Russia (MNN) — He’s traveled to Russia more times than can be counted, and the country continues to hold a special place in his heart. Orphan Outreach President Mike Douris remembers the first conversations with the Department of Education shortly after the Soviet Union fell. Government-run orphanages were filled to capacity with children who not only had been rescued from abuse and neglect, but also who had been placed by parents struggling to survive.
“In the early days, we were asked to provide guidance on basic childcare, to share best practices for the orphanages.”
But Douris discovered an unmet need for orphans in Russia – the crisis that occurs in most lives when those orphans age out of residential care. Ninety percent of all children who enter an orphanage will remain there until they graduate. While in residential care, the children have little opportunity to learn fundamental life skills necessary for adulthood. And they leave the orphanage with little provision.
“They are legally supposed to get an apartment, and while they may receive one, few are actually livable,” shares Douris. “And for these kids coming out of the orphanages, the stats are horrendous.
“Ten percent of the kids commit suicide within the first year of leaving the orphanage. Over 50 percent of the kids will end up living on the streets after a year. The involvement in crime and trafficking is at a very high rate for kids coming out of the orphanage, and the traffickers really target the kids in order to get them into prostitution.”
Orphan Outreach prayerfully considered options for orphan graduates, and felt it best to create a model of care that offered individual guidance. “Many have tried transitional living homes, and while they can be a healthy model for the graduates, you can only take a few kids at a time in a specific location. It’s difficult to serve the greater needs of the graduates – like education, sustainable housing, and job skills training. So we decided to do a case management model, where we work with the kids and help them every step of the way, just like a parent would do.”
The Orphan Graduate program provides what Douris calls a “safety net” for the young men and women. “They have someone to lean on and go to, to help them through those challenges. It takes years to help a kid actually adjust and become independent. It’s not a six-month program or even a year program; it’s a multi-year program of walking with these children as they learn to do life.”
Douris is resolute in his commitment to caring for orphan graduates, because he has seen the impact on the lives of those who have been part of the program.
He shares, “Every day we work with these kids, we have that moment to make a difference in their lives and we can’t waste that moment. It doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome, because every child has their own volition, they make their own choices. Sometimes those choices are bad. But as far as our responsibility, we need to make the most of every single moment to make a difference in these kids’ lives, to make sure they know that they’re loved, when they have a need, that we try to figure out the best and appropriate way to meet that need, and to do everything we can possibly to provide the opportunity for positive outcomes.”
Douris believes that being a difference-maker in an orphan’s life connects them to the power of Christ’s hope. “To me, hope is a person, it’s a relationship. The Orphan Outreach sponsorship program is a great way to connect to a child. They see that someone cares for them enough to invest in their lives. And sponsorship provides resources for the people who are working with them and walking with them all the time, saying every single day, ‘I am not going to leave you.’
“When you support Orphan Outreach through finances or through going on trips or sponsoring a child or through prayer, you become part of the team that provides the face of hope for these kids’ lives – that there’s something to hang onto, there’s going to be somebody to walk alongside them. And ultimately, that hope reveals a greater hope — a hope that doesn’t disappoint and will never leave.”