One of the reasons why I am writing this is to tell you about my trip back to my homeland Ukraine. Before I talk about that, let me tell you a little bit about myself. My Ukrainian name is Larisa and I am 16 years old. I was born in Kyiv, Ukraine and about 11 years ago I was living in an orphanage “Vorzel” in Ukraine. My biological parents had abandoned me at birth, and had given up their rights as my parents.
I vividly remember when I was 3 years old in my orphanage, and most everything that had happened from then on. I think one of the major reasons I remember so many details of my life in those early years stems from the enormous transition I went through, from living in the Ukraine to moving to the United States of America.
I have gone through quite a lot in my life, having faced many struggles when I was very little. If there is anything in my life that I have learned to value, it would be love. Love to me is like the air I breathe. I can’t live without it. Love is something that makes me feel that I am cared for, and that I will always have that person next to me who will never let me go, whether it be my family, my friends, or someone I will be in a relationship with.
One of my early memories from those days in Ukraine was not knowing what love was, or how it felt to be loved. Being so little and knowing that the only person I had in my life to depend on was myself is something a child should never have to think about. Coming to America and meeting my new family was a dramatic change for me. It took me awhile to understand that I had this wonderful family that was there to love me and support me. As I got older, I began to more deeply appreciate what my adopted parents have given me, how much they have changed my life, and the opportunities they have given me that I would never have been given had I remained in Ukraine.
I am currently in Ukraine as I write this. The first week I arrived here, I took a bus to go to an orphanage where I was once living many years ago. Coming back to my orphanage definitely caused a tremendous amount of emotions for me. It brought back a lot of memories from my childhood, from playing with the little kids outside on the playground, to sitting on the couch watching T.V. all together. The orphanage is separated by buildings in terms of the child’s health (Physically or mentally disabled and healthy kids). The whole reasoning for going there was to spend time with all the children playing with them, reaching to the children, and telling them about God.
I believe that having God in your life makes you realize not only who you are, but who God is. God has opened my life to whole new world having been here. I used to ask myself when I was little, “why is it that all these bad things are happening to me, and I feel like no one’s there to help me?” When in reality God has always been there.
About a week after being in Vorzel, I took a trip to a camp that was about 4 hours away from Kyiv, and that’s when everything hit me all at once, and everything I used to think had completely changed forever. The conditions of this place were mind blowing. Some of us go to sleep in a comfortable big bed, with enough sheets and covers to keep us warm throughout the night, and don’t consider it as the biggest thing in the world to be able to have. I got to sleep in a small single bed, with a mattress that was so thin you could feel the metal wires pressing up against your back, and that was considered to be lucky to have something holding up your mattress. I used the restroom outside, as for so many other people in this world who flush there toilets without even thinking, “what if my toilet didn’t flush”. I had to buy my water because the water there was not healthy to drink, and I drank every last drop of my water, as for most people who fill their cups of water and drink two gulps of it and dump the rest of it in their kitchen sink.
Do we as people take things for granted?
In this camp the age group varies from as young as 1 to 19 years old. You enter this camp thinking that these are just regular kids, some who are just bored, and others who don’t even want to be back at the same camp they were in last year, when in reality each and every one of those kids there has a story you don’t know about. Stories that will bring tears to your eyes, stories that will make you wish you could do something more for them, and most of all stories that will make you realize how lucky and more appreciative we as people should be towards what we have in life.
I woke up one morning and it was about 6 am, and I wasn’t feeling to great, but wasn’t feeling bad either. I guess you could say that’s a pretty typical reaction to have after having 4 hours of sleep, but anyway I walked to meet up with the rest of the group from the church, and had a good 30 minutes worshipping God. While I was listening to everyone’s prayers, something inside me hit that place in my heart and feeling the emotions of what the people around me were having including the ones I was feeling felt as if my chest was about to burst. I have not been able to cry like that in front of anyone in a very long time. I think that goes to show you how much this place changes you and how amazing these people are. That was the day I realized that God really is the bigger person, and that feeling you get when your crying is so strong, and it felt like I had so much inside me that needed to come out, to the point that I couldn’t even stay in that room. That was also the moment I realized that God never puts too much of something on our plates that we cannot handle. I may not always understand why he does what he does, but I know that I can trust him and that I need to hold on to my hope and faith no matter what happens.
I also had the wonderful honor of meeting some very genuinely nice people that I am beyond happy I got to build relationships with for the last two weeks. I wanted to let you guys know that it means a lot to me you all have been supporting me and helping me get through these rough past couple of weeks. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.
Throughout my whole life I have always tried to understand as much as I could about things that happened, and what I have come to realize is that there are some things in life we won’t ever be able to figure out no matter how hard we try to understand it. I have accepted the negative things in my life, and no longer see my past as something that haunts me, but as something that has only been supporting me all these years. Ever since I can remember, I have always been the person that loved to help in some way or another.
A dream I have is being able to tell teenagers about my story, and give them a different perspective on how I look at life. I want to help them understand from hearing my story that no matter what obstacles they may face in life, and no matter how many hard times they may go through in any given situation, that things always turn around and, in fact, do get better. I believe that life was intended to be imperfect for a reason. We all go through heartache and disappointment and those rough patches in our lives that really hurt. But who would we be if we did not go through these hardships, as well as the feelings they generated? We wouldn’t understand how it feels to lose a loved one, or to appreciate what we all have in our lives.
Life is the most beautiful gift that we were all given. Of course we make mistakes, and yes, we all have our bad days, but the positive and negative things in our lives balance each other out. God knows us more than we know ourselves, and coming here made me understand more of who I am, and where I come from. This has truly been a life changing experience, and is just the beginning to a new journey in my life.