through the eyes of a grandmother

It was with mounting excitement that I waited for the arrival of my family.   The welcoming banners, decorations, streamers and colored balloons had been strung up.  The table had been set with brightly multi-colored plates, cups and napkins.  There was a wide selection of cookies, candies and chocolates waiting for my new granddaughter.

My daughter, Lynn, her husband, Eran, and my grandson, Travis had traveled to the Ukraine from Israel to adopt a sister for Travis.  Travis was 5 years old at this time and extremely excited at the prospect of having a younger sister to love, share his toys with and with whom he would play.

At last the intercom rang and I dashed out to open the gate and meet the new addition to the family unit, for the first time.  There she was, this little 2 year old girl who looked the size of a 9 month old baby.  She had hardly any hair.  Her tummy was distended.  She was clinging to her new Papa, as she called him.  That was the pattern of behavior for the first 2 days at home.  She hardly left her Papa’s side.  If she ventured off to play, she would stay within eye contact distance of Eran.  We noticed that Sasha would often fall and that when she fell, she would pick herself up and continue on her way.  She never cried when she fell or hurt herself.

At mealtimes she ate all the food that she was able to consume at one sitting.  Then Sasha would stuff food into her mouth and store food in her cheeks.  This was obviously a survival technique acquired when she was living with a limited food intake.  While eating, she would pick up every crumb dropped on the floor and consume it.

Gradually, however, change was taking place.  Sasha discovered whom to trust and to love.  She cried when she fell and went to a family member to be comforted.   She stopped looking for a hat to cover her head.  Sasha started to speak.  She grew 6 inches within the first year and gained weight.   At last she could walk without falling.  She formed a bond with the two pets in the house.  Sasha no longer ate food off the floor or stored food in her mouth.  She learnt about sharing and the meaning of “yours” and “mine”. 

The Sasha of today is a well adjusted, happy 3 year old who speaks 3 languages, Hebrew, English and Russian.  Sasha has a great sense of humor.  She is musical and sings many songs.  She is strong willed, extremely independent and has retained her  sense of curiosity.

As a grandmother, I found that Sasha opened my eyes to the wonders of the world all over again.  I started appreciating and discovering all the marvelous creations around me that I had taken for granted or forgotten had existed.   What a pleasure it was for me to watch her very first venture out into the hot, Israeli sun.  She stripped off all her clothes and ran around, laughing, falling and enjoying the feel of the warmth on her skin.  She ran to look at a butterfly or ants crawling past.  Sasha loved the birds and what excitement at any new discovery, a flower or a leaf.  

Through Sasha, life has not only been a new voyage of discovery but an adventure.  Just watching my granddaughter enjoy the daily acts we adults take for granted has been one of my greatest thrills.

When my daughter invited me to accompany her and Travis, on their trip to the Ukraine in August this year, I jumped at the chance.  To actually see the orphanage, Antoshka, where my granddaughter had spent the first 2 years of her life would be a wonderful experience.  I hadn’t realized that it would be so emotional.

The Antoshka orphanage, is situated in the city of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and is run by a very charming, old fashioned gentleman by the name of Anatoly.  Anatoly, the Director, is assisted in his duties by his very capable and friendly wife.

The orphanage, a large, rambling, old building is situated in expansive grounds.  On entering, it felt as if we were in another world.  We had stepped into a Charles Dickens novel. The interior was shabby, dark but very neat and scrupulously clean.  After our warm welcome, we were invited to tea and cake in the office cum lounge.

Finally, the moment I had been waiting for.  We were taken to see the room where Sasha slept and the adjoining section where she played and ate her meals.   We walked into the bedroom.  It was badly lit and crammed with cots that were standing side by side, with not an inch of space between them.  We asked them to identify Sasha’s cot and we stood looking at the bare mattress.  Now we understood why, at first, Sasha did not know how to use a blanket or other covering when she went to sleep, or why she would not stay in her room alone, but would slip into her parents’ or brother’s room during the night so as not to be alone.  We stood, in silence, each with our own thoughts and feelings.  My heart ached at the thought of Sasha being given up at birth.

We proceeded to the play section where about 10 children aged 1-2 years were in a large playpen.  Lynn had sent boxes of toys to the orphanage and it was so strange but comforting to see some of my grandson’s toys being used so constructively and enjoyably.  Once again, we stood deep in thought.  Travis kept saying how much he loved the babies and he spent the time happily playing with the group.  Soon he had a “favourite” and of course he wanted to take him home to join the family unit.

We saw the table where Sasha ate her meals.  Now the photograph we have of her sitting there takes on new meaning.  One of the most touching moments was when we saw Travis’s baby feeding bottles standing, filled and ready for feeding the babies.  How many times had we used those bottles, washed them, filled them?  It was wonderful to see how much all the donations were being utilized and appreciated.

I returned with a new appreciation of the desperate needs of the orphanages and of the immense appreciation shown by the Directors and staff.    We all have belongings that we take for granted.  Yet these articles mean so much to the children who are denied even necessary basics due to their plight.  I therefore admire and thank all those people who are contributing to the needs of these orphans but most of all, I thank all the men and women who have adopted an orphan and given them a new life.

Yes, my granddaughter is a very lucky little girl to have a mother, father and brother who wanted her so much and have given her a loving, caring home.


Esme is a coordinator for Life2Orphans, a USA-based non-profit that aims to improve the quality of life for Ukrainian orphans. Life2Orphans is a collaborative effort established by a group of caring individuals primarily to directly help the 420 orphans, aged 0 to 7 years,  in 4 orphanages in Ukraine, as well as ship donations cost-effectively to other orphanages in Ukraine



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