Our Project Manager for This Child Here makes the news…

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Alla Soroka inspired by opportunity to participate in Peacemaking program

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Alla Soroka will be traveling the U.S. this fall as a 2017 International Peacemaker. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – Although she never planned it as her life’s vocation, Alla Soroka has been actively working with at-risk children since 2005. She found her passion, and her trust in God, working with teenage prisoners, children and orphans living in the streets of her native Odessa, Ukraine. She will be sharing some of her experiences this fall (Sept. 22 – Oct. 16) traveling to selected Presbyterian churches, universities, and theological institutions in the United States as a 2017 International Peacemaker.

The challenges Ms. Soroka faces in Ukraine have roots that go back nearly a century to her country’s communist heritage. A sovereign state in Eastern Europe, Ukraine is bordered by Russia to the east and saw its territories consolidated into the Soviet Republic in 1922. It gained its independence after the end of the Cold War in 1991, but the communist mindset is still very much alive.

“My country has a difficult past and we’re still dealing with rules established under the Soviet regime,” said Soroka.

“Our way of life is comparable to a wall of bricks. To build a strong wall, all the bricks should be the same. If there is a stone of a different shape, it’s thrown away. People in my country are supposed to submit themselves to the system and be like perfectly structured bricks in order to build the perfect wall. Consequently, those that do, lose their uniqueness and personality.”

Working with kids every day, Soroka sees how the system can harm the entire family structure.

“Quite often I see damaged kids, and many of them have damaged parents. Children who live in orphanages or prisons live in a system that doesn’t address their needs,” she said. “They’re deprived of care, support, and understanding and no one values their importance or uniqueness. I often find that parents are also lost and many have a childish attitude because of their past, where they were also left to fend for themselves.”

Alla Soroka (center), project manager with This Child Here, works with at-risk youth in Odessa, Ukraine. (Photo provided)

Soroka began her career working with the Odessa Regional Mediation Group’s “Restorative Justice” program, focusing on youth in jail. She has a master’s degree in psychology and is trained in the “Alternatives to Violence” program developed by the Quakers, where she served as their Ukraine coordinator and taught nonviolent strategies and communication skills to groups, including incarcerated young men.

For the past 10 years, she’s been on staff at This Child Here, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping orphans and other vulnerable youth in Ukraine, and currently serves as its project manager. This Child Here also designs and funds programs to help at-risk children deal with addiction and self-esteem issues.

She’s expanded her work over the years to include Ukraine’s orphanages, at-risk public school children, and potential foster parents. For the past two years, she’s helped organize a peacemaking and reconciliation camp for families displaced by military conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Summer Camp for Peace creates a resting atmosphere to help participants feel more comfortable and relaxed, features games and craft-making activities and generally provides a joyful, safe environment for families evicted from their homes by war.

“The people in our camps have lost their jobs and homes and are extremely uneasy about adapting to a new place. For parents who are worried about what’s next, it’s hard to concentrate fully on giving their kids the attention they need during this emotional time. Unfortunately, it’s the little ones who are the first to suffer and are most affected by this trauma,” said Soroka.

Soroka is quick to point out the support she’s received from Presbyterians. This Child Here’s executive director, Robert Gamble, is a graduate of Columbia and Princeton seminaries, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He served as an officer in the Coast Guard, and as a mentor to the native Odessan.

“Robert is a person who breathes Christianity and evangelism by putting it into practice, he is not just a theorist. We have the same goals and we’re both empowered by caring for children,” said Soroka. “I think that is a big reason why we’ve succeeded in our mission for the past 10 years. Some of our greatest support for our projects have been financed by Presbyterians, for that we are extremely grateful.”

Alla Soroka (far right), project manager with This Child Here, works with at-risk youth in Odessa, Ukraine. (Photo provided)

In a 2016 blog post describing the history behind This Child Here, Gamble described how Soroka’s skills and contributions benefit the organization and the children it serves.

“Alla takes a personal interest in these children. It’s not just a job,” he said. “What she does professionally is help kids with issues of trust, accountability and responsibility. She gives time to meeting with kids individually and she works with them in groups. These ‘trainings’ as she calls them, are really a full day of interactive and non-competitive games sandwiched between conversations about what kids just did and felt in the activities. It’s intense, well-planned and yet flexible enough to focus on a youth or child who needs it. What happens in the room with these youth and children is really quite remarkable. Most of these kids have never had such an experience of interaction and conversation. They don’t get this kind of learning experience in the standard orphanage.”

For her part, Soroka is humble about her life’s work.

“I don’t think I’m doing something special,” she said. “My work is a regular job that’s part of life. Through it I would like to learn something and I believe God wants to teach me.”

Soroka looks forward to her opportunity this fall as an International Peacemaker with the Presbyterian Church (USA), and believes it’s a truly powerful experience when people from different countries and cultures meet each other and are linked by the same goals and values.

“There is a lot of precious power in peacemaking and God loves it.”

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The International Peacemaking Program is made possible by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.


An Unexpected Opportunity

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This was summer camp (2016) and  I remember this meal.

Just two weeks ago, we committed to help. And right now we need $1500.

For this money, This Child Here can hire two good cooks and two great youth workers working in shifts 🙂 FOR 8 WEEKS.

They will serve under the direction of our Ukrainian partner, The Way Home, in this camp-by-the-sea for 25 kids.

CAN YOU HELP? PLEASE CLICK TO DONATE.

Let’s make this the best camp ever for kids who live in the shelter, The Way Home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sometimes the Past Startles and Encourages You

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Hi Robert. At last I have found you. I want to thank you for giving me the high road in life. You saved my life. In 2007, I led a not correct way of life. But I wanted to change my life and turned to you for help, for the money. You helped me, and I lied to you, I spent the money on drugs. Then again I came to you for money, “I would like to go home,” I said but have no money. Then you said to me: “.. I will give you money, but if you spend it again for drugs, we will never be friends ..” I was ashamed. I was full of shame. And I promised you to change my life. You gave me $4 for the ride. My life is worth $4.

Since then, 10 years have passed. I have my own home and family. I have a beautiful wife, I have a favorite son who is 4.5 years. I have a demanding job. I work as the chief of security at a very large company. I enjoy life and I thank you. Maybe you do not remember me, but I will always remember you, and I kept my promise.
With great respect,
(sent via messenger on facebook)
We are back in the states after seven weeks in Odessa. Winter is not really the best time to be in Ukraine. Everything we do, of course, is inside.  With homework and help in many ways, Natasha is our friend, mentor, youth worker and psychologist at The Way Home. We continue to train foster families, to train our people to work with foster families and to prepare for our mentoring program with kids in orphanages, and to plan for our Peace Camp this summer for refugees from the east.
Here is Natasha with kids at The Way Home.
 
 Max and I chatting with a medical student from India after my talk at the YMCA.
 
Kids from The Way Home taking website design class.
 
 A group of foster parents below trained by Arina and Ira.
 Foster Mom to be
Foster Dad talks about roots of destructive motivation: lack of patience, genetics and negative relationships with family of origin.
Our trainer Arina
Our trainer Ira and with Alla
 
And finally, a scene out the window of our apartment in Odessa, old buildings in the foreground, new in the distance.  Sunrise and sun’s up.
 
Grace and Peace,
Robert Gamble

PEACEMAKING SCHOOL FOR TEENS

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As fighting in eastern Ukraine has increased, the work for peace has strengthened.

Sixteen teens were chosen among hundreds who applied, to gather for three days of intensive Peacemaking Training which was sponsored paid for by the Minor Academy of Sciences in Ukraine.  Our role was in helping to lead it. For that, This Child Here joined staff  from the Quaker Program, Alternatives to Violence and fund in Kiev, Children of Hope.

In the game above, teens do a trust walk blindfolded through a course which includes objects to step over and crawl under.

Unlike most of our programs, these are the kind of youth who come from stable families and rank near the top of their class as people with bright futures. As we continue this kind of training we are building a generation of youth in Ukraine who know how to manage conflict and bring peace to places and times of violence.

Scroll down for the faces of teens and trainers for this event.

 

 


Alla Soroka to be PCUSA International Peacemaker

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portrait by Oksana Xarkovenko

It’s Saturday, February 11th. Yulia and I are in Odessa, Ukraine where it is 18 degrees Farenheit and much of what we walk on are  sheets of ice.  We return to the states, March 27th.

The important news, though, is our Project Manager for This Child Here, Alla Soroka, has been chosen by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be one of 2017’s twelve International Peacemakers.  Since 1984 the Presbyterian Church (USA) has hosted over 250 International Peacemakers from 60 countries, persons of deep faith with experience and proven commitment to peace and justice ministries in their communities. They have stories to share.  They “Work for healing and reconciliation in cultures of violence and brokenness,”  They “Embody and advocate for God’s vision of a just and peaceful world.*

Along with others, she will tour and speak to Presbyteries and Presbyterian Churches from September 19 – October 18, 2017.

Alla has been working for This Child Here since 2007.  She became our Project Manager in 2010.

About her work, she writes, “in the atmosphere of acceptance and freedom, participants are given the opportunity to work and deal with conflicts. I felt and realized people must appreciate each other. When they can listen to each other without criticism, when they practice these skills, they create an atmosphere of healing.”

*taken from the invitation extended to International Peacemakers

Grace and Peace,

Robert Gamble

 

 

 

 

 

 


Wishing you…

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Wishing you,

 this Christmas season and in the New Year to come.

We need your support.
We currently have the opportunity and responsibility for training all new foster families in Odessa. Currently, we are the only agency in Odessa certified to do this. We recently held three trainings for three weeks, four days a week, for families who want to care for children.  The city wants ten more.  I expect that number to increase as Ukraine continues to move from orphanages to Ukrainian families providing foster care.  We will start a mentoring program in 2017, matching families with kids in orphanages. As those relationships grow, this will lead to more families taking children into foster care.
Our dream is to build nurturing families with resilient children. If you have children, know about that; it takes consistency and love.
We have a cadre of really good people to do this: wise, capable and caring.  That look in their eyes I see, when they get to do what they love to do, and get paid for it. I’m passing that on to you:)
Robert Gamble
www.thischildhere.org

 

 

 


People Change People

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thischildhere-lesson-1-4

Yosjik in 2005

People change people.

Not stuff, not giveaways, not blankets and candy.

Education changes people but there’s always that teacher.  

Faith changes people but who was it that led you to faith?

We have great people working for This Child Here. Government agencies want us. Faith based programs want us. The people who work for This Child Here are the best and the brightest. They are smart, committed and caring. They work out of love for what they do.

I will be traveling around, talking about vulnerable youth and children in Ukraine and our people who work with them and what we do. Below is a schedule.

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Yosjik today

I first met Yosjik in 2005 when I shot the photo at the top of the page. He came to live at The Way Home, the Odessa Charity that gave me office space when I first moved to Ukraine.  They changed his life and I was glad to be a part of it. 

My Schedule:

Nov 9 Church of the Lakes, Orlando, FL
Nov 13 Port Orange Presbyterian, Port Orange, FL
Nov 16 First Presbyterian Church, Arcadia, FL
Nov 20, Collierville Presbyterian Church, Collierville TN
Nov 27 First Presbyterian Church, Fort Worth, TX

NOV 29 GIVING TUESDAY!
Dec 1-3 First Presbyterian Church, Farmington New Mexico.
Dec 4 Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque,NM
Dec 11 Tigard Presbyterian Church, Portland Or.
Dec 17, 18  New Vernon, NJ and New York City

Grace and Peace,

Robert Gamble


Olya

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olya

That’s when she left the shelter called The Way Home where she was staying in Odessa, Ukraine and disappeared along with another girl and a boy.  That was 2007.  A month passed, then I remember an all night train ride to a city called Vinnytsia and an early morning bus ride to remote village half an hour away. The sun had still not come up when we found her in a cabin with less room inside than your normal living room.  The kids came back with us.

This third picture is her today, eight years later.

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The train to Vinnetsia was a remarkable moment in my ten years of directing the work of This Child Here in Ukraine. Seeing this photo reminded me how the right kind of love and attention can help youth and children grow with grace into adulthood. Without the effort we put forth, you might be looking at a very different face.

Olya’s face is so hopeful and full of joy.

Robert Gamble

 

If you want the full story, it’s an 8 min read, click on  Train To Vinnytsia  on Medium.com.

 

 

 

 


If someone asked me to donate $25 a month….

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If someone asked me to donate $25 a month, there is one thing I would ask myself:

Will it make a difference?   

I believe people change people.

People inspire, teach, take care. People help, give hope and love. People can change other’s lives.

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Robert Gamble, Executive Director, This Child Here, summer camp 2016 on the beach, Odessa Oblast.

Lives of vulnerable youth and children…

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“This Child Here” project manager Alla Soroka with kids from the shelter, The Way Home.  

Lives of adults who want to help….

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Foster and adopting parents training. Odessa, Ukraine

Lives of refugee families who lost their future…

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Peace Camp for refugees of Eastern Ukraine, in Koblevo, Odessa Oblast.

Lives of young people who wish for peace in a time of war.

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“Dialogue in Action,” a workshop on conflict for teens, Kiev, Ukraine

People change each other. We change ourselves. 

When you give, it makes a difference.  Will you give?

Robert Gamble

To donate and read more about This Child Here at work in Ukraine, click here.