Helped Today, Helpers Tomorrow
By: George Steiner
How do you measure if your efforts are successful? That’s a question we all think about, especially when we’re trying to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by God. Probably each of us has our own measure: for some it’s numbers, for others – its the ever difficult-to-measure quality-of-life. At the dawn of our ministry my friend Katya visited Buckner, a child care agency in Texas, to learn methods we later used in creating our family centers and foster care. When she came back she was wearing a new jacket that I hadn’t seen before. I complimented her on that jacket… you know how we girls are… and asked how much it was. She surprised me by saying that it was free, yet the most valuable thing… because it was a gift from an orphan, an American orphan. Indeed, it happened that she wasn’t prepared for cold weather and didn’t have a jacket with her, so when she needed it an orphan who was a Buckner resident at the time gave Katya her own jacket. Katya and I agreed that we would be convinced of our success when “our” orphans would be able to offer such gifts.
That was a time when the kids in Russian orphanages had no hope of getting adequate education, learning life skills or how to live as a family. They grew up to be unemployed and homeless and were drawn into crime, prostitution and suicide. Over fifteen years have passed since that time and despite many positive changes in state orphan care, for most orphaned young adults and young mothers life continues to be very hard. I was shocked recently when I discovered that the minimal stipend in a university is about $60/month and in a technical school - $25/month. Of course, most of “our” kids are at technical schools. Fortunately, orphans receive free meals twice a day at their school and some funds for clothes twice a year but this assistance takes place only during school. During the summer the kids are on their own for both food and housing.
That is why we’re working hard to expand our Dachas. For our young people it’s become their home. I love to see how much work they’ve done in both Kostroma and Vladimir: hundreds of sweat hours and tasks of a complicated nature. But here’s the best thing: They not only invest their own time and labor but they help us look for ways to minimize our expenses.
Take Dima, for instance (holding the soccer ball in the picture). Dima has been coming to the Dacha since day one, three years ago. He admits that our caring mentor, Mikhail, and the encouraging environment steered him away from temptations towards a more healthy, hopeful, productive life. He used to say often, “Instead of drinking vodka in the city, I’d rather go to the Dacha”. Dima enjoyed helping in the garden and around the house but mostly he liked construction projects. He learned many useful skills that without doubt helped him get his job as a welder at a leading energy distribution company in Kostroma two years ago. Proving to be a good and responsible worker, he was recently promoted to a managing position. He now enjoys good income and a lot of respect from his co-workers. When we began to install the heating system at the Dacha, Dima talked to his company and got a 50% discount for its installation. It’s not a jacket but it will keep everyone very warm!
Like other young people at the Dacha, Dima considers it a blessing. “We learn to live and to work here”, he likes to say, as he makes it his own and contributes what he can. Our successes are his, and he is a great measure of them!