I have been traveling for work, without a moment to spare, but this mission is so important to me, to the volunteers, to the families, and especially to the children I have again started the task of compiling welcome letters. Welcome letters are so important, I’m honored to be entrusted with such a task. As always I am in awe of the fierce dedication of the Host Ukraine volunteers, lead by an executive team with the hearts of gold.
The day finally arrives, you’ve done it. You got your ticket to America. This is your chance. You take your backpack, sticky with grime, evidence of your years spent in a cold dark orphanage and pack the few things you have. A pair of tattered underwear, socks that once were white, you received during a Christmas celebration when the charity visited your orphanage. Your socks have walked hundreds of miles in the years you’ve had them, but they provide a buffer, ever so slightly between your blisters on top of callouses your shoes three sizes too small continue to create. The beloved teacher gave you a prayer, printed on brightly colored paper, you read it one more time before slipping it into your bag. You don’t have much, but you’re going to a magical place, the stories bounce inside your mind like a pinball, your excitement builds with the realization soon you’ll have your own stories to reciprocate. The teens tease you, they’ve made this trip and met several families. You see the photos of their friends and family in America as they anxiously text “Mom, I’m coming!”.
Staff make the rounds early in the morning, they collect the lucky winners of a trip to America. You haven’t been able to even close your eye with all the wonder. What will it be like to go on a train, plane, see the big city. What will America look like? What will your family be like? What DOES a family act like? Will they like you? Will you know what to do? Will they keep you warm and fed? You board the bus to the train station and your mouth is frozen with the fear, excitement, and a strange feeling of hope starting to grow. The veteran friend who has their very own American family sits back and closes his eyes. He has made this trip many times, this time is the last before he goes home permanently to America.
After 10 hours you reach Kiev, travel weary without the destination in sight. You put on an embarrassingly bright yellow shirt “HOST UKRAINE” printed on the front. 100 other kids spill through the airport terminal. You cling to your backpack and look around in awe. Businessmen scurry through the hallways, announcements overhead blare through your exhausted ears. Overstimulated you sit and look around, trying to make sense of this dream. The director offers you a snack, you are relieved at a friendly face. The woman whom many have spoken about, the gatekeeper to your dreams. She smiles and gives you a warm hug. Your savior.
The announcement is made and the sea of yellow shirts start to churn, what is happening? It’s time to go. You stand in endless lines, you hold your passport and ticket tightly and you board the plane. The first time you’ve ever been away from all you have ever known.
You reach Amsterdam, a place you’ve heard of in passing once. Its big, clean, and busy. You are shuffled to an empty terminal. Again, the director and her chaperones offer you food. They walk through the terminal and they hand out brightly colored letters. You’ve never received a letter. You never had anyone notice you before the Americans came to your orphanage for interviews. You hold your letter staring in awe at your name hand written.
The other children tear into their envelopes, they smile, and dance, and show each other the contents. Inside is a letter directly to you. The first time you have ever seen a document directed to you.
Welcome Sasha! They know my name! We are the Jones family from Florida. The first time you hear your families name. Will you be a Jones too some day? We are SO excited to spend time with you this Christmas! We are looking forward to decorating the tree, baking cookies, and visiting the museum! They are looking forward to seeing me! No one has ever looked forward to seeing me before. No one has ever CHOSE me. You stare at their photo, their smiling faces, the faces of your new family for the next four weeks. You hold the photo tightly and you stare at it for the next 10 hours all the way to America. You cling to it tightly and read the letter over and over, the first time someone wanted you, the first time someone acknowledged you, the first time someone said they were HAPPY to see you. This is going to be amazing.
The veteran child opens their letter from their parents. I am happy you are reading this letter because it means you’re on the way back to me my love. I can’t wait to give you a hug I’ve missed you so much! My family still wants me. Every time I come back to America they still love me. Even when I do bad things my mom still loves me.
You are first person ever to love them for always. The first family to reach out to them at every chance, to remind them that they are loved. It is a tangible reminder to be strong. A reinforcement that you will still come for them no matter what the director says. You are their family, and they must remain strong until you come.
You hold tightly to your letter. In a few hours you will return home, to your room, to your family, and for four weeks you will be able to relax, let your walls down, and with a fully belly and a warm hug enjoy being home.
Welcome letters are like a love letter from your husband while you’re away on a business trip, like flowers at the airport. You know he still loves you, but it’s nice to have a token to hold. They are a reinforcement that your text means something. They give the feeling of being chosen, of being included in the wave of excitement that takes over the terminal in Amsterdam when they are distributed. They give the children a tangible memory to share with their friends, a photo to show, to hold. They tell your child I still love you, I still CHOSE you. Welcome letters build your relationship, they prove reliability. Welcome letters ease the nerves and give the first-time children a glance at what you are like, what it will be like to be with you for a month. Welcome letters are customer service to a group of children who are never put first. Welcome letters are important because it is essential to make the kids feel special, to remind them how much we love them, and to prove to them we chose them every time.
Kids don’t see the work of an international adoption. They don’t have a reference for the dossier prep or fundraising that goes into hosting. They don’t see the behind the scenes work that we know we do out of love for them. They need to be told, they need to feel it, and welcome letters help us to convey to them in a way they can understand Host Ukraine is family, and family doesn’t leave anyone out. Family loves, and love does.