“How is it October already?” my sister asked as we did our usual calendar sync for the upcoming holidays.
“Really, it’s only October?” I thought, September and August were so full and crazy it has felt like at least a year has passed during that time.
We have desperately wanted to send out an update to all our friends and family but we were so involved and overwhelmed we just couldn’t. And to be honest, there were moments when we couldn’t find the words or didn’t even know where to start.
I’m not sure that one blog will cover all that has happened over the last two months. But over the coming months we will try to unpack all that happened during these 8 weeks and what it looks like for our family’s future.
In case you missed the beginning of our summer, we were involved with an orphan hosting program.
It was the beginning of our own adoption journey. We planned to host an orphan for a month of the summer. This program gives orphans a break from institutional living and hope for the future. She would have to return back to Ukraine and we were to continue on and work toward her adoption. As we got closer to the hosting time, one of the other host families had to back out so we ended up with two, eight-year-old, Ukrainian girls.
As they arrived, our hearts were both overwhelmed and overjoyed. We were excited about this new journey and looking into their sweet eyes was a feeling I don’t know I could explain. However, quickly we realized things weren’t as they seemed. These girls talked about having mothers and siblings. We had been involved in the foster care system enough to know that kids come from families and they love their families, no matter how broken those families may be. So we tried to be patient as we collected as much of their stories as we could.
The agency we worked with attempted to look into the kids stories, which definitely should have been done before the kids arrived for this program. However, they came up with very little information. We discovered that the people they were working with in Ukraine were not being honest. Corruption in the adoption system in Ukraine is not uncommon and unfortunately our agency fell victim to that.
A call from homeland security
We will never forget about 2 weeks into the hosting we received a call from the Department of Homeland Security, saying that they were doing an investigation on human trafficking. WHAT?!? The investigation was an international one against the facilitators in Ukraine and the agency here in Minnesota. (Just to be clear, we weren’t the ones being investigated!) As the two investigators sat in our living room to interview us, we realized this was so much bigger then we thought from the beginning. The result was there wasn’t any criminal activity and the investigation was closed. But you can imagine, those few weeks were intense and prayer filled trying to love these girls that we now didn’t know even what there story was or what their future would hold.
Our adoption agencies reaction to this whole thing was to close their Ukraine adoption program and hosting program for good. They weren’t finding answers, we knew only a little from what the girls were telling us and we didn’t know who we could trust any more.
So, in true Hayslett fashion, we decided we would figure it out ourselves. We weren’t going to let these girls go so easily. We were willing to let them go if they were a part of a loving family, however, if they were abandoned or mistreated, we were determined to find out. Justin spent hours on the phone with every connection we have in Ukraine (surprisingly, we have many)! Within a week of the girls going back to Ukraine we had 10 days lined up with meetings and appointments with orphanages, facilitators, and missionary friends to figure out what had gone wrong and what our next steps could be.
So not even a month after the girls were here, Justin flew to Ukraine to do an “investigation” of our own. We learned so much about our girls and this beautiful country while he was there. And despite our bad experience, there are so many wonderful people on the ground there doing great things. We were filled with hope to know how many amazing people there are there, who put up their hand to help us, some new friends and some strangers. All with a heart to help these kids. Through this trip we learned a great deal.
In an effort to protect our girls, we won’t share about their family life or how they came to be part of the “boarding school” or this hosting program. But the truth was, they were part of this particular hosting program wrongly because they will never be adoptable.
Our original thought was, how hard can it be, to make sure that the kids that come on this hosting program are adoptable?
But as Justin traveled the Kiev region visiting different orphanages, and even the “boarding school” our girls were from, we learned a staggering amount of these kids are stuck in a system that has no hope for a different future. In one of the government funded “boarding schools” he visited the kids were very rough looking. Their teeth were rotting and their clothes tattered. At first sight you could tell these kids had been forgotten about. There were 100 kids at this particular school and of those 100 kids, not even 1 was available for adoption. As Justin asked how this could be the director explained that as long as a parent comes to visit them every 6 months, they will not begin the process to take away parental rights. And unlike our own foster system, there is no standard or requirements for this visit. The parent can come in whatever condition, they can be drunk and it will not matter as long as they come. We heard story after story of these children in these situations. Kids who have been forgotten and long for the love of a family.
We also learned the social workers there are overwhelmed with the amount of kids sitting in this system and are underpaid. So the kids are the ones who suffer and remain stuck. Over these months we have learned so much and we have been encouraged by our new friends on the ground in Ukraine that are making a huge difference in the lives of these kids. And we have decided that now that we have been involved how could we possibly look away and do nothing.
Even before our trip to Ukraine we started to feel like we needed to start something to help these orphans.
They are referred to as “social orphans” a term that means they have families, as around 95% of orphans from the Ukraine are, but they have been left or are uncared for.
The adoption agency we were working with was the last agency doing anything with orphans in Ukraine from our home state of Minnesota. They have now closed all their Ukraine programs. Also, there are only a handful of agencies in the US that even work with Ukraine. However, the thousands of kids waiting, stuck means there is still a need and we believe we can help with this.
We are praying how we can step forward and are very excited about some of the ideas we have to make those beautiful kiddos lives have a different outcome. (More to come on this later!)
We will continue to update you as we start this new ministry.
As for our own family’s future, what is next for us? Well, we will start over. The funds that were given to host our girl will be returned by the adoption agency and will be given to our new adoption agency from another state. (An agency doing amazing things that we have vetted well 🙂 ) And we will keep walking step by step toward the child God has for our family. Though this may take awhile. We trust God fully, that He wanted us to be part of this broken host program to see the issues and need. Had we have had a “normal” hosting experience, we would be focusing on our own adoption and never would have traveled to Ukraine, never seen the need and never considered putting our hand up to help on a bigger level. We know this is our lane that we are called to run and the battle field that we are willing to fight on. We also know that God will bring the right child for our own little family when it is time. So each step we will walk, but stay up to date on our updates because wow how things can change in a matter of weeks! 🙂
One quick note of thanks, there were so many friends and family that sent sweet messages and prayers while we were in the middle of madness. Those words encouraged our souls and made us SO grateful that we have such amazing friends and family in our lives. Thanks for walking this journey with us. We are so grateful for you.
The best is yet to come,
Justin and Alaya