From simple beginnings – Working with orphanages in Ukraine
In Ukraine today there are 6324 orphans with full orphan status – children who have lost both parents. Yet, here are also the problem of so called social orphans. Because of this, there are at present in Ukraine 22,000 children who are up for adoption because parents have given them up, or have lost their parental rights due to abuse.
This ministry to orphans was born out of an existing ministry, as a young woman worked with an older missionary from the USA in the mid 1990’s in a detention centre with orphans. A young Ukrainian man, Slavic Puzanov, began helping in the day center after a while. The two young people began to consider whether this was a work they could both continue together. Today they are a married couple, and have a vital ministry to many, many orphans.
The couple could see that an umbrella organization might be useful in order to be more effective, and remove the concerns people might have about the Protestant denomination, so they launched the Networking organization, never dreaming they would become more than just a couple or family helping orphans. But eleven years ago, they got financial help to register the organization, which is normally very expensive, and therefore almost unimaginable. The Heritage foundation was born.
That summer, they started day camps with 11-12 volunteers, going from village to village on Saturdays to hold the summer day camps. The couple’s focus however changed to orphan ministry and a couple of years later the first camp exclusively for orphans was held. It was however clear that summer camps in itself was not going to be the only answer for the vast social problem of orphans in Ukraine. The children needed to be visited – regularly. By 2012 the Heritage Foundation had open doors in 5 orphanages. That same year, Slavik joined OM Ukraine and formed a partnership with Heritage. Two years later, Slavik took over leadership of the OM ministry team in Odessa.
In the Odessa region alone there are around 5000 children living in 19 orphanage schools. Heritage together with the OM team, work with 18 orphanages in partnership with 18 volunteer teams from 17 churches who visit the children every month. OM’s role is to help recruit and inspire the churches to get involved and to cover the cost of transport, as orphanages are normally placed far from the city, taking up to four hours’ drive to reach. The churches provide material for crafts or small gifts, on the whole, but some are now taking the full responsibility and no longer need help or inspiration from the OM team. Church members are invited on training days run by the OM team to help and inspire them in their work with the orphans.
Twice a year all the volunteers are invited for what has become known as the ‘Evening of friends’. What started as an inspirational evening has evolved into a weekend of training workshops, praise and worship and fun to thank, inspire and encourage volunteers to continue serving the orphans in the province. The original task force of 12 volunteers has now grown by God’s grace and through these partnerships with churches there are about 300 volunteers reaching out to orphans in the Odessa province.
They however still do summer camps. In fact the camps have grown to serve up to 800 children each year including orphans, children at risk and children from the war zone.