Expanding the family

Orchestra teacher temporarily hosts Ukrainian orphan

Tabatha Fitzgerald, Reporter

He was sent to the orphanage when he was just 8-years-old. Until then, he lived with his parents, who were both deaf.  With still no certain memory of how he ended up there, Tony* is still in that same Ukrainian orphanage today. Although he doesn’t recall exactly how he ended up there, he does remember that he was struggling and falling behind in school.

Tony, one of the 37 kids who live in that orphanage, along with a few others were chosen to come to America. He received a letter from Orchestra teacher Thomas Wright through an organization designed to give orphans a chance to come to America. The letter gave Tony a glimpse of not only what his host family is like but also a small look into what his time in America might be like.

“(I) was very excited,” Tony said through translator Alona Voitko. “(I) was happy to have received the letter, and that (coming to America) was coming closer.”

Project 143 is an international program that has both winter and summer hosting opportunities. Hosting gives the orphan a chance to feel what having a loving family is like and possibly have a forever home. The project’s goal is to give orphans a chance to see what life is like outside of the orphanage. According to their website, adoption is often a by-product of hosting, but it isn’t the only goal.

“Hosting an orphan for just 4-5 weeks can literally change their entire life…and yours,” it says on Project 143’s website.

Last year, as Wright was scrolling through Facebook, he came across a post by his friend Angie Christian, the Midwest coordinator for Project 143, who often makes posts about the different kids that could potentially be hosted by folks in America.

In that post, Wright saw a picture and a little bio about Tony. At the time, Wright just scrolled past it because hosting an orphan didn’t seem like the right thing for his family to do. However, the next year, Wright saw that same post again, but this time, it said that it was Tony’s last year to have the chance to be hosted. After discussing the idea together, Wright and  his wife decided that they wanted to host Tony.

“This was his last year that he was able to do this program,” Wright said. “So we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll make it work this year so that we can give this kid an opportunity to come visit America.’”

As soon as Tony got off the plane and met the Wrights, they started using Google Translate immediately so they could communicate with him. Wright and his family were originally told that Tony spoke no English, so when Tony did speak a few English words to them, it came as a surprise.

After leaving the airport, they decided to stop at Fair Oaks Farms and get ice cream, because it was one of the few words in Russian that Wright remembered. As they were picking out the ice cream Tony told them what kind he wanted which shocked the Wrights because he said it in English.

“This was a big surprise,” Wright said. “We were expecting him to speak no English at all and he had about a 50 word vocabulary in English.”

The Wrights worked on improving Tony’s English by hanging signs around the house with the Russian and English words for it and letting him order for himself at restaurants. One of the English words that Tony came to know was “pizza,” because that was his favorite American food.  Wright says this has been a learning experience for both of them.

Wright chose to host an orphan from the Ukraine rather than somewhere else, because he wants to be able to give an orphan the best possible chance at beating statistics. According to Skyward Journey, statistics say that 10 to 15 percent of orphans in the Ukraine commit suicide before 18. Sixty percent of girls become prostitutes, and 70 percent of boys become criminals when they age out of the system.

Since Wright has contacts in the Ukraine, because he used to teach English there, he believes that this will give Tony the best possible chance to make a better life for himself. Wright believes that making an impact on one kid will make a difference.

When asked if he would ever adopt an orphan or a kid he would host, Wright said that he would adopt Tony if his parents still didn’t have legal rights over him.  Instead, Wright is looking to host Tony again over the summer.

After many tears, Tony got on the plane and went back to the Ukraine. Wright, however, still keeps in touch with Tony and hopes to continue to give him a different vision of what family looks like. In a recent conversation between the two, Tony called Wright dad.

“Orphan kids are broken,” Wright said. “We’re just trying to help piece these kids back together and move them in the right direction.”


*Name is changed due to restrictions of Project 143