Southport High School intern
He was sent to a Ukrainian orphanage when he was 8. Until then he had lived with his parents, who were deaf. With no certain memory of how he ended up there, Tony (not his real name because of privacy concerns) is still in that orphanage today. Although he doesn’t recall much, he does remember that he was struggling and falling behind in school when living with his parents.
Tony, one of the 37 kids who live in that orphanage, were chosen to spend Dec. 20 through Jan. 13 in America through a program known as Project 143. He received a letter from Southport High School orchestra teacher Thomas Wright through an organization designed to give orphans a chance to come to America. The letter gave Tony a glimpse of what his host family, the Wrights, was like and a small look into what his time here might be like.
“(I) was very excited,” Tony said through translator Alona Voitko. “(I) was happy to have received the letter and that it was coming closer.”
Project 143 is a program that gives orphans the chance to feel what having a loving family is like and a possible forever home. The project’s goal is to give orphans a chance to see what life is like outside of the orphanage. According to the website, adoption is often a by-product of hosting, but it isn’t the only goal.
“Hosting an orphan for just four to five weeks can literally change their entire life … and yours,” according to the project’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. Christian often makes posts about the different kids who could potentially be hosted in America.
Wright saw a picture and a little bio about Tony. Wright just scrolled past it because hosting an orphan didn’t seem like the right thing for his family to do at the time. When Wright saw the same post a year later, he noticed that it was the last year that Tony could be hosted. Wright talked to his wife and they decided to host him.
Wright said, “So we thought, ‘OK, 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 so they could communicate with him. Wright and his family were told that Tony spoke no English, so it came as a surprise to them when he spoke a few English words.
On their way home they stopped at Fair Oaks Farms and got some ice cream because it was one of the few Russian words that Wright remembered. Tony told them what flavor he wanted in English.
The Wrights worked on improving his English by hanging signs around their house with the Russian and English word for it and letting him order for himself at restaurants. Tony knows the word “pizza” because that is his favorite American food.
“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.”
Wright chose to host Tony from the Ukraine because he wants Tony to have the best possible chance at beating statistics. According to Skyward Journey, 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 (he taught English there), he believes that he has given Tony a chance to make a better life for himself.
Wright said that he would have adopted Tony if his parents still didn’t have legal rights over him. Instead, Wright is looking to host him again over the summer.
After many tears, Tony got on the plane and went back to Ukraine. Wright keeps in touch with him 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.”