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Ukrainian orphans educate Orange County

August 18, 2008, 10:00 6298 Author: KIMBERLY EDDS, The Orange County Register ocregister.com A special tour at the OCFA headquarters for 30 Ukranian orphans on a three week trip to the United States was sponsored by Family Hope International an organization that works to find adoptive families for orphans from foreign countries

LEADING THE PACK: Paul Guns, center, a captain with the OCFA, leads a group of 30 Ukranian orphans on a tour of the facility in Irvine

OVER VIEW: Ukrainian orphans get an overview of the OCFA headquarters facility in Irvine

HOT TIME AT OCFA: A group of 30 Ukrainian orphans, background, witness a simulated fuel fire on their tour of the OCFA headquarters in Irvine

FIREFIGHTER IN TRAINING: A Ukrainian boy gets into a fire fighting suit on a tour of the OCFA

READY, AIM, FIRE: Mickey Hansen of OCFA, right, helps Ukrainian orphans on a two week tour of the US with a fire hose during a tour of the OCFA headquarters


IRVINE - Thirty Ukrainian orphans and their four chaperones arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport last Saturday without any fanfare. Their escort to usher them to their connecting flight to Orange County was a no-show. They missed their flight. Thirty sleepy children who don't speak English and their four chaperones had no cell phone and nowhere to sleep – in the middle of New York.

"What am I going to do? I have 30 homeless children," one of the chaperones asked an airline clerk.

"That's not my problem, lady."

The children – exhausted – collapsed on the airport floor; no one seemed to mind. Hours – and hundreds of dollars later – the children arrived in Orange County and into the open arms of their host families for the next three weeks.

It was Mother's Day when the congregation at Rose Drive Friends Church in Yorba Linda learned about senior pastor Dr. Jim Le Shana and Laurie Reinhart's plan to bring dozens of Ukrainian orphans to Orange County in the hopes of educating the children – and educating the church about the desperate need for adoptive families. Reinhart adopted her youngest daughter Nadia from Russia three years ago after a friend asked her to help. "She said 'People have unplanned pregnancies all the time, Laurie, you're just having an unplanned adoption.'"

Nadia is now 8 1/2 – and Reinhart and her 20-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Le Shana, Rose Drive's senior pastor, have spent the last four months toiling away at a labor of love, the Family Hope International orphan camp.

Most have been abandoned by their parents. And if they turn 17 without finding a home, their orphanage will abandon them too – turning them out in the street without much hope for the future. Without the family ties that bind, 10 percent of the Ukrainian teenagers will be dead within a year, and the vast majority of the rest will have turned to a life of prostitution and drugs to dull the pain, according to the World Organization Against Torture, which say the number of street children in the Ukraine numbers in several hundreds of thousands.

The older the children get, the less likely they are to be adopted.

Their three-week schedule is packed with backyard barbeques, English and Bible lessons and field trips to zoos, aquariums and Sea World. On Friday, the group took over the headquarters of the Orange County Fire Authority.

Thirteen-year-old Anya's laugh was infectious as she wiggled her way into the oversized firefighter turnouts. A line of boys and girls grabbed on to the fire hose – squirting water at a wooden car. It wasn't long before they started taking aim at the firefighters. When it was all said and done, everyone was soaking wet – and giggling.

Most of the children – like 13-year-old Alyona - have never seen the ocean but that will soon be crossed off their wish list. Still, a loving family and home remains at the top of the list. When the camp is over, they will have to pack their bags, say their goodbyes and hope that their prayers for an adoptive family are answered.

"These children are supposed to be the unadoptable," said Le Shana. "But when you look at them, how can you say they're unadoptable?"

For the host families who want to adopt the children now living in their home, making that a reality will take some maneuvering with the Ukrainian government. There are no guarantees but there is hope.

"Most of them have no one in the whole round world," said Svitlana Pavlouych, one of two translators traveling with the children. "It's going to be very difficult for them to go home. They've already become so attached."

Ukraine orphans facts

- Only 10% are orphaned due to death of a parent; the rest are social orphans – due to alcoholism, abandonment or imprisonment of parents.

- Every year, more than 2,000 mothers abandon their babies in maternity hospitals. Another 6,000-7,000 more are abandoned at an older age or removed from home due to crime or neglect.

- Many social orphans have experienced abuse and violence from parents who were drug addicts or alcoholics.

- Orphans typically grow up in large state-run homes, which may house over 200 children.

- Many children run away from these homes, preferring to live on the street.

- 60% of the girls will end up in prostitution. 70% of the boys will enter a life of crime. Many of these will die young of violence or end up in prison. Most inmates contract tuberculosis in prison.

Information from Heart of the Bride, a nonprofit orphan organization based in Florida.

For more information

To watch a video about the orphan situation in the Ukraine, visit Rose Drive Friends Church's website at www.rdf.org. Read about Family Hope International's programs to benefit orphans worldwide at www.ifservices.org.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7829 or kedds@ocregister.com

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