I’ve been reflecting a lot on how Maya’s Hope got started. It’s been a long road, and I sometimes forget to share or remind others of how far we have come and the lives who have been changed…. forever.
Some people ask me, “Why Ukraine?”
I have asked myself this same question. It could have been another country. My dad is Ukrainian. My grandparents grew up in Ukraine. But it wasn’t until 2009 that I ever stepped foot onto Ukrainian soil. Even my dad hasn’t been to Ukraine, even though he has a *very* Ukrainian name. 🙂
But in 2023, I tell people it was a calling. It’s a calling that I can’t put into words. It’s a calling that I can’t describe in a 20-second pitch. It’s a calling that I don’t understand, but then these miracles happen, and you’re like…. wait, what?
That happened? And then, you realize, it’s a calling.
So, I go back to 2011. I visited an orphanage in Zaporozhzhia. I had never heard of Zaporizhzhia; I couldn’t tell you where it was on a map. But I recall that I had spent a good chunk of time in Kyiv and I couldn’t find what I was looking for.
I scoured the internet (back then, almost everything was in Russian or Ukrainian and Google translate did not exist) looking for internats in Ukraine who desperately needed help. I found one article about an orphanage called “Kalinovka” in a remote area in Zaporizhzhia.
In July 2011, I was with a translator, Tamara, and after we exchanged emails with the director of our charity partner Albert, I said, “this is my Hail Mary shot. If this isn’t the orphanage we need to help, then I need to leave Ukraine.”
We took an overnight train to Zap and we were picked up by Albert. He was very kind and had made arrangements for us to visit a few orphanages. Ultimately I would spend a few nights at Kalinovka. (I still think – what was I thinking back then?)
But with Tamara’s help, we did it and that’s when we saw what it was like at an orphanage/institution in the countryside. Each child touched my heart. Every single one. I remember the little boy with Down Syndrome who would bite my ankle for attention, the little girl with Down Syndrome who would swing back and forth, the bedridden child with reddish hair named Margarita and, of course, the firecracker who is Vanya.
Vanya was the sweet child who held my hand, smiled and was always excited. It was like every day was filled with joy for Vanya. And I remembered that joy, even after I left Ukraine.
When I came back to the states, I came up with the idea to hire private caregivers to help the current ones who were funded by the state. The newly hired caregivers showed so much love over the years and also provided a window into the world of Vanya and his friends at Kalinovka.
I always shared and celebrated his successes and let the world know he was available for adoption. The hope that he will leave Kalinovka one day lived in me for years. I just prayed that one day, he would taste true joy and happiness with a family.
And in 2019, he was adopted.
He was adopted by a family in America that loves him and has seen him blossom.
I was planning to post Vanya’s story today, but couldn’t resist sharing what his mom wrote me recently.
“Maya you should seriously go to sleep every single night knowing you have affected so many lives for the good of the Lord. This makes Him happy and His people happy. Seriously so many people get the benefit of these kids you blasted on YT and other social media. That alone is worthy of His praise! So many people love our Vanya.”
That Hail Mary shot in 2011 to visit Kalinovka forever changed my life and the lives of those kids at Kalinovka. Our work grew and in 2022 alone, we helped more than 11,000 kids in Ukraine.
It started with one kid. That kid was Vanya. Let’s help more children like Vanya.