues. the 15th) that is.
Our first stop of the day was at noon, at Apite. Apite could be considered a transition home for older kids. It is in Riga, and the director, Inga, is a long time supporter of hosting programs. She was also my son’s social worker. She has raised many kids over the years, in orphanages, and loves them the best she can. She tells me, with tears in her eyes, of twin boys she cared deeply about. After spending much of their lives in the Children’s Home, they were hosted and then adopted when they were 14 years old. She had the opportunity to visit with them and their forever family when she traveled to America as a chaperone with the NHFC program. Inga stayed with them, and says there is no better feeling than to see them have hope, a family, and a real chance at success. The boys chauffeured her around Florida, having recently gotten their licenses. When she talks about the boys it’s as if she were a very proud Auntie or Godmother, you can just sense how much she loves them. Inga does an amazing job with her charges. And there in lies the challenge for us.
Apite is home for about 20 young adults, ages 16-21. We met the five children Inga had asked for us to interview, when Inga shared with us that it was so hard to choose who should be considered for the program. She beamed as she told us that all the kids there would be wonderful candidates for hosting. And we believe her. The three kids who came over Christmas all loved and were loved by their families. Past kids from Inga are in the U.S. on Student Visas, or have been adopted. She doesn’t steer us wrong. Though we were out of time, and had to head to our next appointment I told Inga that we could return to meet more students at dinner. Thinking my interview partner, Jaycee and I to pick up something for everyone to eat so that we could visit with more kids. At least that was my plan, knowing full well that we are in Latvia and picking up food might require some thought and planning. Jaycee, whose ministry focuses on young adults, was quick to agree to the newly hatched plan. As I packed up, unbeknownst to me another plan was evolving in the hallway. Inga was telling two of the lovely girls we had met that we would be back. And now Maria and Diana decided they would be cooking for us.
After a few hours in Imanta orphanage, visiting with new kids, and chatting with past kids, Jaycee and I headed back to Apite. A dead battery, snowy roads, impossible left turns, a money changing stop and traffic all combined to slow us down. By the time we arrive it’s 7:15 pm. Precious time has passed.
Maria and Diana, as well as two past host girls, and others wanting to have the opportunity to be interviewed have gathered. The table is set. Photo worthy dishes are presented! The girls have spent three hours preparing for us, trusting that we would return for dinner. I am not sure who paid for the groceries, or who trudged out in the snowy, 15-degree weather in the dark, and prepared for our return, but I was blessed by this sacrifice.
Before we prayed Maria asked me if I like Latvia. Many kids and adults ask this, and I know where they are going. “How can you like Latvia? It is poor. Dirty. The people let you down. Why don’t you stay in America where is it beautiful and people are nice. Why do u want to help us here” are usually their thoughts. I can barely answer. She asks why I care about the children and people of Latvia, as I am presented with this dinner. They are the ones giving me a gift.
Let me tell you about Maria. Maria is talented, poised, and beautiful inside and out. She wants to live a healthy lifestyle. For her, that would include a family. She asked about adoption and we had to break the news to her that at sixteen she is too old to be adopted. You could see how completely devastated she was. She was speechless. By dinner though, she was asking us questions about America. Hoping to be hosted. Her questions about school made me think she might now have a dream to study in America, where earlier her dream was adoption. We explained that a hosting experience might connect her with a family that will love her, even if they live another country. Why she yearns for a functional family is not important; she shares her background is complicated and we don’t ask more. The perfect family for Maria would encourage her many interests. She is a budding textile artist, though she also likes to paint and draw. She loves to sing, and hopes to sing with the choir in the Latvian song festival. Maria also likes traditional Latvian dance. Amazingly, Maria is studying economics, a discipline that one would not often expect an artistic person to excel at. She also takes math classes for extra credit. She speaks English, German, and of course Latvian. Maria is in tenth grade, and had to apply to live in the home she now resides in. Please don’t make me write an essay about why she deserves a host family this summer…. If I had the gift of writing by now you would be picking up the phone to commit to hosting Maria. You would be blessed to have her in your home. Don’t forget, she can cook!
Diana and Maria are friends and closely bonded. It’s clear that Diana needs a family to build her self-esteem. She aims to be a secretary, but fears her memory is too bad. She is a swimmer, and plays the piano. She also loves to act. Diana shared that she likes that “families do things together”. The look in her eyes reveals the hurt she feels at having the past that she does. She struggles a little with her emotions; it’s been a tough day for her -talking with us and meeting the therapist earlier in the day. Yet she is not letting this chance to meet with new people and learn about America pass her by. She is ready to open up to a patient family, one who is ready to meet her where she is. Diana will blossom if given this opportunity. She is 15, but will be 16 by summer hosting.
Please consider what you can offer these girls this summer. You don’t have to be perfect, only willing to love unconditionally and be prepared to have your heart broken. These gentle spirits have to figure out a tough world, and lack guidance and love on a day-to-day basis. Could you host one of these girls? Could you build their self-esteem and teach them about family?
If you are interested in hosting Diana, Maria or any of the other amazing children we’ll meet while here our Summer 2013 Pre-Application is up and running! Look for it towards the top of our website on the right hand side! Or follow this link: http://goo.gl/3oAsa
Please be sure to give our love and hugs to Kristine and Saundra in bernu nams in Krau when you visit and give them our gift bag. Tell them we are trying to link on Draugiem with Aya and that we miss them and love them. Thank you.
This is such a moving story- fighting to get back to the facility, in the brutal cold. Your writing makes the 2 girls Maria and Diana, come alive. Hearing about the hard work the girls went through, to try to reach out to you, the team, is remarkable. I feel like I am on the trip, with you, very briefly, from what you wrote on the blog to us here in the States.