Nesting dolls in my office represent the staggering statistics for orphans. The room is decorated with pictures and souvenirs from Russia. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember the people from that place who made me their friend. Many of those people were young ones. Of course I always remember Julia and Marina with smiles. Who could help but glow when thinking of little orphan girls whose dreams of homes and families were fulfilled? The pictures of those little girls hold prominent places on the hutch above my computer desk, along with another one. In the other picture, my five-year-old daughter, Sarah, is being held by a beautiful teenaged orphan girl who stands next to her two best friends. These three young women had come to tell my daughter goodbye and the picture was shot just minutes before they walked out of her life forever. That would have been just a few short years before they individually walked out of the orphanage, to nothingness, forever; becoming nothing more than representations of the staggering statistics for orphans.
I’d like to say I wonder what happened to them but that would be wishful thinking. My mind is a practical one that allows me to think in generalities rather than specifics. “Generally,” I know what happened. Ten Russian nesting dolls descend in size on the shelf above my pictures of those Russian girls. Each one is representative. Nine of my dolls are shattered, with wood splinters bending inward to their hollow bodies. One, in the middle, is pristine.
If only statistics for orphans were better. But how can we expect them to succeed when they age out of systems, at sixteen, without their own families?
When children from former Soviet States and Eastern Europe age out of orphanages (usually at sixteen) the statistics that tell their stories are devastating. Two-thirds of the girls immediately turn to prostitution to support themselves. Three-fourths of the boys live a life of crime. Half of these people are homeless and jobless. One in ten commits suicide the first year out of the orphanage. Only one in ten gets a job and contributes to society. She is represented by my undamaged doll. If only statistics for orphans were better. But how can we expect them to succeed when they age out of systems, at sixteen, without their own families?
My friends and I work toward changing the odds for children who age out of orphanages. We have a huge—but staggeringly inadequate—dream. It will take decades of work and untold amounts of money, dedication and sacrifice. But one day, in the distant future, I hope to stand among my friends and make a change with my Matrioshka dolls. And on that grand and glorious day I hope to replace two of my broken dolls with beautiful new ones. At that amazing time—as a symbol to the fulfillment of my sick and twisted, inadequate dream—I will know that only seven in ten of the children who age out of those orphanages are wasted. That will have improved the statistics for orphans in that place from the nine out of ten who fail, now.
Though it will seem insignificant to many, my friends and I will know differently. From that point forward there will be three children in ten who grow up to be mamas and papas; who take care of their children and who stop the cycle of orphanages for their posterity. Then my friends and I—including those mamas and papas—will pass our torches to a new generation. We will ask them to continue where we have left off. We will beg them to succeed with the other seven whom we have failed, and continue to improve the statistics for orphans.
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