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Posts Tagged ‘orphanage’

Photos: MoSwo PR
Despite birth defects resulting from her birth mother’s exposure to Chernobyl radiation, Oksana Masters won medals at three Paralympics in different sports: London 2012, Sochi 2014, and PyeongChang 2018.

There is so much to like in this story about a girl adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage who became a champion despite severe disabilities.

I lucked into Gary Waleik’s interview with her at WBUR radio’s Only a Game.

“Oksana Masters spent her early childhood in Ukraine. … When she was 7, Oksana stood only 36 inches tall and weighed just 35 pounds. She was malnourished, but that wasn’t the only reason she was small. Oksana was born in 1989, about 200 miles from Chernobyl, just three years after the nuclear disaster there.

” ‘I was missing the main weight-bearing bone in both legs,’ Oksana says. ‘And the left leg, I didn’t have a full knee. It was a floating knee. I had six toes. My hands were webbed, and I also have one kidney. I don’t have a full bicep on my right side. Thank God my hair didn’t get ruined. I could use a little more body, but I’m happy with it.’

“Oksana’s birth mother gave her up for adoption when she was a baby. Life was hard at the three orphanages she lived in, which were situated in the former USSR.

” ‘One of the things that I remember is, like, just that pain in your stomach from when you’re really, really hungry, and just how to ignore that feeling,’ Oksana says. ‘And sometimes you’d go to bed with no meals, or just a cup of soup, or just bread.’ …

“Thousands of miles away, a Buffalo, New York, speech pathologist saw a picture of Oksana in adoption agency literature.

“Says Gay Masters … ‘When I saw her picture, I just knew she was my daughter.’ …

“Not long after that, Oksana was shown a picture of Gay. [Then] on a freezing cold night in January, 1997, orphanage workers woke Oksana from a sound sleep. ..

” ‘I just see my mom, and she’s kneeling down on the bed next to me,’ Oksana says. ‘And I said, “I know you. You’re my Mom. I have your picture, see?” ‘ …

“Two weeks later, the new family landed in Buffalo. For the first time in Oksana’s life, there was ample food. There were toys and hugs. And there was a new language to learn. …

“Oksana did well in school. She had a restless energy that drove her to push her physical limits with the help of new prostheses. She climbed trees and jumped off steps with the neighborhood kids. …

” ‘My mom basically got me into ice skating, not necessarily to get into sports and be competitive, but have an opportunity to move and use your body and make friends,’ Oksana says. ‘And I fell in love with it.’ ”

Alas, first one and then the other malformed leg had to be amputated. Recovery after the second surgery was long and difficult.

“Then someone mentioned the Paralympics to her.

” ‘And I had no idea what the Paralympics was,’ she says. ‘When I found out about it, I went home, looked it up and then my competitive nature came out. Like, “Oh, my gosh, I can represent the United States? I can wear a flag on my back? What?” ‘ ”

Read about Oksana’s continuing quest for new sports, her triumphs and setbacks — and a moving visit to demoralized Ukrainian soldiers who had lost legs — at Only a Game, here.

And since you may be wondering what happened at the Winter Paralympics after that radio interview, Wikipedia reports that Oksana “claimed a silver medal in the women’s 6km sitting biathlon event during the 2018 Winter Paralympics.”

Oksana at the Ukrainian orphanage in 1993.

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Photo: Elisa Coltro/Facebook
Nonna Irma, of Noventa Vicentian, Italy, poses with some of the children in the Kenyan orphanage she supports.

News outlets around the world reposted this story about a 93-year-old’s outreach work as described by her granddaughter on Facebook. But I found that BrightSide dug for additional details.

The website reports, “This charming woman from Noventa Vicentina, Italy is Irma, and she is 93 years old. Despite her age, she’s full of energy and desire to change the world for the better. She decided to fly to Kenya to help children in the orphanage there. Her granddaughter shared her grandma’s photos on her Facebook page, which took over the Internet. …

” ‘Irma has always loved life and was never stopped by life’s obstacles,’ her granddaughter [Elisa Coltro] wrote. She knows what difficulties are like and has always tried to help others. Irma lost her husband at 26 and later one of her three children. Her life has not been easy, and she has always relied on her own strength to make it through.

“Many years ago she met Father Remigio, a [missionary] who has spent his life helping the people of Kenya. Irma has supported him for many years. Once she heard that Father Remigio was hospitalized, she made a decision to visit him and all the places he had built during his lifetime, such as hospitals, orphanages and kindergartens.

“Now being in Kenya, Irma helps children as much as she can. She teaches English and Math in the school of Malindi. … Her age never stops her from taking motorcycle rides. Despite all the difficulties she’s faced, she continues to enjoy life. Irma plans to stay in Africa for a few weeks, but there is a possibility that she will want to stay there for good.

“She has always taught her children and grandchildren to help others. Her granddaughter Elisa did volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece in 2016 and 2017.” More here.

One of the things I like best about the story is the sense of a network of fellow travelers. Irma’s daughter went to Kenya with her. Her granddaughter volunteers. And zillions of people loved what Irma is doing enough to share the news on social media. One and one and 50 …

Photo: Elisa Coltro / facebook   

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When I think of Russia and the words “big brother” together, I don’t ordinarily picture the charitable organization that partners adults with kids who need role models. Roman Sklotskiy has altered my mental model.

Last month, Diana Kultchitskaya interviewed Sklotskiy for the Christian Science Monitor.

“Roman Sklotskiy, a former businessman and a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, didn’t dream of having a career in charity. In the early 2000s he was a pioneer in the telecommunications industry, testing applications for mobile networks.

“But then he was invited by a friend to be the administrator of a theater for deaf actors – a charity project launched by a group of professional actors and directors. He was so inspired by the experience that he decided to pursue charitable work.

“In 2007 he learned of a nonprofit group trying to bring a United States-based mentoring program to Russia. Big Brothers Big Sisters International is a volunteer program that helps orphans and children from troubled families find mentors who provide them with a role model and help them build a healthy relationship with an adult.

“In Russia this kind of volunteering was a new idea. Mr. Sklotskiy decided to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia team and became its director, spending six years developing it. …

“The selection process for people who would like to participate in Russia’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program is strict. … Those who are selected receive training. Psychologists work with them and explain the unique demands of communicating with an orphan. …

“Alexandr Gezalov, an expert on child adoption and orphanages, says that the project is very successful.

“ ‘I’ve never seen a more effective format for communicating with an orphaned child,’ Mr. Gezalov says. The success of Big Brothers Big Sisters should be shared with other organizations, he says.

“Today Sklotskiy serves as director of charitable programs at the RVVZ Foundation. But he’s stayed involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters as chairman of the board. And he thinks it still has great potential to grow and help even more children. Currently Big Brothers Big Sisters is operating in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

More here.

Photo: Svetlana Balashova for the Christian Science Monitor
Roman Sklotskiy longed to do charitable work, and he found his calling in developing Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia.

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