A Path–Breaking Conference: Ukraine Without Orphans
Cristi Hillis Slate
The Ukraine Without Orphans Alliance held its first conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, 11-13 November 2010. The meeting was attended by over 500 pastors, Christian leaders, and other believers who all desire to see Ukraine become a country without orphans. This Alliance has been a dream of many of the key orphan care leaders in Ukraine for a number of years. Attempts were made to move forward in years past, but the timing was never right. This past year, however, everything seemed to come together—finances, a great staff, and a unified vision.
The president of the Ukraine Without Orphans Alliance, Ruslan Malyuta, is a highly capable man who has worked with orphans in various capacities for a number of years. At the conference, he defined the vision of the Alliance: To see Ukraine as a nation without orphans, where the Christian community is aware and mobilized to make a difference in the life of every orphan. The goal is to see Christians, churches, and organizations working cooperatively to reach every orphan with genuine Christian care, to provide an opportunity for every child to live in a loving family, and to prevent the abandonment of children.
In addition to Ruslan Malyuta, the Alliance board includes a diverse group of concerned activists who, working together, were instrumental in the formation of the Alliance:
• Roman Korniyko is president of Father’s House, an outreach and rehabilitation organization that runs two residential programs, including foster homes for 35 children, promotes adoption, and provides humanitarian aid (www.otchiy-dim.org).
• Steve Weber is president of Emmanuel Mission, a branch of CBN in Ukraine. Its Gift of Adoption program supports children in orphanages, provides life skills training for orphan graduates, and assists with adoptions (www.adoptua.org).
• Peter Dudnik is a pastor, founder of You Will Be Found Orphanage, and director of a program to promote and assist in-country adoption (www.adaption.tv).
• Gennady Makhnienko is president of Pilgrim Fund, which provides rehabilitation for children at risk, especially those with addictions. In addition to its large rehabilitation center for children, Pilgrim Fund also sponsors three family-style homes for orphans, each with 8 to13 children (www.m-x.org.ua)
.• Pavel Gladchenko is director of One Hope which identifies and trains mentors for children in orphanages. Gladchenko himself was an orphan, so his perspective is invaluable (www.onehope.com.ua).
• Alexandr Fedorchuk is director of Agape Mission which provides Bible classes for children in orphanages and runs transitional homes and provides training for orphan graduates (www.agapeua.com).
• Alexandr Gordenko is founder of My Home Foundation, which promotes adoption and family care, with a focus on special needs children
• Finally, Nikolay Kuleba is director of child services for the city Kyiv. Prior to entering government service he was president of Child Rescue, an NGO that runs outreach, rehabilitation, and placement programs for children at risk in Kyiv (www.childrescue.org.ua).
In addition to the agencies represented on the board, two other groups have effectively partnered with the Alliance: TV-Together and the International Leadership Development Center (ILDC). TV-Together is a Christian media production group led by Sergei Demidovich. It creates promotional films and video clips to encourage Ukrainian adoptions. TV-Together has worked with the Alliance to create excellent video material. Another key partner, ILDC, provides training for orphan care workers as well as for adoptive and foster families. In addition, ILDC staff has chosen the best adoption and foster care literature in English and are working to translate it into Russian to make it available to adoptive and foster families. Already ILDC has translated several books, as well as over 100 booklets. At the Ukraine Without Orphans Conference hundreds of complimentary copies of ILDC books were given to attendees.
Throughout the conference an overall sense of cooperation prevailed. While Alliance board members are a diverse lot, they still manage to find common cause. This cooperation and unity among board members contributed to a sense of harmony among conference attendees as a whole. Both Westerners and nationals seemed to share the same heart and the same vision for working together to see Ukraine without orphans. Also, all concerned were unified in the conviction that Ukrainians, rather than Westerners, needed to lead the movement.
International speakers at the conference included Dan Brewster from Compassion International, which helped to fund the meeting, Ruby Johnston from Lamb International, Steve Weber from CBN, Marek Wnuk from Sunshine Kids, Switzerland, and Karmen Friesen and Cristi Hillis Slate from The CoMission for Children at Risk. Ukrainian speakers, representing Christian organizations, the government, and many denominations, included Vyacheslav Nesteruk, head of the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Union, and Oleksei Demidovich, head of the Church of God for Ukraine.
Conference participants came primarily from Ukraine, with smaller representations from many other countries including Russia, Belarus, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Most attendees were Christians, representing either local churches or NGOs. While some Catholics and Orthodox were in attendance, Protestants formed the majority. The Alliance hopes to include more Catholics and Orthodox in its work in the future, but at this point the key leaders in the adoption and foster care movement in Ukraine seem to be Protestants.
In-Country Adoption and Foster Care
The conference focused primarily upon in-country adoption and foster care. The Alliance for Ukraine Without Orphans strongly believes that families are the best places for the best care of orphans, thus the emphasis upon adoption and foster care. At the conference, speakers ranged from painting the big picture of God’s heart for adoption to the details of how to actually help adopted children work through their struggles and adjust to family life.
In addition to speakers, a number of powerful video clips and promotional films helped explain the Alliance and its work. These films presently are in Russian or Ukrainian, but they will be translated into English in order to spread the word around the world about what God is doing through His people in Ukraine.
The Ukraine Without Orphans Alliance has the lofty goal of seeing that all children in Ukrainian orphanages who are available for adoption have homes by 2015. (It should be noted that this would not completely empty orphanages because many children in orphanages are not available for adoption. At this point, of the 100,000 children in Ukrainian orphanages, about 30,000 are available for adoption.)
One of the challenges the Alliance will have to face is opposition from government officials, particularly local officials, including orphanage directors. The latter are paid based on the number of children in their care, so they have a financial incentive to keep children in orphanages. Therefore, in order to truly empty the orphanages, some type of system would have to be created in which orphanage directors and staff could keep their jobs, but would work as social workers, helping adoptive and foster families adjust and grow. In this way, they would still be able to work with children, just not in the same capacity. The Ukraine Without Orphans Alliance is already working with government officials to try to deal with this situation. It is their hope that in the future the Alliance will serve as a voice for the adoptive and foster parents of Ukraine to lobby the government for the rights of orphans. F
Cristi Hillis Slate is project coordinator for The CoMission for Children at Risk and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.