Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Today I would like to introduce you to Kalinovka. If you watched my previous link to Ukraine's Forgotten Children, then you are already familiar with Kalinovka. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to watch, then I encourage you to do so. This documentary, by a British filmmaker who was able to spend six months at the facility, portrays not only the reality of life for children with disabilities who live in institutions but also what can happen for them when people take an interest in them and refuse to accept that these children are ineducable and worthless.

Kalinovka has been a home for disabled children since early in the last century. It is an old Mennonite estate that slowly crumbled and fell apart under the twin stresses of neglect and caring for severely disabled children on an inadequate budget.

Kalinovka currently houses more than 120 residents, ranging in age from four up to adulthood. By law, children must leave the orphanage when they turn 18. In practice, the director of the orphanage attempts to keep as many of the grown children as he can and provide them with some stability and care. These potential graduates of the orphanage have either nowhere to go or face a life confined to a mental institution. All of the residents have some form of mental or physical disability. These conditions include Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, blindness, epilepsy, HIV, and many others.

In many ways, Kalinovka is the same as lots of other orphanages or internats for disabled children in eastern Europe. It is poor. The government does not adequately fund it. The conditions are primitive, and the children do not receive the care, stimulation, and education they both need and deserve.

In other ways, Kalinovka is quite different. Kalinovka is run by a man named Nikolaj, a man who is bucking the established wisdom of a post-Soviet society that claims children with mental and physical handicaps are lost causes, hopeless cases for whom nothing can be done and from which nothing can be expected. I have heard it said that eastern European attitudes toward people with disabilities are 50 years behind those of people in more Westernized countries. Many people in Ukraine don't know what goes on in these orphanages; unfortunately, some that do don't care. Some hold the attitude that the best that can be hoped for with these children is that they be warehoused, out of sight of the rest of society, which takes no interest in them. In the Soviet way of thinking, disabled orphans provide no benefit to the state, so they are of no concern to the state.

Nikolaj has rejected this idea. Due to his attitude, decision, and hard work (years of fundraising and pleading on behalf of his children), changes are coming to Kalinovka.

One of the biggest changes involves the completion of what is referred to as the Happy Home. The top picture shows the structure in the 19th century, when it was part of the Mennonite community estate. The middle picture shows the same building several years ago after years of neglect and disuse. The final picture shows the Happy Home today. The Happy Home was constructed to give nine of Kalinovka's children a shot at a better life. These children live together in a family-like setting and, for the first time ever, are able to attend school! Nikolaj's stated aim is to prepare these children for a life beyond the walls of a mental institution.

The Happy Home has been running for a year, and this month construction begins on a second Happy Home for a new group of children!

Another huge change that has benefited the children at Kalinovka is the hiring of additional caregivers for the children. Due to lack of adequate government funding, Kalinovka's director has been unable to hire an appropriate number of staff. However, as charitable organizations have discovered Kalinovka, help has begun to arrive.

Maya's Hope, a 501(c)(3) registered charity that helps orphans around the world, has begun a sponsorship program for the Kalinovka orphanage. For $30 a month, you can help sponsor the salary of a Guardian Angel, a mother-figure who helps to care for the children at Kalinovka. Through the hard work of Maya Rowencak and the generosity of a growing number of sponsors, Maya's Hope has been able to provide two Guardian Angels to the Kalinovka orphanage, and they are well on their way to being able to provide a third! The monthly salary of a Guardian Angel is $200. With your help, the children at Kalinovka could have an additional caregiver to give them the love and attention they need! Please check out the website for Maya's Hope and consider donating to this worthy organization. One hundred percent of your donations are passed on to the children! Maya's Hope is, by the way, the organization through which I will be sending the toothbrushes and toothpaste that my dentist is donating.

Another organization that has worked hard for the children at Kalinovka is Happy Child, a Ukrainian organization dedicated to improving the lives of institutionalized children in its country. Happy Child is run by the indefatigable Albert Pavlov and his crew of energetic volunteers. In addition to being instrumental in the creation of the Happy Homes, Happy Child has also been able to sponsor trips for the children of Kalinovka, and they also sponsor volunteers who travel to orphanages, including Kalinovka, to gather information on adoptable children, interview the children, and publish photos and profiles so that these children have a shot at being found by their forever families. The website of Happy Child is quite extensive, and I encourage you to discover the wealth of information contained therein and support this organization in any way you can.

The orphan crisis throughout the world can seem overwhelming. Reading about the conditions of institutionalized children, watching the documentaries of their ill treatment, agonizing over their fate ... all these things can engender a feeling of hopelessness that leads to inaction and despair. 

But the news is not all negative! Every day, children are found by their forever families and welcomed into loving homes, where they will live their lives with the proper nutrition, medical care, education, and love that they need to fulfill their potential. Every day, changes are taking place in the public awareness of the fate of these children, and more people are getting involved in the effort to do something about it. Every day, the lives of those not yet found, of those left behind in the orphanages, internats, and mental institutions, have the potential to improve.

Knowledge and money. It's not just essential for adoption. It's essential for all improvement in the lives of these children, these most-forgotten and most-vulnerable small global citizens. My blog is an effort to provide the knowledge. You can help these children in so many ways. Share the knowledge! Contribute monetarily! Send donations! Speak out on behalf of these children who have no voices of their own! Together, we can make a difference for these children.

When we were in the process of adopting our son, we received from our adoption agency some literature with the header, "If not you, who? If not now, when?" The time is now for these children! The people are you! Our efforts are not in vain. Day by day, life by life, we are saving these children!

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for your support of orphaned boys worldwide!


  1. Wonderful post. I've been encouraging people to watch that documentary. Now I can direct them to this post! :)