In Ukraine, after the 9th grade, children living in orphanages age-out or “graduate” and hopefully move onto a new institutional setting. We say hopefully, because education beyond age 16 is not mandatory, and many kids without a support system or even the most basic help simply disappear into a street life of gangs, prostitution, drugs or worse. Recently, we discussed the disturbing situation of orphans in Ukraine.
All of us at Hope Now encourage all of our orphan graduates to enroll in a state-run Trade School where they can have a place to go, learn relevant job skills, live in a dormitory and receive a small stipend to live on. We hope this will be in the town of Cherkassy, where our office is located and where we have a whole team of mentors and volunteers willing to help these vulnerable kids.
However, for ease of paperwork and perhaps a financial incentive, most orphanages encourage their 9th graders to stay together and enroll at the easiest Trade School around. This is not necessarily in the best interest of the child, and many kids find themselves geographically positioned in even more remote locations enrolled in courses that are training them to become tractor drivers, waitresses or domestic helpers. At the end of their Trade School career, there is no job placement provided, and usually very little chance of employment in the remote villages where their trade schools are located. Most of these young people have dreams and aspirations of a better life, but with no marketable skills in a dead local job market, many of these orphan graduates sink back into the same cycle their own parents carved out and produce a new generation of kids that grow up in orphanages.
What can we do? Well, we know that kids have a better chance of survival and success if they are in a thriving town, with access to quality higher education, with a good support system and the probability of jobs after graduation. For our orphan graduates, we feel this means Cherkassy! So, recently, we invited some of our 9th grade boys to go on a college trip! Jenia, Artem and Maxim spent a few days with us in Cherkassy, where we visited a Trade School, Technical College and Polytechnic – all of which offered interesting courses for professions such as plumber, welder, construction worker, software tester, junior programmer and much more!
Many orphan graduates have been told that Cherkasy is a huge lonely city with complicated bus routes, expensive food and academically challenging Trade Schools. They are told it will be too hard for them to navigate – in every way. We decided to crush those rumors! The first stop for our trio of boys was of course, McDonald’s! None of the boys had ever heard of McDonald’s but they sure enjoyed it! For a teenager, who can beat the delicious food, the clean bathrooms and the free Wi-Fi?
Then, we started our tour of Trade Schools and colleges for 16-18 year olds. The boys were surprised, when at each school, we were welcomed by currently enrolled students (who we know personally!) who greeted us, were our tour guides and promised to help the boys next year if they enrolled in their school. Jenia and Artem were excited to learn about the career of being sanitary technicians (plumbers) whereas Maxim liked the action of being a welder.
The boys also learned how easy Cherkassy’s bus system is to navigate, and they quickly figured out all the major landmarks. They enjoyed seeing the sights, the beautiful city squares, beaches and architecture. Attending our Youth Group was possibly the highlight of our excursion, as the boys had the chance to talk personally with older graduates from Shpola who are currently studying in Cherkassy. We had 23 people at our Youth Group, and the boys really enjoyed the food, music and fellowship with other kids from Shpola. Many of the graduates encouraged the boys and told them how much their own lives have changed for the better since they came to Cherkassy, and have been a part of our support group.
Without Hope Now, and our Orphan Graduate Program, these kids would not have a loving, Christian support system with people who show that they really care for them. We take these kids to the dentist, doctor, shopping, to church, give them counseling, sometimes provide housing, sort out their orphan benefits and act as their loving Mom and Dad if they had them. We teach them how to make decisions, give advice and help them solve their problems when they make mistakes. There is also a financial aspect, and each graduate receives some pocket money each month, as these kids have to eat!
We are grateful that God has brought us a good group of Shpola graduates who are with us in Cherkassy, and who are being molded into the godly young people He wants them to be. We prayerfully hope for monthly financial supporters like you, who will help us reach out to all of our Shpola Orphan Graduates…past, present and future! Can we count on you?
Danny and I had the opportunity to go back to Kompas Park Youth Camp in Ukraine this summer, and it was an encouraging week for many reasons. Both of us have volunteered at camp multiple times over the years (this was Danny’s 12th year!), and we praise God that He’s allowed us to be a part of this ministry over the years. There is something truly relaxing and peacefully familiar about driving through Khreschatyk Village into Kompas Park.