By Ray Price
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – Eyes as bright as headlights on a long, dark road. Cheeks high as mountain peaks. Teeth showing proudly in a mouth opened as wide as wide as a valley. When you see it, you know exactly what you’re looking at. It’s the face of a child who has had the best day of his or her life.
For ten orphans visiting from Ukraine, Saturday may have been the highlight of their young lives. The children are in the United States for a month. They are staying in Mobile and being fostered through Roads of Hope, an organization whose mission is to stop orphans from falling into trouble, to have fun and be kids.
Having fun is something they don’t get to do very often where they’re from.
“Over there, in Ukraine, they literally have no one so they go to bed night after night by themselves and have very little food they have almost no clothes,” said Joe Savage, the founder of Roads of Hope.
Life as an orphan is tough as it is, but life in Ukrainian orphanages rarely has a silver lining. Once they turn 16 years old, the children are on their own.
According to statistics from Hope Now USA, 60 to 70 percent of Ukrainian orphans will become involved in prostitution and organized crime. Twenty percent end up in prison. And those numbers also say fewer than one percent of those children make it to a university.
Saturday, the children visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, staring in awe as they entered Margaritaville and its vast wonderland of arcade games. Afterward, the kids visited Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, where they were served all the food they could.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for many of the orphans and one that put giant smiles on each of their small faces.
“They get one day of happiness and maybe not a lot,” said George Yuchak, with the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.
The children’s English is extremely limited so they needed an interpreter throughout the day, but they didn’t need a translator to express how they felt about their overall experience.
One young boy in particular could not stop smiling or playing with a green light-up toy he won at Margaritaville. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome so his chances of leading a normal life after aging out of the orphanage are bleak.
“I really just cried, not out of sadness but out of the joy of seeing him have so much fun himself after such a hard life,” said Savage.
So many people lent their time, money, and talents to see to it that these children from the other side of the world could have a little sunshine in what may otherwise be a gloomy life.
“This is something they can tuck away and draw on whenever they are maybe in a dark place. They’ll think about it,” said Sheila Hemenway-Yurchak, a church volunteer.
The children will return to Ukraine on August 29. Roads of Hope will keep in contact with them and the goal is to try to find them families to adopt them or someone to sponsor them.
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