The Tragedy of Ukraine’s Orphans
How You Can Help!
One of my best friends Jon Gress recently forwarded an email displaying his support for the children of Ukraine. I’ve known Jon for nearly 30 years. In all of those years he has never displayed this level of passion for a cause. As I followed the path of information he laid out, God spoke to my heart and compelled me to share Jon’s endeavor with the readers of Rocking God’s House.
There are times in our lives, when we get caught up in “the everyday”; our thoughts focus in on the events of our lives: the tasks and problems of everyday life and work, our relationships, raising our children — the list could go on I’m sure. It’s easy for us to get distracted and forget about the less fortunate. While we may pass the homeless on the street and pat ourselves on the back for giving them a few dollars for a meal, sometimes in life we are confronted with an experience or situation that hits so close to home that its impact rocks us to the core; it’s a poignant, overwhelming blast of emotion. We are shocked “back to reality,” and we are compelled to take action and do something to help — especially when it’s innocent newborns and infants who are the victims looking into your eyes.
My friend — movie writer/producer/director/VFX producer/author and musician Jon Gress — was impacted by just such a revelation. Jon then took the initiative to create a campaign to raise money and awareness. The goal? Assist with the completion of an Intensive Care Unit for an infant orphanage in Mykolaiv, Ukraine and to secure grants to continue to help these infants and toddlers.
Can you tell us about this charity campaign and how you got involved with this orphanage so far from home?
Well, Abbie, about five years ago I met an amazing guy named Mark Davis who is a lot like you and me. He’s a musician, writer, produces movies, he is an incredibly intuitive life coach, and he is married to a wonderful woman, Anna, from this same small town in Ukraine. Mark’s dad is a pastor, and Mark has, no doubt, gleaned so much wisdom and insight in his life from his family and passion for helping people. He’s the most knowledgeable and intuitive guy I’ve ever met. Over the years I’ve helped Mark and Anna however I could with donations, graphics and video work, whatever I could, for their non-profit organization Abundance International, Inc. as they’ve struggled to do their best to help these very small children in a very real personal and direct way. I was so touched that they have taken it upon themselves to personally get these children the help they so desperately need. I’m sure you are all aware of the difficult situation facing the people of Ukraine. But what many may not know is how all of this geopolitical and financial turmoil is affecting orphaned children in Ukraine. Infants, toddlers, and children who have no say so in where they are or why they are likely to be confined to an orphanage until they are 16, at which time they are pushed out on their own. This orphanage is home to approximately 140 children at a time, from only newborns to just four-years-old. It is the drop-off center for unwanted children of which at least one third have special needs with physical disabilities. Unlike here in the West, there is no foster care system, the application process for adoption in Ukraine can take up to two years, and very few are adopted every year.Many of the infants dropped off at an orphanage are rejected because of their physical disabilities. The government of Ukraine is only able to provide minimal provisions and does not provide enough funding to cover even some necessities for these babies, such as diapers, some of the more expensive drugs that are needed, rehabilitation equipment, and neither do they cover any expansion or renovation projects. Without the needed medicines and physical therapy equipment provided by Abundance International, many of these children would be physically scarred for life, and some wouldn’t even survive. It takes nearly 350 workers to run this orphanage for these children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are no “off days.” Half of these are volunteers and the other half are paid minimally. The director of this facility has been there 35 years — it is her life’s work. But after four-years-old, they go to the next orphanage, and at age 16 they are pushed out on their own. Some may get jobs and make it work. Others may become involved with drugs and crime.Mark and Anna’s organization has worked so hard and done so many amazing things to provide these necessities, diapers, rehabilitation equipment, and they are only a few thousand dollars away from being able to complete a badly needed new Intensive Care ICU unit for the orphanage — an ICU unit that they’ve been able to begin building. They have also begun the search to write grants to be able to continue to help these children — and hopefully the older children and exiting teens next.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, English Standard Version).
I know you said there was a “big impact” moment for you. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, there really was. It’s truly incredible how something as small as a single photograph can impact you, spin your world around, and make you suddenly see how lucky we are and refocus us outside of ourselves and to “what can I do to help?” As a father, even donating when I could, and helping wherever I could, watching the plight of these infants and toddlers has been heartbreaking for me.
But a few weeks ago Mark sent me a photo of him holding a beautiful four-day-old baby, who happened to have been born with a cleft palate (so was abandoned at the orphanage). The impact of this one small image hit me like a train, and I broke down in tears. Mark didn’t know it when he sent me that picture (in which he too was holding back tears), but my two older daughters had been born with clefts and are perfect in every way. I suddenly had this horrifying realization that had they been born there…that THAT would have likely been their fate and that the newborn Mark was holding could have very well been one of my daughters in his arms! I couldn’t help but imagine their entire lives, growing up in this orphanage and being pushed out onto the street at 16. Every cute moment, every birthday wish and candle, every graduation, every Christmas, every hug, every kiss, every time I wrapped my arms around them and told them I loved them: suddenly I imagined it all vaporizing into smoke and the air, leaving only a lifetime of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness behind.
As a parent, those thoughts and mental images were devastating to me. A beautiful innocent baby condemned to a life sentence for something he or she had no control over. I knew I had to do something more, anything more, than I could alone. So I started this INDIEGOGO charity campaign so that WE together as a loving community can do something more for these children. This verse came to mind: John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Suddenly, these weren’t “those babies,” these were “my babies,” and I HAD to do something.
You are going over there yourself soon right?
Yes, I am going over to volunteer and to shoot video of the progress of the ICU construction so far and will be going back over in a few months to video the results of what we, together, have accomplished with this campaign so that everyone can see firsthand the results of their generosity and support. I think that’s so important.
What are the goals of this campaign and how much time do you have left?
The goals of the campaign are to raise enough to complete the Intensive Care Unit for these children and help us fund the professional international grant writing assistance needed to be able to make sure these children can always be given the care and hope that they need. We only have 7 days left, and have a long way to go.
Any words you’d like to say directly to our readers?
Thank you, yes, Abbie. There are times in our lives when we need to do the right thing. Helping those in need — infants, children, and those who are underprivileged — transcends all geographical and political boundaries wherever it’s needed no matter how far away or inconvenient. Please help us to provide for these little ones in Ukraine, these little ones who have been rejected who can’t provide for themselves, and to give them a good start at life in a nurturing environment. Your pledge will go directly to the completion of the Intensive Care I.C.U. unit, providing necessities such as diapers, medicine, and physical therapy equipment and to help us acquire grants. These grants will not only ensure that the orphanage can help these children today, but for every tomorrow as well.
If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Please pray for my friend Jon during his upcoming time in the Ukraine, and please find it in your heart to support Jon Gress and the orphans of Ukraine. God bless!