“Mom, I’m scared.”
This is something I hear often. “It’s too dark”, “something is hanging off the bed scaring me”, “there is a noise”. I go in to their rooms, I turn on the light, I look for monster I know that don’t exist. I tuck them back in, I give them a rational explanation and tell them everything is safe, its science. They repeat the cycle over and over until they are old enough to remember the science of flicking a switch and showing themselves it is safe. They learn bravery and rationality.
Now imagine the cribs lined up. There is no mom, and there are monsters around the corner. The scarier truth is the monsters are dressed like humans you are supposed to trust. Now you have been conditioned that trust is a weakness, and survival depends on it. You grow older, hypervigilant, always yearning for a break. Just one night where you can sleep without worrying about the monsters that creep in the night. You have seen it happen, you saw your friend leave with a new family. You heard the stories about how some children are born in families, they have a mom that makes everything better, and some got to visit a family once. Alone in the dark, listening to the breathing of 12 other kids, you struggle to fall asleep, but focus on the dream that someday you might have hope. If you don’t you will die, because you will be too tired to keep up your guard and protect yourself. You need to sleep to stay awake. You need to stay awake to protect yourself. There is no answer, no mom, and no one to tell you’re scared. You don’t even dare utter it to yourself, because the monsters are drawn by fear.
This is the most evident example of the this orphan crisis. All over the country, 300,000 children have no one to tell they are scared. If they tell the wrong person, they will fall to be victims. They hope there is someone out there that will take this burden of orphan status off them, but day in and day out they sit, together, and wait. They band together, they make alliances, they do night watch, and they dream of the day someone might answer the text at 2:30am.
8:22 tonight, it is 3:22am in Ukraine.
“Привет!” – Hello!
“почему ты не спишь!” – Why are you awake!
“Не спиться!” – I cannot sleep!
“Кто это?” – who is this? (because they all use the same profiles on VK and facebook, they forget we can’t tell the difference in a typed hello)
“Tati” – It’s Tati.
“Я мог бы догадаться!” – I might have guessed! (you quickly learn which child is calling for you like you learn the cries of your own newborn baby)
“Почему?” – Why?
“Я понимаю, что спать сложно.” – Because I realize it is difficult to sleep. (And you know what she needs, a little love, and her mom is probably busy getting her room painted, so you happily step in)
She woke up, she is scared. It is dark, and it is lonely. She is excited and nervous. She wants to call for a mother she doesn’t have to tell her it will be okay. So she reaches out to a mother she just met. Today they tell us “I love you, you’re the best mom”, like they have a reference. They don’t know a mother. They have no idea what a mother is or what she does. All they know is they reach out, and we reach back, over and over. We showed them we cared, we noticed they can’t sleep, and we care. We send them love and reassurance, we ask how their day was, and what do they want to talk about. We reach out and give them a person that cares. The first mother she’s ever come this close to in the wild. Maybe this is MY mother she asks herself. Maybe this is MY family. She hopes and prays. This is the closest taste to hope she’s ever had, and she really likes the way it tastes. In 5 days she’s going to show her new mother she’s the bravest girl of all. She’s going to get on a bus or train, she is going to ride for 8 hours to reach the capitol of her country which she has only seen in TV before this HostUkraine came to her village to change her life. She will assemble in line with strangers wearing “Proud Host Family” shirts, she will put on her bright yellow “HostUkraine” shirt so the staff will know if they’ve lost her, and she will board the biggest airplane she’s ever imagined existed. She’s going to do this, totally brave, completely obedient because she needs to show her new mom she’s worthy. She thinks love is something that must be earned. That her skill sets will determine how much love she deserves. Bravery is the top. The braver I am, the more they will like me, and maybe then they will be my family.
They will get off an airplane, and be greeted with a poster. The posters are brightly colored, some words they understand, others they don’t. They will walk up to their families, many for the first time, and experience their first embrace of a mother. A woman that CHOSE them. Someone that wanted them so badly they did fund raising, and advocating, and painting, and shopping, just to bring them here. This woman has never met me and already cared for me more than anyone in my LIFE.
“Я люблю тебя, мама.” – I love you mom.
“Я люблю тебя. Вы беспокоитесь о своих друзьях?” – I love you, are you worried about your friends?
“Есть некоторые” – There is some.
“Ты хороший друг, прекрасная девушка.”- You are a good friend, a lovely girl.
They go dark again. Did they fall asleep finally? Did they get ahold of someone else’s new mom? Is the staff doing rounds to make sure they’re asleep? I don’t know where they go, but they are gone. When they pop up we do our best to talk, to listen to their fears they don’t verbalize. Sometimes I’m at work, and I must message Ted “hey can you talk to the girls”, or Kara “the girls want to video chat, you free”, message heather “what do you think about..” This journey takes a village, and the village must hold up these girls as they transition from the only family they ever knew, to the families they always dreamed of. They’re scared, they’re happy, they’re gaining hope. They’re calculating how far it is from ME to TN. They’re deciding if this could be their happily ever after, both in America, both with families, families that will help them to maintain the only family that has kept them alive in school, their friends. Then they tell us, but wait, there is one more. Our friend that stays behind, we love her, we want to send her present. She is also our family. We smile and we agree to shop for another girl, we participate in group chats and video calls, and watch girls giggle who have had nothing to look forward to in a long time. We watch the flowers starting to blossom.
This is my story on giving hope to Alina.
Steph is a mother, nurse, photographer, and advocate. Learn more about us Here.