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Ukrainian orphans get grandmotherly cares

February 10, 2005, 0:00 3862 Author: CYNTHIA SCHULTZ, JAMIE RHODES The Courier-Journal

"These children need help. ... They could be my grandchildren," said Patricia Busby, executive director of Life International.

More than once, Patricia Busby has asked herself this question: How did a grandmother of 10 from Southern Indiana end up helping the orphaned children of Ukraine after the fall of communism?

But Busby, a soft-spoken 64-year-old Lanesville resident, hasn't had time to ponder it much since 1993, when she helped found Life International with the help of an American pastor and a Ukrainian one.

She said she fell in love with the people in Ukraine in 1992 when visiting the country as an employee of Heritage Christian Travel, where her job was to set up mission groups around the world.

Busby, executive director of Life International, runs the nonprofit Christian organization from her home. The group works with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and with churches of other denominations, plus individuals and civic groups. Its theme is: "To bring glory to God by providing humanitarian aid to people in need throughout the world."

In its early years, Life International addressed the needs of the former Soviet Union, expending most of its effort in Ukraine by sending food and medical supplies, setting up eye clinics, and dispatching surgical teams to teach and perform operations.

However, in the last few years, the organization, which has about 100 volunteers scattered across the United States, has shifted its focus more to the orphans.

Busby, who has visited Ukraine 50 times, said most Americans would be shocked by the conditions in the country, where medicine is a luxury. "They don't know what a free-market economy is," Busby said. "There is a lot of corruption in the government. Ukrainians have all the freedom in the world since communism fell in 1991, and they don't know what to do with it."

"In the early '90s, hundreds of thousands of children were either living on the street — they still are — or in government facilities."

Life International works with 15 orphanages and is the sole support of a preschool orphanage in Makeevka, providing food, clothing and medical supplies. The orphanages need money for everything from fruits and vitamins to clothes, mattresses, furniture and bikes.

"Most of the children come to the orphanage with just the clothes they are wearing on their backs," Busby said. "They don't even have a toothbrush."

With inadequate resources, the orphanages are unable to provide balanced diets or warm blankets in wintertime, when temperatures often dip below zero.

"One orphanage has just enough water for a few hours of use each day. Imagine trying to care for 180 children with very little water. Most buildings are old and drafty. Many are in deplorable condition," said Busby, who has more than 1,000 heart-wrenching photos to match her stories. Children as young as 3 lived under the pavement near heating pipes to keep warm.

Still, an outpouring of heartwarming gestures continues daily. A Tennessee man paid for surgery to correct the crossed eyes of a 3-year-old boy who was found in a gutter. And a church of 200 in Kansas City, Kan., shipped 80,000 pounds of food to an orphanage.

"In all we have made 15 shipments totaling $6 million to $8 million of food, medical supplies and clothes through a program at the State Department," said Busby, who also gets help from her husband, Buzz, a retired Air Force colonel.

The office of Sen. Richard Lugar "has done a tremendous job," she said. "They have helped bring some of the people in the medical fields over so there can be an exchange of information."

Also, she said, "We started out with donations from Floyd Memorial Hospital — equipment and supplies." Since then, other hospitals have joined in, and "that has mushroomed." As for her passion and motivation, Busby said: "These children need help. ... They could be my grandchildren."

She said she has been told that she might have an edge in talking to Ukrainian officials because they see a nonthreatening grandmother who simply wants a better life for the children.

Busby is enthusiastic about Life International's new partnership with The Manna Group Foundation, run by Gary and Marla Ringger, a couple from Gridley, Ill. The foundation is covering Life International's expenses for 2004 and is matching grants up to $5,000 for international adoptions.

Dr. Tom Townsend, a member of Life International's board, who is also the major-gift officer for Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in Louisville, said that because of the inroads that Busby has made with Ukrainian officials, doors have opened for others. He will lead a team to Ukraine in June to work in the orphanages.

"Our Southern Baptist missionaries gain entrances into communities" where others haven't gone, he said.

"The board wouldn't be aware of the needs (of the Ukrainian people) without Patricia going to Ukraine and developing relationships," Townsend said. "She is ... motivated by her love for Christ and a love for people. That translates into Life International."

TO HELP

To contribute to the orphans of Ukraine, make checks payable to Life International and send them to 2241 State St., New Albany, IN 47150.

Patricia Busby can be reached at (812) 952-1224. To learn about humanitarian aid for Ukraine, call Andy Lehman at (309) 747-4515.

Happy Child foundation - effective help to the most needy children of the Zaporozhye region, Ukraine, since 2004

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