How We Met ~ Our Hearts Skipped A Beat
On July 4th we welcomed two beautiful siblings, 15-year-old Luda and 8-year-old Losha, into our hearts and home when they arrived from Ukraine for a twenty-day orphan-hosting program. Sadly, baby brother Denis was not eligible for the hosting program, or we would have scooped him up, too. For those who aren't familiar with what it means to “host” a child, we describe it as a cultural exchange experience similar to the foreign exchange student program for schools. This program was designed to offer Ukrainian orphans an opportunity to travel to the U.S. to experience a different culture than they know today. The goal is to instill hope, show them different opportunities, make connections, build lasting friendships, and sometimes even find a forever family. We didn’t know what to expect with hosting, but we knew it would be a wonderful adventure for all – and we were right!
When we tell our story, most people want to know, how did we communicate? After all, Luda and Losha speak Russian and we do not - not yet anyway. We credit Luda for knowing some English, which did come in handy from time to time. While we didn’t share a common language, we didn’t struggle to communicate, either. In fact, it was a great bonding experience to find alternative ways to tell stories, share our likes and dislikes, and communicate day to day without simply speaking. Looking back at the hosting experience, we’re awestruck at how quickly we found common ground and connected. In fact, we recall sitting at the kitchen table and Tom “told” a joke that left everyone laughing out loud. That's a really cool connection to make when you're not using words.
We also learned that, in many ways, Luda and Losha are similar to children here in the states. Losha is extremely active. He loved riding bikes, or pushing through the neighborhood on his scooter. He could spend all day swimming, running around, or playing a game on the tablet. We also learned that Losha is a perfectionist with an attention to detail. It didn't matter if he was folding paper to create his next origami masterpiece, using sidewalk chalk to beautify our entire cul-de-sac, or coloring on paper; he was meticulous about everything. He also amazed us with his ability to adapt and embrace his surroundings. On several occasions, when we were around other kids near Losha's age, Losh jumped right into the action and started playing with them. Play has a universal language, and it was pretty cool to see.
Luda's days were that of a typical teenager. She absolutely loved having her own bedroom, lazy mornings sleeping, and late nights watching the Russian version of X Factor. Her favorite day-to-day activities were relaxing and chatting with friends on their version of Facebook. She soaked-up some sunshine and took an occasional bike ride. She was much more low-key and reserved in her activities. Her real sparks seemed to be music and cooking - right up our alley. We established an evening ritual that really resonated with Luda. Luda and I (Melissa) would crank-up the music (Russian and American dance/electronica) and start cooking dinner while Losha and Tom clowned around the house, grilled, and set the table for dinner. It was in these moments that we felt Luda was able let loose, let us into her world and become part of ours. It was wonderful.
On July 24th our time together came to an end. It was bittersweet to say our goodbyes. And just like that, the house was quiet again. No more booming Russian dance music, no more scooter rides, and the rain slowly washed away our sidewalk filled with chalk-colored memories – but that’s not the end.
Building Our Family
While we were hosting Luda and Losha, we talked about adoption. Both Luda and Losha are excited about life beyond the orphanage, but given their ages and years spent growing up in a very difficult environment, their dreams for tomorrow are different. Luda is a very independent young woman who already has a defined path for her life in Ukraine with her friends who have grown to be her family. Her plan is to attend a trade school next year and pursue a career in the textile industry. However, she knows firsthand the challenges that await her brothers if they are left to grow up without the love and support of a family, and she gives her blessing for us to adopt her brothers, Losha and Denis. Losha has made it very clear that he wants to be adopted and have a forever family with us and his baby brother, and we would love that too.
There is little chance for a bright future when a child is raised in an institution, lacking the love and support that come from a family. Beyond the grim statistics that await so many children who age-out of orphanages, there are also the looming safety concerns as intergovernmental relationships between Russia and Ukraine continue to spur disagreements and violence. Your contribution to our fundraiser will not only help us by offsetting the cost of adopting Losha and Denis, it will also give big-sister Luda the reassurance that she needs to pursue her own dreams, knowing that her brothers will be safe.