A Day at an Orphanage

There are no words to accurately describe my day at one of the many Ternopil orphanages. Even though I've seen pictures, and have read and heard many stories, I was not prepared for the experience.

The orphanage we visited was mostly state funded with some private donations. It is a transitional home where children stay for a maximum of three months while their situation is assessed. After 3 months they are moved into other orphanages around the country or sometimes back to the street.

There were about 35 children from age 2 to 16 in the orphanage. The home was dark, stunk of urine and was in bad need of repair. The staff of three I saw seemed nice enough. The children were wearing the oddest mix of clothing (all very dirty and worn), plastic slippers were the most prevalent, t-shirts from every era of Americana (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Barbie, Taz, and so on). The babies were wearing onsies with plastic shoes. Forget gender specific… “if it fits, you wear it” seems to be the rule.

The children were all respectful to us and, for the most part, listened to the teaching and conversation. They all participated in the songs. Most songs required hand and body motions and they had those down! Many of the children would keep a safe distance and did not make eye contact. Others clung almost immediately. One minute I was thinking, “filth, smell, sores, lice,” the next, they were on my lap and I was holding them. I remember thinking to myself as I held a five year old on one leg and a ten year old on the other, "Where did the smell go?" I didn't care about anything. I guess my only personal concern was that they would see me crying or that I may dehydrate from fluid loss in the form of tears! I was grateful for my reading of Brother Lawrence, because I was truly practicing the presence of God. I was clinging to God as tightly as those kids were clinging to us.

I spent most of my time in a sand box with a half a dozen children playing in the smelly sand. They didn't care that I didn't speak Ukrainian; they would just talk and tell me things as if I understood every word. (Thankfully, my interpreter translated most of their comments for me) One 13 year old young lady, Vlada, was so sweet. She was concerned about her looks and wore a scarf on here head to cover her shaved head (they shave everyone's head to reduce lice) she was wearing a purple sweat suit and never left my side. She must have had me teach her a hundred English words. She was very smart and caught on to English words and pronunciation very well. She had the sweetest smile. She wanted to know everything about our kids. Oddly, not our stuff or how we lived, just us, as people. I finally pulled the family picture out of my photo album. Through Natalia, I told her about each child. She knew them all in five minutes including the dogs, Max and Dixie. She took the photo around and introduced our kids to all the other children, pronouncing everyone's name perfectly. Needless to say, I'm short one family picture now!

I pushed four swings at once for what seemed like an hour. They never get tired. I spent a lot of time trying to connect with Misha, a two year old boy. He sat in the sandbox and kept putting sand in the basket part of a badminton birdie. He filled it and dumped it out and filled it again. I watched him do that for hours. He never made a noise and very little eye contact. I would lightly brush dirt off his skinny pale legs and he wouldn't even move, like he was numb to the touch. The staff said he and his ten year old sister had been taken from their family for neglect. He was half the weight of Elizabeth and Sarah, and had no life in him. It was killing me!

These children represent just the tiniest fraction of the estimated 100,000 orphans in Ukraine. Please remember them and all orphans worldwide in your prayers.

More pictures from the oprhanage.