One orphan from Uzhgorod in Ukraine had the fortune of meeting two members of a Silverdale family before they decided to become her sponsors.
“She was so excited,” said Judy Batschi, a substitute teacher. “That’s one English word they know ‘sponsor.’”
Judy and her daughter Carey Batschi, a senior at Central Kitsap High School, spent two weeks at the end of September in Uzhgorod, volunteering most of their time at the Chaslivtsi Orphanage where they met 12-year-old Elvira. “She would get a hold of both of us at the same time and not let anyone else touch us,” said Carey.
And the girl had reason to clutch her visitors selfishly — it is rare for the children at Chaslivtsi to meet their own U.S. sponsors. Most people send the money annually and correspond with the children with letters and pictures, but very few make the trip to Ukraine.
Of the Batschis’ $60 yearly contribution, $50 is spent on clothing and toys for Elvira and $10 is submitted to the orphanage for general expenses.
The Batschis learned about TOUCH (Take One Ukrainian Child’s Hand) project through family friends who moved to the Central Kitsap area from Oregon.
Uzhgorod is Corvallis’ sister city and the TOUCH project is run through the sister city association between the two.
In 2001, the first delegation of TOUCH volunteers planned their trip for Sept. 11. Because of the terrorist attacks that day the group’s flight was postponed until the end of the year.
To this day, TOUCH sends annual end-of-September delegations to the orphanage, a medical-social rehabilitation center, a children’s hospital and the New Family program placing orphans with distant family members.
“TOUCH really is more than the acronym for the organization,” Judy said. “It’s what these kids really are looking for.”
Carey agreed, recalling the first time she, her mother and 14 volunteers mostly from Oregon entered Chaslivtsi.
“All of a sudden we were plastered with 50 kids banging on the (vehicle) windows,” Carey said. “They’re so starved for attention and touch.”
The 110 or so children at Chaslivtsi are between the ages of 7 and 16.
“But they look so much younger,” Carey said. “Their growth has been stunted because of the malnutrition.”
The Batschis said most of the orphans near Uzhgorod belong to the Roma minority group in Ukraine, thus facing a double-stigma.
“It’s scary because in this particular orphanage the kids were determined to be subnormal,” Judy said.
However, mother and daughter said many of the resident-students they met at Chaslivtsi were bright children who did not appear to have learning challenges or other “subnormal” development traits.
The Batschis and other TOUCH volunteers distributed care packages, underwear and children’s vitamins sent from U.S. sponsors. They handed out quilts to the new children in the program.
Some volunteers took the children out shopping for shoes and new outfits and played duck, duck, goose at a picnic.
“The main value there was spending time with the kids,” Judy said.
To help make the sponsor-orphan time even more worthwhile, students from a local English language high school served as interpreters.
Carey attended class with them a few times. The National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalist missed the third and fourth weeks of her senior year to make the trip. But neither she nor her mother minded the setback.
“We believe the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself into service of others,” Judy said.
The Batschis had been looking for an opportunity for Carey to travel abroad when this experience presented itself.
“I didn’t want to build bathrooms,” Carey said jokingly, because her older sister spent last summer in Peru doing just that.
Instead, Carey fell in love with the city. Layers of history were peeling off of the old buildings, she said, right next door to modern-day cafйs.
She has it all planned out now. She wants to study history in college and is looking into Peace Corps opportunities to go back to the Chaslivtsi Orphanage for a longer stay.
“(Two weeks was) just enough to pick up a few phrases of Ukrainian,” Judy said smiling at her daughter’s eagerness for another trip.
Already planning a return study abroad route to Uzhgorod, Carey is almost back up to speed with her classes at CKHS — except for AP calculus which she’s still catching up with, she said.
“Even now knowing I’d be so far behind I would still go,” Carey said.