This Child Here is a registered 501(C)(3) non-profit. We have five main areas of work:
YOUTH AND CHILDREN OF THE WAY HOME,
YOUTH AND CHILDREN IN ORPHANAGES,
“AT RISK” YOUTH IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS,
FOSTER AND ADOPTIVE CHILDREN AND FAMILIES,
Since 2006 we have been funding and managing programs designed to help children move from street life to life in shelters, homes or orphanages, and to help,encourage, and motivate children in those facilities to imagine a future and pursue it. Over the years what we do has changed. In the early years, we searched for kids on the streets, buried those who died, sat with them below the streets. Here, life often ends with the needle. Drug overdose, AIDS, TB, and other communicable diseases were the killers. Getting kids off the streets was not easy. Freedom, we say, is the first addiction. There are no rules; there is no school; there is no responsibility; there are no adults to obey.
They consider the group of kids they live with to be family… more family than what they have for a biological family. At the core of that issue is a history of abuse. Almost every street kid has been abused: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse by a parent, adult friend or relative are the primary forms. A child can be happy even in poverty if he or she is properly loved at home. But an abused child, even in a financially stable home, will run away or be given away by the family of abuse.
WITH OUR PARTNER THE WAY HOME
All along we were working with our friends at the local charity, The Way Home, in Odessa. We funded education. We made available a variety of after school activities for children that include sports, dance and trips to the theater. We funded tuition and books for University students. We paid for dental care. When needed, we bought clothes, food, dental work, medicine, jackets, shoes.
Now and then we succeeded in bringing a child “in from the cold,” but after a time, I realized it was just as important if not more so to focus on the ones who were always within reach and those who lived in shelters and who were “at risk” to go to the streets.
The first of these facilities I turned to was the private non-profit shelter called The Way Home, the agency I met when I first arrived in Odessa. They embraced me and my work, gave me a desk in the office and more importantly, the space to imagine ways to help. If I could not bring kids in from the streets,“Then what could we do?”
We funded education. We made available a variety of after school activities for children that include sports, dance and trips to the theater. We paid tuition and books for University students. Mariam above graduated with a degree in psychology and now works for a non-profit. We paid for dental care. When needed, we bought clothes, food, dental work, medicine, jackets, shoes. We helped fun summer camp and every year send a staff member to work for the summer. See Natalia below right.
By 2009, we were working in prevention, keeping kids who left the streets off the streets, keeping kids from going to the streets. Our most important programs helped children with personal boundaries, addictions, self-esteem and trust. Teams like these three young women carried these program into orphanages and shelters. Alla became the coordinator of these visits, recruiting and training women to do this work.
Kids were asked to pick a card from those scattered on the floor in front of them. Each card had a picture: a boy fishing, a soccer team, a match being lit, a chess game, a set of doors, a broken pencil, a violin, a fire, a flock of geese, a row of colored doors, a ladder, a garden maze, a young man climbing the side of a cliff, the moon out a window.
One picked the moon, My mood changes often, sometimes I do not understand reason. Another said, I have many closets, it is a picture that looks like my closets. Still another, it is a picture of fog, and for me p. This, I like this scene of nature and beautiful trees. And this, It is a picture of morning, and for me, the dawn of the soul.
Some chose pictures of sports, some of beautiful sunsets, or places in the world they would like to live, Because I like it, they would say, avoiding the deeper reasons beneath the choice: because I would like to live in another place, any place but here in this dormitory, this village, this life without parents. Because I want something or someone to take me away from here and accept me and love me for who I am, until the girl next to me showed her picture: a mother, father and children with the mountains and trees behind them. Because I want to have and be part of a family, she said.
Once I went to the living room of their dorm with my camera. The girl that never smiled and the boy Victor sat facing the window while I shot their faces. Later, I looked at the images. I had shot them in high resolution. As I zoomed in, I saw each tiny hair of her eyebrow, then deeper down into the eyes, her blue-gray eyes, so clear was the image, I could see the windows reflected in them. I saw suspicion, a question, the fog of a past, a vague future; I saw the attempt to love and love withheld. I saw in her face, every face. I saw how vulnerable we all are, how much we lean on what happens to us at age three, six, ten, thirteen, all the exuberant years, how much we want someone taller and stronger, smarter and more beautiful than we, how much we crave for a thing safe and solid and absolute. I saw the landscape of a soul, a single survivor afloat in a rising sea.”
AT RISK IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
By 2010 we were working with “at risk” groups in local public schools; we also taught parenting skills to struggling families and foster families who are now being encouraged to adopt children in Ukraine. It was a program with many of the same elements as the work we did in orphanages, except these youth and children had families to go home to but were at risk to leave.
WAR AND PEACE
Ukraine is now a country suffering from an economic and political crisis. Russia has political control and the dominant influence over Crimea and a large portion of the geographic east.
In the Spring of 2014, we began a new initiative with youth and adults: Peacemaking and Reconciliation.
World Without Rage”, read the tiny wooden sign in Russian, from the Summer Camp for Peace, Sponsored by This Child Here. From July 15-26, ten families displaced by military action from the eastern regions of Ukraine, gathered by the Black Sea for a camp they labeled: White Sail. The camp was designed and directed by Alla Soroka, Project Manager for the work of This Child Here, with the goal to create a safe space in which people can feel at ease, rejuvenate, relax, and strengthening family relationships.
“The first few days I went into the sea, I was crying from happiness – it was precious to feel human again.” -The family Lyaschenko
“We were unique in this experience. I was glad for the time to be in the lives of these people; to be privy to such events is happiness. As a wise person once said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness!” We lit it together!” Alla Soroka, Camp Director.
ADOPTIVE AND FOSTER FAMILIES
Ukraine is slowly moving forward with a plan to close all orphanages and move youth and children to foster care or adoption within Ukraine. Adoption is still possible from outside the country, but most kids will be taken in by Ukrainian families.
Through our project manager, Alla Soroka, we have gained the respect of the Odessa community of law enforcement and community services. With our programs, we train potential foster families and train trainers to do the same. As January 2016 was our ten year anniversary, I anticipate stronger relationships not only to local authorities but also to the churches whose young people currently volunteer their time with children in shelters and orphanages.
Robert Gamble, Executive Director firstname.lastname@example.org