There are very few things in life that compare to the emotional journey of international adoption. I am sure everyone has something in their lives that has effected them so profoundly that it is truly life changing. It just happens to be that spending time in a Russian orphanage during the process to become a parent was mine. I distinctly remember walking up and down the hall with Oleg and a little group of children walked by and they all started calling out, “Mama! Mama!” as they saw me. How can that not change you?
Many people asked me if the reason I was coming to Russia was for another adoption. It is not. I would love the opportunity to adopt again, but Russia is not the country for us the second time around. Just as I knew in my heart that my first child was in Russia, I know that my second child (if he or she is out there) is not here. It made it only slightly easier to walk into a shelter full of orphaned children. It still was not easy.
We started our journey at about 10:00 a.m. Galina arrived to pick me up at the hotel and with her was another Galina (the president of the Slavyanka Women’s Society) and Irina, a local journalist and my Galina’s best friend. I needed to exchange money first so we headed to a bank. The first bank was closed so we found another. The second bank was open and I gave them my passport and the cash I wanted to exchange. it was taking forever and Galina came back into the booth (in Russia the banks have little booths you do your transactions in). The teller explained to her that she could not find my country in her computer system. I knew the Republicans were pissed about the election, but I didn’t know they set out to wipe out the whole country. I didn’t need a receipt so she exchanged my money and we were on our way.
It is about an hour and 30 minute drive to Khor. Galina explained that Khor is not really a village, but it is not really a city either. She could not think of the exact word in English. Also, I should mention that the true letter for translation for the town is Hor (in Russian it is written Xop). The X in Russian makes a Kh (a hard h) sound and on google earth it is spelled Khor.
When we arrived we found the director’s office and set down our things. The facility is laid out exactly like Oleg’s baby home. I flood of memories came rushing back. The facility is well taken care of and many of the rooms and areas have brand new energy efficient windows. They told me they spend a good deal of the money they receive from the government on the upkeep of the building.
We were shown around every nook and cranny of the facility. There is a sewing room where the older children are taught how to tailor and make clothing. They take great pride in the work they do. We visited the music room where they have a room full of costumes they use for holidays and such. Of course they made me play dress up and took photos of me.
At the end of a hall was the large lunch room. We happened to be there during lunch time. We walked into the room and all of the children were seated having their lunches. I was introduced as a friend from America and in unison all of the children said, “Zdrast-veets-yah!” It was utterly heart melting. I could have stayed in there and interacted with the children for hours. I wanted to photograph each and every one of them so no one felt left out. I wanted to talk to the older ones and ask them about their hopes and dreams. I wanted to hug each and every one and tell them that things may suck with their parents, but there was someone in the world who loved them and cared about them. It breaks my heart. No child should be put in the situation they are in.
The Khor facility is quite unique. They are a temporary shelter for the children. There are 76 children between 2 facilities. There are 52 in the main facility and 24 in another. The children all live here for a short period of time. Sometimes it is as little as 3 months. Typically the children return home when conditions improve. Over the course of a year the facility will care for roughly 300 children. There are lawyers, social workers, psychologists, and doctors all working to not only improve the lives of the children, but to help the families through whatever situations put them in the path of the facility.
Many of the children are in Khor because they have been removed by the government due to alcoholism in the home. The staff at Khor will care for the child during their stay, but they will also seek rehabilitation help for the parents. They work with the parents to get sober and to teach them what it takes to be a good parent. Many times this works, but occasionally a child will return to Khor and they start the process all over again.
I am the child of an alcoholic parent. I know first hand what this disease does to a child. I experienced it. I’ve watched my brothers and sisters struggle through it. It is not something I wish for any child. Ever. The staff at Khor genuinely care for the children here. They make the money they receive from the government go very far. However, there is one very important piece of the puzzle missing. The piece is play.
There is artwork everywhere in this facility. Artwork by the staff, by the children, everyone. What is missing are toys. There are empty shelves. There is a large play yard with very little to play with. There is very little joy here. I asked the vice-director what they needed most. A play structure. Over and over again, a play structure. It is a very large piece of the puzzle that will greatly improve the lives of the children who pass through the doors of Khor.
In years past we have given children Christmas. We have given them birthdays. As we move into the season of giving I’m asking you to look deep inside of your heart and to please consider giving to Sweet Hope. This year you will be helping to give a childhood to nearly 300 children who need nothing more than for one moment to be a child.