Wednesday, August 31, 2011

School Suppies for Uganda - All glory be to God!

It’s about time I updated you on how the big school supply distribution in Uganda went…
First however, I have to tell you an amazing story of God’s provision.

When I originally e-mailed my friends Sam and Bonny to ask what it would take to provide school supplies for some of their students, they responded with a budget for 120 students… yikes! Last time we did this back in 2010 we provided school supplies for 60 students however their ministry has grown so much since then that this time they were hoping to double that number (just for the record, that is not even close to the number of kids in their programs however many of those kids are unable to attend school). Sam and Bonny assured me that they would be happy with whatever amount we were able to send however I so badly wanted to meet their goal. I began praying that God would provide the amount needed to service 120 students yet with each day that passed the possibility seemed less and less likely… by worldly standards that is. How glad I am that God does not operate according to the standards of this world! No one aside from my mother and I knew our goal nor did anyone know how much money had come in. Nevertheless, the night before we were due to send the money to Uganda someone gave us a very generous donation which brought our total up to $1716 – enough for 122 students! God alone knew what was needed and He provided in a way that only He can!

So, thanks to God’s faithful provision, last Saturday 120 students in Kampala, Uganda received new backpacks filled with school supplies to equip them for a new semester. What’s more, in spite of ever-increasing inflation, Sam and Bonny were able to obtain even better prices than they had originally calculated and were able to purchase the supplies for just over $13 per child.
The extra $100? It is going to sponsor three needy students for the upcoming semester…







Thank you to everyone who gave so generously – you have made a difference in the lives of these students!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Allow me to introduce you to...


ANDREY’S FAMILY!!!


I have to confess, Andrey’s mom e-mailed me after reading my plea at the end of this post however due to Reece’s Rainbow policy, I had to keep my mouth (or should I say fist?) closed until they appeared on the ‘New Commitments’ page.

Now that that has happened, I am happy to introduce you to Andrey’s new family... the Carmichaels!!!

Stephanie and Sean have four children: Danielle (19), Cody (16), Cole (4) and Caden (2). Like Andrey, both Cole and Caden were blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (a.k.a. Down syndrome) and were adopted from Ukraine last year. When Stephanie and Sean got home with their boys in October, they were immediately ready to go back for another one. They thought they would go for a little girl this time since they already had three boys but God had other plans… After inquiring about girl after girl things just didn’t seem to be working out.
Then one day they saw this sweet face and knew that HE (not she) was the one.


Don’t you just love the way God works? Because they already adopted last year, all they need now is an updated homestudy and their USCIS (i.e. immigration) approval and they’ll be set to go. They hope to have Andrey home by December, in time for his birthday and Christmas – what a celebration that would be!

Because Andrey is fully funded, Sean and Stephanie already have the money they need for all their expenses in Eastern Europe however they still need a few thousand dollars to complete the paperwork they need to get there. If you would like to help them out with that, you can do so here. Either way, please hop over to their blog to introduce yourself and congratulate them on their newest addition! Finally, please continue to remember the Carmichaels in your prayers as they work hard to bring their son (is that not the most beautiful word you ever read… Andrey is someone’s SON now!!!) home as soon as possible.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Maxim




Today I want to remind you about Maxim. Sweet, smiley Maxim who is just crying out for a family of his own…


Maxim is almost 7-years-old and is living at the special needs orphanage for older children. Yet Maxim is just bursting with life and potential and he deserves so much more than what he is receiving right now. He deserves more than a group of two dozen children and just two caregivers. He deserves more than day after day in a wheelchair because there are simply not enough therapy hours to go around. He deserves more than only the occasional loving touch from workers who are stretched way too thin as they care for children with much greater physical needs than his. Maxim deserves to be the center of attention. He deserves access to therapies that will allow him to run and play and learn and grow. He deserves a mama and papa who will shower him with love and affection every single day.


In the words of Melissa, “Maxim’s Mom and Dad… Where are you???”
There is currently $355 available to the next family who adopts and older boy with Down syndrome. Please help Maxim’s family find him by sharing his story and remembering him in your prayers. . For more information, click here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A happy birthday...

I have to say, I’ve never been really big on birthdays. It’s not that I dislike them, I don’t. It has nothing to do with getting older. It’s not even about the amount of money that often gets spent on useless, meaningless stuff (although that does get to me sometimes). I guess that I just never thought that birthdays were that big of a deal. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting together for dinner with my whole family and I’ve never been one to turn down birthday cake but I don’t feel the need for my birthday to be anything more than that.

Maybe it’s because of my disdain for being the center of attention, something which seems to be unavoidable when everyone knows it’s your birthday. Perhaps I can chalk it all up to a couple of traumatic experiences in my adolescence… I still remember my 13th birthday when my family took me to my favourite restaurant and the waiters forced me to stand on my chair wearing a goofy hat while they sang and the rest of the restaurant stared. Traumatized. For. Life. Then there was the year I turned 15 while away at camp and they made me stand in front of everyone for what felt like hours while they sang and I desperately pleaded with God to make me invisible.

Whatever the reason, I like to keep my birthday a secret and am quite happy when I make it through the day without anyone (outside of my family of course) finding out. Back in April however, my friend Julia celebrated her birthday in a way that made me reconsider. To celebrate her birthday, Julia invited all her blog friends to donate to a family who was working hard to bring their child(ren) home. I loved Julia’s idea so much that I’ve decided to break my vow of silence. So, here goes…

TODAY IS MY 27TH BIRTHDAY

There, I have officially let the cat out of the bag. Now for the fun part… If you want to help make my birthday an especially happy one, then I invite you to donate to one (or more) of the grant funds below. Give $5, $20, $100, whatever you can afford and then let me know you donated by commenting below or e-mailing me at ambassadoroflove@live.ca.

You’ve seen their faces, you’ve heard their stories but allow me to remind you once again…
(click on their Reece's Rainbow names to donate)

ANDREY / “AIDEN”


Andrey has visual impairment and the lowest grant out of all my kids… help increase his chance at a family.



Igor’s autism makes living in an institutionalized setting especially difficult for him… help him find peace and security in a family.

DENIS / “RYAN”


Denis has a life threatening condition and is wasting away in the orphanage… help him find his family before his time runs out.



Liza is full of life and joy but she will remain bedridden once she is transferred… help her family find her before its too late.



Dima’s family already found him. He could be in their arms in as little as a month but they still need to raise a lot of money to make that happen… help them bring their son home.

We’ve already seen what a big difference that grant money makes. Andrey found his family on the same day that his grant reached $20,000! That’s why, as much as I hate the thought of announcing my birthday to the world, I’m doing it anyway. I would do anything to see my kids in the arms of their forever families. Help me celebrate my birthday by donating to their grant funds and maybe next year we can celebrate all my angels being at home with their families!

p.s. I already got the best early birthday present ever when I saw Andrey’s face on the “My Family Found Me” page…
Still, if anyone out there has been considering adopting one of my other kids, I couldn’t think of a better day to make it official – that would truly make this my best birthday ever!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Victoria




Do you remember Victoria?

(you can read my first post about Victoria here)

Victoria is nearly 6-years-old. She has brown hair, blue eyes and congenital cataract of both eyes which has rendered her blind…
but don’t tell her that.


Victoria is a very “able” little girl who doesn’t let her visual impairment stop her. She walks, she runs, she plays and she gets into mischief. The problem is, no matter how “able” Victoria is, she’ll never do any more than that as long as she stays in the country she is in now. In Victoria’s country, blind children are not seen as having any potential. She will never have the opportunity to go to school or learn to read Braille. She will most certainly never attend college or obtain a well paying job. She will probably never learn to care for herself or start a family of her own. Instead, when she turns 18, she will be transferred to a mental institution where she will spend the rest of her days.


Yet Victoria is capable of so much more. She could climb mountains, repel cliffs, kayak through rapids, zip line over trees. Don’t believe me? Check out Team No Limits on Expedition Impossible. Their team includes a blind member who is doing all that and more.


Will Victoria really be able to do all those things? Will she even want to?
I have no idea but I know that she deserves the chance to be all that God created her to be.


There is a great article written by the adoptive mother of three girls with visual impairment (VI) which talks about the amazing ability of children with VI to do just about everything that seeing children can do. I encourage you to read it here and allow it to challenge your thinking around what is often seen as a very intimidating special need. In the meantime, you can help Victoria find her family and reach her fullest potential by donating to her grant fund, sharing her story and remembering her in your prayers. For more information or to donate, click here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

FOUND!

I’m so excited, my heart is racing and I can’t seem to wipe the smile off my face.
A day like today deserves a beautiful, eloquently written post yet the words just won’t come… So, I’ll keep it short and sweet:

Just a couple of hours ago, Andrey’s precious face appeared on Reece’s Rainbow’s My Family Found Me page. What’s more, Andrey is now fully funded with a grant of over $20,000 which means that his new family will not have to worry about scraping and fundraising and can instead simply focus on getting him home as soon as possible. Last but not least, Andrey's new family is "paper ready" which means that they could be there in as little as a month! Does it get any better than that?!?! Thank you to every single one of you who has donated, shared this sweet boy’s story or prayed for his family to find him; each and every one of you has played a part in his miracle.


To my sweet, cuddly teddy bear:
You may not know it yet but as of today, you are no longer an orphan. Countless people around the world have come together to shout out your story and raise the money needed to pay your ransom. You are loved and treasured by more people than you will ever know and before long you will experience what it is to have a family of your very own. Six months ago, leaving you behind broke my heart as I wondered who would cuddle you close, make you laugh that contagious laugh and roll their eyes as you sneakily pull your booties off at every opportunity. Today, I am offering up endless prayers of thanksgiving to God knowing that you now have a family who will do all that and so much more than you can even imagine right now. I can’t wait to see you in their arms.


I am at a loss for words except to say that God is good, He is faithful and He has good plans for each and every one of these kids.
Two down, six to go… let’s keep praying them home.

p.s. Andrey's family, I am dying to "meet" you... If you happen to be reading this, please e-mail me at ambassadoroflove@live.ca

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Andrey S




I’m sorry this is late. This week kind of got away from me but this week’s precious little boy has never been far from my mind…

I read recently about a little boy being adopted from Eastern Europe. This little boy has been blessed with a little something extra (an extra 21st chromosome that is), better known as Down syndrome. Amidst all the Russian words in his file however, one English phrase stood out from the rest. In the section listing his diagnoses, instead of Down syndrome, it simply stated “child with no promise”.

A few days after reading this story, I saw the following commercial on TV and found myself in tears.



It is powerful commercial and I fully support the intended message to open our eyes and see the potential lying within our homeless youth. As I watched it however, I was not thinking about the homeless youth of North America, I was thinking about the discarded children of Eastern Europe.

“Child with no promise”. I wish I could say this was an isolated case but unfortunately, that is not the reality. It may not always be written so clearly in black and white but those words represent the opinions of many when it comes to children with special needs. I know for a fact that that’s what Andrey’s workers think of him.


Andrey, the little boy with the loving heart, quirky sense of humour and impish grin yet when the workers look at him, they see none of that. They see a child who takes longer to learn than some of the others around him. I see a child whose determination and achievements are worth celebrating. They see a child who spends much of his time sullen and withdrawn. I see a child who is smart enough to know who really cares about him and he saves his smiles for them. They see a child with no promise but not me. When I look at Andrey I see countless signs of potential brilliance, I see every indication that he will turn out well… I see a child just bursting with promise, if only someone would care enough to give him the love and nurturing he so desperately needs.


Do you see what I see? I know that so many of you do yet still, he waits. Just a couple days after I last posted about Andrey (you can read my previous posts here and here) the following words appeared on his profile in ominous red letters:

FACING IMMINENT TRANSFER!

My heart sunk. He has been waiting so long already and his chances at a family will only grow dimmer if he is transferred, not to mention what might happen to him in an institution for older children. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s concerned about him. A couple of weeks ago a facebook group was started to raise money and awareness for Andrey. Already his grant is over $9,000 not to mention all the people who have seen his face and read his story for the first time. I am hoping and praying that it might finally be his time. You can help us find this little boy’s family by donating to his grant fund, sharing his story and, as always, remembering him in your prayers. For more information or to donate, click here.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

School Suppies for Uganda

It’s that time of year again… Back to School season. Can you believe that summer’s almost over already? For all of you parents out there, I imagine that you are busy running around trying to find the best deals on new backpacks, gym shoes, pencils, paper and the million other things your kids need to be ready for that first day of school. As for me, I have no kids of my own to stress over but all this back to school talk has had me thinking about kids on the other side of the world for whom one new pencil is a luxury they may never receive…

Most of you know that last year, before I went to Ukraine, I spent 4 months in Africa. Those of you who were following my journey back then probably remember the school supply distribution I got to be a part of with my friends Bonny and Sam in Uganda (for the majority of you who were not followers of my blog, you can read about it here).

Partnering with Sam and Bonny is always such a huge blessing and privilege for me. On the outside, Sam and Bonny are just ‘ordinary’ people. Two local guys in their 20’s who, like most people in Africa, have experienced more than their share of heartache. But somewhere along the way they were given an opportunity that few receive: an education and a chance to make a better life for themselves and their families. Yet instead of focusing on themselves and their circumstances, they are determined to take the resources that God has given them and use them to make a difference in the lives of as many children as possible. They don’t have much but with the little that they have they have started a ministry called Kids Club Kampala which aims to bring hope and show God’s love to vulnerable children in Uganda. They have God-sized vision for the future including sponsorship, a local office and even expansion into other countries. In the meantime, they spend their time investing in the lives of countless kids and families, doing what they can to help with their physical needs while sharing the message of hope that is found in Jesus Christ and showering them with lots of love and attention.


Given the season, my mom and I have been talking a lot lately about how special it was to be a part of helping Sam and Bonny distribute school supplies in one of the poorest slums of Kampala last year and how great it would be to be able to help them to do something like that again. In Uganda, although there is access to free primary school education, students are still required to supply their own pencils, exercise books, etc. the cost of which often proves too great, especially for large families. A simple backpack filled with supplies can make the difference between a child attending school or not.

On Saturday, August 20th we have the opportunity to partner with Kids Club Kampala to distribute school supplies to impoverished children in Katanga, Kampala. This is something my mom and I are approaching our local friends and family to be a part of but I wanted to give the opportunity to you, my blog friends, as well. The great thing about partnering with such a small, local organization is that there are no overhead costs. For just $14 you can provide a child with: a new backpack, a dozen exercise books, a dozen pens, a dozen pencils, a geometry set, coloured pencils, crayons, a ruler and an eraser. I did not want Sam and Bonny to have to pay for anything out of pocket therefore the $14 also includes the transportation costs to get the supplies from the market to the center where they will have the distribution.



We were hoping to have more time but inflation is high in Uganda right now and prices are rising daily (ex. in the past two weeks the cost of sugar has gone up 313%!). Sam and Bonny want to buy the supplies soon in order to get the best price and make sure that as many children as possible are able to benefit from them. Anyway, there’s no pressure, I feel like I’m always asking for money but I did want to let you know about this unique opportunity. If you would like to be a part of this event, you can contribute by clicking on the Chip-In above which will be up until next Monday. For local/Canadian donors, you are welcome to use the Chip-In as well however if you would like to mail a check and avoid the Paypal fees, e-mail me at ambassadoroflove@live.ca and I will send you my address.


Bonny and Sam have promised me lots of pictures from the event so I’ll be sure to share them with you when it's all over!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Liza




Have I told you what a joy Liza is? Seriously, there are just no words to describe it… Liza absolutely loved our one-on-one times. Whenever I went to get her, as soon as I bent over the crib to pick her up she would start laughing with sheer excitement. The laughter would continue for the next several minutes as the workers got her ready and by the time they placed her back in my arms my heart was so full I felt as though it might burst.


It was hard for me to find things to do with Liza when we were downstairs in the visiting room. She is unable to support herself and, because she spends so much of her day laying flat on her back, the last thing I wanted to do was lay her on the floor. I would sit her between my legs, laying against my chest which was a good position for her except that it meant that I couldn’t look into her sweet face and because I had to use at least one arm to support myself (she is pretty heavy), I couldn’t really play with her either. Liza didn’t mind. People watching is her absolute favourite activity and she was thrilled to lean back and watch the other families playing with their children. Every few minutes she would turn and look up at me with this huge grin that spoke volumes. Still, I wanted to find a better solution. One day, a giant teddy bear appeared in the visiting room and I quickly discovered that I could prop Liza up against the teddy bear and she would be able to sit there without my support. It wasn’t perfect but at least we could finally face each other! I would massage her rigid muscles, tickle her, play with her and tell her how precious she was while looking deep into her eyes… it was great.


I know that Liza’s diagnosis of brain injury / “Shaken Baby Syndrome” may seem intimidating to some. That’s why I contacted Brooke who works with children with similar diagnoses and asked if she could share a little about the potential of these children. Here is what she had to say:
"As a Certified Brain Injury specialist who works with children who have survived an acquired brain injury, including several children with shaken baby, I want to just take a moment to share some of what I know to be true about children with Shaken Baby Syndrome. Much like Autism and Down syndrome, Shaken baby produces a wide range of ability levels as children age. I have the unique perspective of working with recently injured children as well as children in their teens and each child is markedly different in how they develop. Though some children who have experienced a very severe injury can have multiple medical needs and require 24 hour skilled care, many do not. I have seen several individuals with Shaken baby be able to go on to lead productive lives that include independent housing, college education, and vocational opportunities. I can honestly say that the children I work with who do have Shaken baby syndrome are some of my most favorite. I often make comparisons between an older teenage client of mine and my brother, Brad, who has Down syndrome. Because Shaken baby occurs at such a young age children often, in my opinion, demonstrate a lot of qualities similar to those I see in individuals with Down syndrome. One of those qualities being that perpetual innocence and “child like” wonder that I so great value in my brother. It is critical to never limit a child based on a diagnostic code on their file; each individual is unique, although nothing is certain in regards to potential, you can be certain they will not reach their full potential if left to languish in an institution"


I’ve mentioned before that I could count on one hand the number of times I have seen Liza without a smile on her face. Those times however are forever engraved in my memory. I remember a few weeks after I started having one-on-one time with Liza and the rest of “my” kids, I brought Liza back up to her room and just as I was about to put her back in her crib she started to cry. I had never seen Liza cry before and this wasn’t just any cry, it was a profoundly sad, heartbreaking cry. As the weeks went on, Liza began to cry more and more often when I her brought her back until she actually started crying when we were in the stairwell on the way back upstairs to her room. It absolutely tore my heart out. As happy and content as she is, Liza is a very smart little girl who knows what she wants. Liza wants to see more than the four walls of her groupa room. She wants a chance to sit up and play like the other kids. She wants someone to look deep into her eyes and whisper words of love into her ears. She does not want to spend her days lying on her back in a hard playpen, unwanted and ignored. Oh how I pray that she will one day have a mama to scoop her up and carry her out of that room forever. Last time I told you that because Liza is already 5-years-old, she doesn’t have a grant of her own. Well, that is no longer true. A few weeks ago $1000 appeared on Liza’s page and although I’m still not sure how it happened, Liza now has her own grant! So, for all those of you who were disappointed that you were not able to donate last time, now’s your chance… Even if you’re not able to donate at this time, you can help Liza’s mommy find her by sharing her story and remembering her in your prayers.
For more information or to donate, click here.


Liza is listed as “Molly” on Reece’s Rainbow;
in order to protect her identity, when sharing about her on your own blogs, facebook pages, etc. please use her Reece’s Rainbow name

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 2, 2010

One year ago today I boarded a plane that marked the beginning of my journey to Ukraine. I was filled with a mix of nerves, excitement and uncertainty not knowing exactly what lay ahead but knowing that it would change me forever.

That very same day in Ukraine, a woman went into labour. Although I was not there, I imagine she was feeling many of the same emotions as I was; nerves, excitement and uncertainty not knowing exactly what lay ahead but knowing that it would change her forever. For this expectant mother however, the day did not go as she had planned and dreamed that it would. She gave birth to a baby girl with beautiful blue, almond shaped eyes and an extra chromosome. I don’t know all the details of what happened next but I do know that the day ended in heartache with an empty-armed mother and a precious baby girl named Dasha left alone in a hospital crib.

Today would have been Dasha’s first birthday… had she not died on an operating table 5 months ago. Today however, I do not want to dwell on her death. Today I want to celebrate her life. Dasha may have only lived 6 ½ months but her life mattered, her time on this earth made a difference… Dasha made a difference in my life.

Dasha and I on the first day that I met her

Before I got inside the baby orphanage, before I got to know my kids at the special needs orphanage, Dasha was the first child to truly open my eyes to the beauty, the blessing, the wonder of Down syndrome (you can read my previous posts about Dasha here and here). I went to Ukraine to work with special needs orphans but deep down I still had my reservations. The moment I held Dasha in my arms, all of my fears and discomfort were washed away. She was perfect, there was no doubt in my mind, and she will forever hold a special place in my heart.

My favourite picture of Dasha,
taken on the last day that I got to hold her in my arms

Over the course of the past weeks, I have been praying about how I could remember Dasha, to celebrate her life and acknowledge the difference she made in mine. Unfortunately, Dasha’s story is not that uncommon. She is just one of the too many children on Reece’s Rainbow who have died waiting for their forever families to bring them home. Some, like Dasha, had families who were fighting hard to bring them home when their time ran out. Others had yet to be chosen. As I scroll through their faces I can’t help but wonder how many of them never experienced a kind word or a loving touch. I thank God for the privilege He gave me to be able to love on Dasha during her short time on this earth. Today all these precious angels are being held in the arms of their Heavenly Father. There is nothing more we can do for them but we can do our best to make sure that no other children have to die alone and afraid, never knowing the love of a forever family.

There are so many others out there facing the same fate as Dasha… There’s little Alexander with Down syndrome who will be turning one-year-old this month just as Dasha would have. He’s still so young and would so greatly benefit from a family during these formative years. Then there’s Reid who shares the same birthday as Dasha. He is turning 5-years-old today which means he could soon be facing transfer to an institution, where 50-80% of children die within the first year. He needs a family before it’s too late. And then there’s Lilly, Vanessa and Angelina who all have significant heart defects that require surgery just as Dasha did. They all need families quickly before their time runs out.

Today, in honour of Dasha, I am donating to little Sophie.


Sophie had her first birthday a few months ago. Like Dasha, Sophie has Down syndrome. Sophie also has heart problems (like Dasha) as well as several other medical conditions which require attention. She desperately needs a family before she too runs out of time.

Would you help me to celebrate Dasha’s life and honour her memory by donating to one of these angels or any of the other waiting children on Reece’s Rainbow? The number children facing a similar fate is overwhelming but every little bit counts. Each and every one of us has the power to make a difference and play a part in rescuing one of these precious little ones… No child deserves to die alone.