“I came to the baby orphanage when I was two months. This is when my mother started to drink and she left me”
This is the truth for Alina. She has literally never known a mother. She’s never been celebrated or consoled by a family. She’s never had a birthday, or been shopping, or seen a horse in real life. She has no reference for the summer she is about to have.
This girl comes to me with ideas of what a mother is from what she has collected over the years. A grain of sand she has picked up in a movie, or in a story from a friend. She has this small handful of sand wrapped tightly in an envelope of dreams that she’s imagined, my Ukrainian version of Annie.
“I went to Kiev two times to prepare for my trip to America! This is the only time I have been outside my school”
She is excited and she is very nervous. She has been staring out her window for 14 years waiting for a miracle, for her family to come. She has read every book she can to gain perspective. She has learned to read in two languages, despite access to quality formal education. She surrounds herself with stories of the world for which she has only longed yet never lived. She has been waiting for this day for 14 years, and she won’t let her reservation steal any grain of sand from her dreams becoming reality. She has insight beyond her years, and intelligence no one suspected. She has a focus that has kept her candle burning dimly, through the darkest of days. She doesn’t want pity, she just wants a chance.
She tells her friend to ask us to stay. “Alina wants to be with you forever, she doesn’t want to only visit, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”. Yes, I understand. I understood before we picked Alina from the list. We understood when we learned of the human rights violations in these developing nations. We understand her desperate pleas to have any hope at a real life, based on the statistics. We understood this question would be asked, we anticipated it as you anticipate your baby to take her first steps, but are you ever ready? We see her years of hard work against all odds to be as educated and normal as possible. We understand the journey to keep her forever, and we know it is not an easy one. Has the years of hardship prepared us for this fight? How can you explain the ache you have for them, that your red string has lead you right to a small orphanage in a tiny city in Ukraine. How do you explain the journey your life has taken from being alone at 15 to a mother of 5, maybe 6? What do you tell a girl that hopes you will be her everything.
She asks me the questions she can think of, which isn’t much. She can’t even think of what she might not know, what she might be interested in hearing. I offer her some reassurance, although she doesn’t ask for it, she has learned to avoid weakness. “This is your bedroom”, “We will buy the clothes you need”, “You will be safe here and we are happy you are coming”.
“You are so nice to me! I love you Mom! You are the best mom!”
She has no idea. She doesn’t and may never know the work that this has taken to raise enough funds to cover her plane tickets and visa. She doesn’t know the fundraising and tears shed over this struggle. She doesn’t know it will cost over $35,000 for her to stay here forever, and close to a year of paperwork. She doesn’t know we still have payments to make to fund her summer. She doesn’t know the work HostUkraine volunteers are doing to make her dreams come true, for her to just know a family. She doesn’t need to know these things. This is our burden. This is what we do because it is right, not because we want anything in return. Wanting to provide her with a chance doesn’t fix our funding shortage, or our fear about how this can possibly be pulled off.
She doesn’t know we are also scared, because we are also trained to be brave. We are the leaders and we will fearlessly console these children. We will navigate conversations and answer questions as carefully as we can when dancing between languages. We will tell her we will do everything we can for her. This is the truth.
But will everything we can be enough? Will we raise a community and find the funding? Will we get two governments to give us their blessings? Will we come to Ukraine for her like she dreams?
Only time will tell. Until then we push through, and we look out our window waiting on our own miracle. If you feel called to participate see our donation link.
Steph is a nurse, mother, thinker, advocate. Learn more about the Howe family Here.