I was born in a country which no longer exists, what is now Ukraine. I spent most of my childhood in Kiev and one year in Riga, Latvia. I am a Jew by nationality, but didn’t know this fact until I was 8 years old. I was raised an atheist. From the age of about 12, I started to question why am I living in this world. It provoked such a curiosity within me, that I eventually gave my life to Christ at the age of 19.
My passion for orphans began when I was 14. At the time, I lived in Riga, Latvia, formerly a republic of Soviet Union. I was in the hospital where I met my first orphan, a 6 year old girl named Irina. Irina was raised by her grandmother because her parents were alcoholics. A few weeks before I met Irina, her grandmother had died. The police found her wandering the streets, cold and sick. They brought her to the hospital where I was staying.
I took Irina under my wing. I read her books, did her hair. When I was sent home from the hospital I begged my parents to adopt her. I promised to take care of her myself! But they could not do it. It took me sometime to locate the phone numbers of local orphanages and call them to find Irina. I then talked my mother into taking me there and bringing toys and books my sister was willing to give up. I spent time with Irina and we had fun. At one point, Irina began to cry and I asked her why. She asked, “How come you found me, but my mother never did?” She had no idea about her parents’ problems.
Soon after, our documents came through to leave Soviet Union, and my family left the country. I was then 15 years old. Eventually arriving in the US, I never forgot Irina. I am still looking for her on social media sites.
Many years have passed since then and so much has happened in the years which followed. In 1994, I married a wonderful man, Sean, who also shares my passion for orphans and helping others. Together, we have worked with different groups of children and organizations. We had 5 biological kids, then started fostering, and eventually adopted 4 more. At present, 2014, we have 8 kids still at home ages 11-17. We live outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In December of 2010, after 20 years of living in the US, I had an opportunity to travel back to Ukraine. While there, I visited an orphanage for a week in a remote part of the country. I chose that specific orphanage because of a friendship I developed over the phone with one of the kids there named Vlad. I met him while translating calls for someone who visited the orphanage several month before. That trip made a huge impact on my life, my family, as well as many others. I spent a great deal of time with kids and their caretakers. I even wrote a 20,000 word blog about it! When I returned to the US, I realized that I could not just leave them as they were. There were so many needs and I had to do something to help. After looking into working with other organizations, my husband and I realized that the best plan of action was to start our own.
When it came time to name our organization, many names came to mind which were already taken. Our friends suggested we call it Marina’s Kids, because I always refer to the kids in the orphanage as my other children. And so, on March 1, 2011 “Marina’s Kids” non-profit organization was officially born.
We are not the only organization that works with orphans in Ukraine. As a matter of fact, we work side by side with several others. However, we are the only one that covers such a large territory, at present we are in over 25 locations and impacting over 1,000 kids. We also have different projects that include orphan assistance, follow-up with kids into their early 20s, medical care, help with documentations, hosting programs, as well as training for volunteers on how to work with orphans.
As the president, I find it helpful to understand both Ukrainian and American traditions. On the Ukraine side, it helps to be seen as “theirs” so trust can be built more easily and I am informed of things which might be viewed as embarrassing to foreigners. Also, I am able to build rapport and go deeper into the hearts of children and caregivers than others who are not Ukrainian. At the same time, being an American helps me explain to US citizens why things are done in a certain way. I am able to build a bridge between two cultures.
Marina’s Kids go where most would not venture due to distance and bad road conditions. We go where we are needed most!
Marina’s Kids future goals include providing summer camps for children and homes for young single mothers. For now, we work in Ukraine, but due to Crimea recently becoming Russian Federation, our Crimea location now puts us into a second country. We eventually plan to spread from Ukraine to other former USSR countries and beyond.
I would like to encourage you to join us in helping those less fortunate than ourselves. The needs are great and we need many volunteers. You can see more of what we do on our site www.marinaskids.org and on our face book page.
President, Marina’s Kids