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Orphans from “real Russia”

October 13, 2012

We left the warm weather of mid-fall in Moldova to a dreary gray and cold day in Moscow. Winter has already hinted at its arrival, but no snow has fallen yet. As we arrived and started to move through the city, I immediately sensed the changes in culture between these two countries that had both been a part of the U.S.S.R. at one time.

Chisinau (Kishinaw), the capital of Moldova was a city of 723,000-795000 people. It ha approximately the same latitude as Seattle. Contrastingly, Moscow is a bustling city of 11.5 million people. It is the 6th largest city in the world, and the most northern mega-city. There was a stark change between the poorest country in Europe to a city that holds more billionaires than any other place on earth.

Although both countries have clear signs of their roots dating back to the age of Communist rule and a different government structure, we saw much older and deeper roots in Moscow. There were many police and military officers throughout the city. At one point we jumped off the subway train too soon only to find we were at the stop for the KGB offices. And the structures were large, plain, and powerful, a sign of Stalin’s influence that still exists throughout society.

We had enough time to go to Red Square, the city landmark that might be the most well known across the world. As we wondered through the square I began to love the sights of the architecture and history that are not present in the Pacific Northwest. I wondered though why the stone square was referred to as Red Square. Was it due to the massive Kremlin wall that was red stone? Was it due to the various red buildings that also neighbored the square? Was it due to a history that I was unaware of, possible one that contained a bloody event which had at one time stained the square?  Carefully I asked our three Russian guides, leaders of Children’s HopeChest in Russia, which is also called Nadezhda Fund (Hope Fund).

I was told that the word for red is very similar sounding to the word for beautiful.

And it was beautiful.

It was also imposing.

At dinner time that evening we left the city of Moscow to head north to the Kirov region. I was told on several occasions that this is “real Russia”. Kirov, formerly known as Vyatka, is about the same latitude as Anchorage. It was founded in 1181, and was the administrative center along the Trans-Siberian Highway. Kirov region was the defensive center where many of the ICBM missiles were stored and chemical weapons were made. It was a place of exile, where many were removed from mainstream society, and sent to this region. In fact the region was closed to everyone, including Russians until 1993. There were some unscrupulous people sent to the area, but many were people that rebelled against communist rule such as authors, poets, musicians, artists, engineers, architects, and some other professionals. This created a rich culture in the region, one that still exists today.

Our purpose for coming wasn’t for the culture though, it was to see the orphans, and to learn about their plight.

There are a number of orphanages in the region. They are split into three different age groups: birth to 2-3, 2 or 3 until about 6, and 7 to 16+. We visited those that were for the older children because we were most interested in learning about what happens as there is less chance of being adopted and how the risks grow when they graduate.

There are many days of risk and fear in an orphan’s life, but the day of most risk is the day they graduate from the orphanage. I learned that some orphanages ask the children to turn in their coat and all their belongings, things given to them by the orphanage, and then they are turned away with nothing but the clothes on their back. Thankfully there are some structures in place where they can continue on to school and have housing, but further education is not a viable choice for every student.

About 15% of the children commit suicide in the first few months after graduation, some even before they graduate because they know what lies ahead. Many others end up in human trafficking or crime. These are the statistics Children’s HopeChest is trying to change. Through partnerships where a church sponsors an orphanage and each of the children in the orphanage, more resources are poured in the location and relationships are built that help tremendously.

I didn’t get to experience much of “real Russia” outside of the orphanages, tech schools, and ministry center we visited, but I saw the needs in the culture, the people, and especially in the children. They longed for love, connection, and recognition. About 90% of the orphans are not true orphans without a relative to take care of them, but instead are social orphans whose family is absent or unable/unwilling to be present every day to care for the child and provide them with a safe, loving, and secure environment in which to grow. I heard of one story where a young man’s older sister tried to pull the family back together and get him to live at home, but he choose to return to the orphanage because he knew it was at least a warm and safe environment that was not inconsistent and abusive. The orphanages provide a safety net for the children who have absent parents or provide protection from abuse.

Orphanages are not without their problems, but it provides a place where some of the children who would not otherwise stand a chance in a world that was not ready to treat them with the best of love and care.

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