This year, in the past 6 months my community has lost two amazing moms. These women were strong advocates for their children, dedicated mothers. One day their children woke up, and their mother was gone.
I have watched these kids and families try to move forward without the glue that held their families together. They are picking up pieces they didn’t know were even part of their puzzle, because their mothers had handled it all gracefully. The families are readjusting, they’re banding together, and the community is embracing them more than ever to help ease their pain.
I have 5 children that depend on me to run their lives. When one child is sick, the whole schedule needs to adjust. When Ted or I are sick, it is even harder. I can’t imagine doing this alone (or without google calendar), but sometimes I think what would it be like for my children if tomorrow I didn’t wake up. Who would remind them to bring their instruments to school or to practice piano? Who would be the smiling face in the stands of the next swim meet, or walk them through their social struggles of endless middle school drama? Who would check to make sure they’re still breathing before going to bed for the night (Even if my husband thinks this is ridiculous), or know what size underwear to buy?
Now imagine I am a single mother with one or more children in a developing country that lacks the resources ours enjoys. Imagine I am working a direct entry job because I myself was an orphan, I have no community and minimal skills. Imagine now one day that I don’t wake up, and now my own child is an orphan. This child just lost literally everything they had. No community or family to lean back on, no dad, no grandparents, no school counselor, this child is now sent to a government orphanage with NO one to advocate for them. No one to care if they’re brushing their teeth, or doing their lessons. No one to send a birthday card or talk about their grief. The orphanage workers DO love the children, but how can you give a mother’s relationship to each child in such a large institution? There is just not enough money, time, and attention for them to give every child everything they need, but they do the best they can with what they have. Many directors are wonderful. This world isn’t all black and white, and from what I’m learning it’s so much more gray than I knew possible. The wonderful directors do everything they can to acquire resources to take care of their schools. They partner with organizations like HostUkraine who have a proven history of successfully improving the lives of orphans.
How do you create resources in a barren land? How do you create advocates in a changing society obsessed with selfies and instant gratification? How do you give scholarships to host orphans when you have no donors? This is what I found HostUkraine is REALLY about. The team is so willing to think outside the box, in fact I don’t know if this amazing team ever fit inside the box to begin with. This is a company of all volunteer mothers and fathers that identified need, and that need is Ukrainian Orphans. This group does everything in their power to provide a little glue to put these orphans puzzles back together. They advocate, they fundraise, they work a full time job and come home after working 8-12 hours to answer emails and process paperwork for children they never met. The mothers and fathers that explain to their OWN children how important it is to share a little bit of themselves with this amazing project. I can tell you from personal experience no one on the HostUkraine team is on vacation right now. No one is leisurely lying about watching T.V. Our children are pitching in to help us create time to advocate for the motherless, and in this mission our own children are learning what it looks like to think outside yourself, to build a longer table, not a higher fence.
My children are wildly excited for Alina to arrive. They are conversations about how sad she must be all alone in her orphanage with no family, how scared she will be when she gets on an airplane for the first time and flies halfway across the world to be placed in a strangers home, how happy we will make her when she becomes part of a family, and how sad we will be when she has to return to Ukraine. This ministry isn’t about me giving a little bit of my time to help process some papers and print some letters for HostUkraine. This is a mission that has changed MY family. This is a lesson in life, perspective, and expanding the world not only to the orphan we chose, but to my own children to understand there is happiness and sadness outside our own lives. This is a lesson to my children to be advocates for themselves, and for those that are not as fortunate. This is a lesson for my children not to pity orphans but to use that sadness to motivate you to advocate and change their worlds.
I’m so thankful for the Cousineau family for talking non-stop about orphans. I’m so thankful that Anna’s tenacity to motivate advocates, that her post finally showed up in my facebook feed so many times that I could not any longer ignore the pulling I have have to change the world. I’m so thankful that my husband had an open mind and an open heart to allow me to even dip my toe into the ocean that I am now swimming. We didn’t start this journey without reservation. We were scared, and had questions, and worried we might not fundraise enough. What if orphan hosting isn’t for us?
But what if it is?
I can say about 7 months ago when I first heard of HostUkraine I was full of fear. I didn’t have all the answers, I didn’t know HOW to advocate for orphans, or how much I could help. We are not in a position to change the world, we have our own family struggle, but the tugging kept pulling me back to Anna’s posts. It pushed me to research everything I could about Ukrainian orphans, the situation, the truths and the myths. We agreed after much discussion what could we lose by doing some fundraising and letting an orphan stay with us for a few weeks of the summer.
What I should have asked was what can we GAIN?
Although our sweet Alina hasn’t even arrived, although she still has no idea who we are or what we are like, she has changed my FAMILY. My children have learned to be selfless and compassionate. They have learned and practiced ideas of empathy not sympathy. We have jumped into the ocean of orphan advocacy and we are all for the better. Alina has given our family more hope, more meaning that we ever knew we needed, and she hasn’t even arrived yet. I’m forever indebted to her, and every post and advocate that ever mentioned orphans for this amazing opportunity.
I know if families have the tugging I felt, they should dip their toes in and see what its like. Stop worrying about what you have to lose, and hold your head up and take a look at what you have to gain.
I will never stop trying to be a better mother, partner, advocate and human. This is my mission. After only 7 months I know HostUkraine is part of this chapter, and it might be part of yours too. I AM mom enough to love the forgotten, the sad and lonely orphans. I AM making time to do all I can to talk, advocate, raise funds and network together this village that will end the orphan crisis in Ukraine. Just like the t-shirt I just bought to support hosting fees for another family, “It takes a village”. It takes many people in various forms to create solutions for these kids. Our village is going to change the world, it already changed mine. You want to join?
We still have several children to place. The deadline was Monday. Please consider dipping your toe in and helping us to place, fundraise, and show these orphans they are not alone, they are not forgotten. THIS village loves them, THESE mothers and fathers care. Help us change their worlds.
This post is in memory of Allison B. and Heidi L. Your memories will forever be in our hearts.
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Stephanie is a nurse, mother, and advocate. Learn more about the Howe family Here