Ukraine (MNN) — The statistics are dire for orphans aging out of traditional care in Eastern Europe. More than half of all girls are likely to end up in prostitution, and organized crime is a target for young men. One in ten will commit suicide before the age of 18, and more than a third of all orphan graduates will remain homeless once they leave residential care.
But hope is rising in Ukraine. Orphan Outreach’s Amy Norton says the ministry has added the country to their orphan graduate program. The interest in Ukraine was born from the work Orphan Outreach has been doing in Russia with orphan graduates.
“We were approached by LifePoint Church in Maryland. They were already working in Ukraine, and saw the need for consistent, ongoing help for graduates who – just like in Russia – are out on their own,” says Norton.
“They’re 16 or 17, they’ve left the orphanage, they’re out on their own, they have no support. They have no financial, no family support, no educational support, or spiritual support. LifePoint knew about the orphan graduate program we had in Russia, so we came alongside them – first as a consultant to help them develop the program.”
Orphan Outreach now oversees the program as a ministry partner.
“This truly is walking alongside them through one of the most difficult times in any child’s life, but especially for a child who has grown up in an orphanage,” says Norton.
“In Eastern Europe, the kids are really out on their own at 16. When you think about kids who are 16-years-old having to make decisions on life choices, but also the future for them – what they’re going to do. They’re definitely not ready for that after growing up in the orphanage system where they’ve never really had any sort of independent living skills, meals prepared for them, everything done for them. They have no idea how to live on their own.”
Orphan Outreach’s goal with Alpha Life is to stop the cycle of poverty, abuse, and neglect for young adults aging out of the system.
Norton says, “The most important thing we can do is provide someone who walks alongside them and who is encouraging them and who is helping them make those life choices, like ‘How do I find a place to live?’ and ‘How do I go to the store and buy groceries? How do I manage money?’ Even family situations or peer situations are part of ministry.”
In Ukraine, Alpha Life’s relationship with the kids begins in the orphanage itself. The orphans show interest in receiving guidance, and become part of the Alpha Life program. Though the commitment is there, it may take months or even years for the graduate to embrace the program.
“One thing we have certainly learned in all of our years in working with orphan graduates is they have a very hard time trusting other people,” shares Norton.
“They have been abandoned by the people closest to them. Many times they have been hurt by the people in the orphanage system. So trust for them is a huge barrier and part of the reason why they’re so vulnerable.”
Graduates who take part in the Alpha Life program attend weekly fellowship where they worship, study the Bible, and enjoy a meal together. Throughout the week, case managers and volunteers work with the young adults on everything from finances and school to legal issues. Prayer is a constant, Scripture is the foundation, and the community of a local church is essential.
Norton says there are several ways people can be part of Orphan Outreach’s efforts in Ukraine through Alpha Life. The first way is prayer. The second is through sponsorship of the young adults. And the final way is by going on a mission trip to help the orphan graduates get established. “That’s how people can get plugged in, and we would just love to have that support for this wonderful program.”
Learn more about Orphan Outreach’s work in Ukraine and get involved in the transforming ministry to an orphan graduate. And be sure to watch the video below to learn even more about the Gospel-centered ministry of Alpha Life.