Traci Heim, the Project HOPEFUL FIG Program Director, went to Ukraine earlier this month. She was accompanied by her daughters, Sveta and Hanna. The goal of the trip was to assess orphans’ needs and orphan care opportunities, as well as establish relationships with adoption facilitators and orphanages. Additionally, donations of clothing and sports equipment were distributed to organizations like Mercy Projects/Eastern European Outreach and to each of the orphanages visited.

In the following post, Traci discusses the trip.

Prior to the trip I prayed for guidance and direction; that God would reveal to me exactly what He would have Project HOPEFUL do with the information I would glean on this trip. I had firmly established contacts in Ukraine who were to make connections for me and a supportive husband willing to do without me for the next 15 days. Generous donations from The Tinley Park Bobcats sports organization and other individuals made gifts for the orphanages possible.

We left Chicago late in the afternoon on June 1st and arrived in Kiev on June 2. British Airways’ very generous baggage allowance made it possible for us to bring eight 50 lb. oversized duffel bags full of donations at no additional charge to us. Yuri, from Eastern European Outreach (EEO), met us at the airport. EEO very generously allowed us to stay in their offices for 4 days at the beginning of the trip. They also arranged for my train tickets to Donetsk. As an aside, I need to mention that through EEO, we are able to sponsor foster families in Ukraine. These Christian families take in many children who have been orphaned. Many times when local police find a child they are inclined to bring them directly to one of these homes. In one case, police found a boy who had been surviving by eating bugs he found in a field. He was brought to one of the foster families for care. The boy was non-communicative for a long time. Of all things, the father began doing push-ups with him. After a year of this concentrated attention, the boy began opening up and is doing very well. If you would be interested in getting information about these families and would like to become a FIG sponsor to partner with one of these families, please contact me at traci@projecthopeful.org. I can send you the information and get you connected right away. In a country where one child is the norm, for a family to willingly parent upwards of 10 children is almost unheard of and needs to be supported.

On Friday, Olga and Yuri drove us outside of the city and we visited a church run orphanage. This orphanage housed many older children. EEO was eager for me to meet these children and hoped that we could advocate for them. Beyond the very obvious need of not having a mom and a dad, these children were 9 or older and/or part of a sibling group. I was able to speak to the children, take pictures, and love on them just a little bit. God showed me that this situation was a severe special need. If something were not done for these children, they would soon enter the world alone, unloved, and without guidance. We, at Project HOPEFUL, have been commissioned by God to do something about it.

Sunday was a holiday, so it was recommended that we stay in Kiev. The girls and I were able to fit in a little sightseeing and souvenir shopping. Krashatick St. is an awesome place to be every Saturday in Kiev. They close off a portion of the street and pedestrians are welcome to stroll up and down viewing all the different attractions. On this particular Saturday there were belly dancers, a singing competition, and art projects that anyone could participate in. All of this culminates in Independence Square, where all are welcome to kick off their shoes and splash in the water fountain steps. It is a very entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Monday evening we boarded an overnight train to Donetsk. It lasted 14 hours. The girls and I had prepared well for this trip, purchasing water, cherry juice, as well as bread and cheese to enjoy. When we arrived at our train car, we realized we had forgotten our picnic in the refrigerator of the EEO office. So much for the best laid plans. We grabbed some cookies and 2 bottles of water from the little food kiosk right before the train left. It was not nearly as good as the meal we planned, but we were grateful to have something to eat for dinner and breakfast.

As we stepped from our train car, Masha was waiting. Masha is an adoption facilitator who agreed to arrange meetings with various orphanage directors as well as accompany and translate. While in the Donetsk region, we visited two orphanages. The first housed many different special needs. While they knew that we predominately advocated for HIV+ children, they went out of their way to introduce me to their other special needs children. These needs included Hydrocephalus, Encephalitis, Arthrogryposis, Apert Syndrome, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and brain damage of undetermined origin.
“Please,” they asked, “Could you find families for these children?”

The second orphanage housed many HIV+ children. They would stay at this facility from the age of four until eight, at which point they would be transferred to internat. Lubov, the director, described internat for me. She said it is not like her facility. Here 35-40 children lived. When they moved to internat, there would be the same number of workers, but the number of children would rise to 200 up to the age of 16. She did not want to see these children moved to internat, could I please find them families before they turned eight?

We went on to discuss the nature of the HIV virus. She grilled me with questions about transmission, how long the virus could live outside the body and what the outlook was for a person medicated versus not medicated. When I completed my answers, she offered that she knew the information to be true. After hearing about our educational seminars and printed materials, she asked if it would be possible to have this information translated for her. She explained that her workers were not educated about HIV and did not take her word for truth. They demanded that the children’s’ dishes be sanitized, along with their clothing, and they were afraid to wash the children properly for fear of contracting the virus from this basic task.

In this way, the Lord revealed another need that Project HOPEFUL can meet. I am currently enrolled in Russian Language School at a local church and will ask if someone would be willing to translate for us.
Masha then put us on another overnight train, this one headed for Odessa. It would be a 17 hour trip. Summer is a very busy time for train travel and we needed to get a little creative with the tickets. We were unable to purchase 4 bunks for our own train car, so I asked if I could buy 1 3rd class ticket along with a 1st class train car (only two bunks) and all 3 of us just stay in the 1st class car. This was an acceptable solution. So although a little cramped it worked out. We were better prepared for this trip, as we didn’t forget the food we bought ahead of time. More juice, bananas, bread and cheese. There was a little excitement at the station, there has been a bomb threat and the station was closed. Masha quickly assured me that although we couldn’t go into the station, the trains were still running and we would leave on time. (I couldn’t help but think that this would not happen in America. The entire area would shut down until all was clear.) Masha was not accompanying us to Odessa, but she had a friend, Yana, meet us there. We would hire a driver and visit an orphanage a short distance. I failed to ask just how far away this orphanage was and needed the driver for a six hour round trip drive. So I had hoped that the driver expense would be $50. It was really $200. (This was the biggest factor in our bread and cheese diet.)

Yana is another very personable adoption facilitator. Before we went to the orphanage, she arranged for us to shower and have a snack at a local hotel. Because she has a relationship with the hotel, families she accompanies to this area stay at this hotel, they allowed us to use the facilities free of charge. After the shower, it was on to another orphanage. The three HIV+ children available for adoption were currently at a hospital in Kiev receiving a special treatment. However, they would so appreciate it if I would meet and photograph some other special needs children who would really benefit from a family of their own. These special needs included what I could only assume was autism, more hydrocephalus, CP and a little boy who will require some type of hip or spine surgery. His little legs are bent up under him and he can’t use them. They sent me with an x-ray. They excitedly told me that another little boy from their facility, who had the same problem only much worse, had been adopted and received a surgery. They happily told me that they were sent a picture of him riding a bicycle! They continued to tell me how very bright this boy was and that he would thrive in a family. I photographed and took videos of all the children, promising that Project HOPEFUL and I would do our best to advocate for these precious little ones.

Then we visited a facility with older children in their teens. A number of the children here have HIV, but they didn’t want to pull them out for pictures. They explained that none of the children are aware that they have HIV; it would be too difficult for them to endure the isolation that this stigma would produce. All they knew was that they needed to take a special medicine, but as no one made a big deal about it, they didn’t either. My heart broke for the care-givers as well as the children. It is a lose-lose decision. In the fairly short term, about 8 years from 8 to 16, the children live without the burden of knowing they are HIV+ and don’t shoulder the burden of keeping this hidden, but then at 16, when they are turned out of the orphanage without any ongoing assistance or guidance, they are handed the revelation that they also have HIV. Is it any wonder that 20% of children who age out of orphanages in Eastern Europe commit suicide within the first year of being on their own?

This is the third need God revealed to me: how do we care for the children when they reach this point? What is being done for them? What can we, Project HOPEFUL do to bring them HOPE?

Oh dear Lord, I see, I hear, I understand, show me how to do it.

We got back on the train that night to return to Kiev. Yana joined us and we intended to bring, bananas, crackers and diapers to the 3 HIV+ children who were in the hospital on Monday. Even though Odessa to Kiev is much farther than either of the other train trips, it was an express train and we completed it in 12 hours. We didn’t need to bring any bread and cheese on this trip because we were hosted for dinner by the owners of an incredible Armenian restaurant in Odessa. After an incredible dinner of chicken kabobs, cheese platters, stuffed mushrooms, another regional appetizer I can’t name, along with fruit compote (a homemade fruit drink) we were too stuffed to need anything to eat before lunch the next day!
At this point, there were no other plans save the hospital trip, so the girls and I were able to meet with newly arriving adoptive families, offering encouragement, HIV education for those who were suddenly adopting HIV+ children, and giving tips and directions (sometimes escort) to the inexpensive places to eat.

As it turned out, Monday was another holiday and we were unable to visit the children at the hospital. Tuesday morning a facilitator, who had heard I was in Kiev, made the trip from Crimea to Kiev to meet me and discuss advocating for many of the HIV+ children she knew of in Crimea. Her children are already featured on our waiting children list, and every day more children are added until all 39 of them are listed.
When I left for Ukraine, it was with the very clear knowledge that God intended for me to go, but it was not clear at the time what exactly was to be accomplished. I called it the “Go and See” trip. While I was there, I met many special children with special needs who need someone to love them and call them their own.

I learned that a number of policy changes were about to take place that would greatly affect international adoption. The SDA is closing and all adoption related issues will be handles by a different ministry. It is unclear at this time how long this transition will take but the belief is around three months.

A new policy was implemented that will affect HIV+ children specifically: there is a list of special needs that any child is subject to in order to be available for international adoption. It is considerably more restrictive than the previous list, and unless a child who is HIV+ also has cancer, the child will not be available to international adoptive families until 5 years of age. This is a crushing blow to the children. Many times, these same children may be transferred to Adult mental institutions or internat before they turn 5. This makes it much more difficult if not impossible to adopt the child if that happens. Please pray for a change of policy so that these children will be freed to have a family.
To summarize:

1. Project HOPEFUL needs to advocate for many special needs as well as older children.
2. Project HOPEFUL needs to develop programs to meet the needs of children who age-out of the system.
3. Project HOPEFUL needs you to participate. We need you to be the FIG- the Family in the Gap for these children.

Are you with us?