One of my tackles this months has been to organize and journal my photos from my last mission trip to Ukraine. I can hardly believe it's been nearly seven years. Seven years since I've visited a country that will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Over the course of four years, I made three trips to Ukraine. Even saying the name seems so inadequate. Ukraine is name that holds numerous emotions, memories, life changing events. And it feels like it was a life time ago.
So as I'm going through photos and reliving memories, and remembering names and re-feeling emotions... I thought I'd share some of my favorite memories with you.
My first trip to Ukraine was in 1999. I was only 19 and taking only my second trip out of the country. Prior to this, I'd spent a week in British Columbia with a college friend, but other than that, I had never traveled out of the country. I had just finished my sophomore year at a small Christian college and was going to spend a month working with orphans. I had no idea what I was in for.
One month, 100 orphans, a language barrier, a definite food barrier, a team crisis, and falling in love. I fell in love with those kids. They became my life.I've always loved working with kids, but living, eating, teaching, playing together 24 hours a day. I became friend, teacher, confidant, big sister, and sometimes mom.
The countless hours swimming, doing crafts, team building, laughing, hauling water from the well, distributing clothes and gifts and toothbrushes,... I fell in love with the people and the kids and a country that's struggling to find it's identity.
This is Me and Sasha at the birthday party we threw for the kids. This was the first time any team had come to this particular orphanage. Many of these kids had never been celebrated on their birthdays. We threw quite a party!
Many of these kids had families. Families that were too poor take care of them. Desperate they turn to the state. And the state, poor as they are, just can't keep up. Sad to see families in such financial crisis that they're ripped apart. Families without the tools to stay together.
This was my friend Vica. She was a great support. She had done countless camps like this one and was a wonderful wealth of knowledge. But the one thing that sticks with me most. She told me that there's nothing like that first group of kids you work with. She was right.
I remember so many kids I've worked with in different settings. But there's nothing like what this first group was.
This was Oksana. She was one of the older girls and I looked on her like a little sister. Going through those teenage years with no one to really guide her. And keeping my fingers crossed that she didn't end up selling herself on the street.
Finally this was my Rouslann. We seemed to have a special bond from the start. I don't even know how it happened. One of the younger boys. He was small, had a crippled leg, big heart, and captured mine. We were together all the time. Of all the kids, if I could have brought him home, I would have. Even now, I'd do anything to see him again.
I remember when I had to say good bye to him. Now nearly 11 years later, there are no words to describe that moment. To describe the way our hearts broke. He was a very special boy. And adopted by the time I was able to return to that orphanage. I pray all the time that he found a good family.
Leaving the orphanage, we had a few days in Kiev (the capital). This was Me, Angela, and Linda at the Monastery Caves in the city. Amazing architecture and history. Our day of debriefing in Kiev was meant to rest, sight see, and reflect on our time with the kids. Cry and seal off our time in the country.
One week before we left the orphanage, our teammate Hillary was evacuated on a medical emergency. An asmatic, she had become too fun down to recover. So in the middle of the night, she left, along with our translator and staff sponsor. We lost half our time in a matter of hours. It was a nice surprise that as we landed in San Francisco, we were all together again (with the exception of one member).
Angela, Linda, Hillary, Me, Bryce, Kostya, and Jason
A time I'll never forget!
Over the next couple of weeks I'll post some photos from 2000 and 2003 as well. Check them out