Friday, July 22, 2011

Reuniting with an Overseas Daughter

As last summer approached, I remember reading posts on UnionCountyMommies (UCM) about upcoming travel plans, family vacations, free movie viewings, and securing memberships to the local water park. But one fellow mommy’s plans really stood out because they were so different from the rest. She was raising money to cover the expenses of a hosting a child from Belarus for six weeks.

And this year, around the same time, I saw similar posts go up again…she was planning, fundraising, and even longing to bring back that same little girl. It was clear her family had had an amazing experience, one that was worth far more than the time, effort, and money they had put into it. I was so moved by her desire to help in this way, and I wanted to get more information about the program. I wanted to learn more about children and let others know how they too, can get involved.

So I was thrilled when UCM member, Heather Efird, graciously agreed to take time out of her busy life and answer all of my questions! The program goes by the name ABRO, which Heather explained stands for American Belarussian Relief Organization. It is a national, non-profit organization whose focus is to improve the quality of life, and the health, of children living in and around areas of Belarus affected by the Chernobyl disaster in April of 1986.

The first group to come over, in 1989, consisted of thirteen children. Today, more than 300 children, ages seven to seventeen, come over each summer. Their time in the United States helps lower the levels of radiation in their bodies, boost their immune systems, and provides an opportunity to receive medical and dental care that they truly need.

The cost just to bring their host child, Alina, back this year was about $2000 she says, money that is to be raised completely by the host family. The Efirds have been able to raise the necessary fees through fundraisers with Yankee Candle, Tupperware, selling poinsettias at Christmas, and car wash tickets through Autobell, as well as soliciting donations.

The host family is also responsible for the costs of day to day living, including clothing, food, and medical appointments, just as if the child was part of the family. And it’s clear that’s exactly what Alina has become to the Efirds. In fact, Heather often refers to Alina as her daughter.

Heather says last summer Alina went to lots of baseball games that her son, Blake, was playing in. They also took her to the mountains, a local animal park called Lazy 5 Ranch, and to the beach in Oak Island, NC. Alina also attended a weekly bible study that was taught in Russian. I asked her to tell me about a favorite memory, but she couldn’t pick just one! “She comes from a low income family and lost her father two years ago. Every day was like Christmas to her while she was with us last summer.” Heather said.

Host families are still needed in order to bring more children here each summer. Heather says, “This is a life changing experience for all that are involved but it's not easy. These children speak little to no English so communication is a big hurdle. No matter how difficult the situation is...the LOVE in that child's eyes makes it all worth it.” The Efirds have been able to call Alina a few times since she left last summer, but say the best way to keep in touch is through a translator and an email address provided by ABRO.

Since this is their second year hosting through the program, I asked Heather what it was exactly that made her family want to sign up again. Thoughtfully, she said, “When we first got involved with the program I kept thinking about how much we would change this child's life forever. The thing that she will never realize is how much she has changed OUR family. I never knew how this would affect my life forever.”

As Alina’s travel date gets closer and closer, I can’t help but imagine what a wonderful reunion it will be for all of them!!

For more information on how to help with donations or to become a host family, please visit http://www.abro.org/

Originally posted by Heather from UnionCountyMommies.com on The Mommies Network National Blog, 5/26/11

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