Sisters dedicate two weeks helping orphans in Ukraine

Maria and Emma returned from Ukraine on July 17, the same day that a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down.

By Lynn R. Parks

For the second year in a row, sisters Emma and Maria Scott of Bridgeville spent two weeks of their summer vacation at a camp for orphans in Ukraine. They both say that they are looking forward to returning next year.

"God's given me a passion for Ukraine and for the kids there," said Emma, 20. "I go there to bless others, then I end up being more blessed myself."

"I really hope to make this an annual thing," added Maria, 22. "I think that it's really important to give of yourself and of any gifts that you have. When you do that, you get a totally different perspective on your life and on how you want to live it."

Emma and Maria are the daughters of Janine and Jeff Scott. Both are studying music: Emma is a violin performance major at Temple University in Philadelphia; Maria has her bachelor's degree in piano performance from the Peabody Institute, part of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and is working on a master's degree, also in piano performance, at that school.

They visited Ukraine through Little Lambs Ministry, an Illinois-based organization whose mission is to provide orphans and abandoned children in Eurasia and China with the opportunity to become Christians and to become contributing members of society.

In Ukraine, Little Lamb sends volunteers to camps for orphans that it sponsors with the help of Ukrainian Christian organizations. Each camp lasts for two weeks and accommodates up to 120 children from 6 to 17-years -old.

Emma and Maria left for their camp on July 2, flying from Baltimore to Detroit, to Paris and then on to Kiev.

From there, it was a couple hours by car to the camp. The Scotts were among seven Americans traveling with Little Lambs. Most of the volunteers were in their 20s, Emma said. But one woman was in her 70s and was accompanied by her daughter, who was in her 50s.

In Kiev, the volunteers met up with eight Ukrainian volunteers, all in their 20s. Both Emma and Maria know a little bit of Russian. Even so, it was nice that among the Ukrainians was a translator, Emma said.

Once in the camp, Maria and Emma spent all of their time with the orphans. They helped to organize activities and Emma played her violin for them. "Maybe once a day, we would share a Bible lesson, or talk with them about the gospel," Emma said. "But mostly, we just had fun. We showed them the love and attention that they don't get at other times. At the orphanage, it's pretty rough living. There's not a lot of individual attention paid to the children."

Conditions at the camp were fairly rustic. Electricity was on-again, off-again, and the supply of running water was limited. Showers were either cold or from a bucket.

As for the food, "our meals were a lot of potatoes and mystery meat," Emma said. But that didn't matter. The two weeks were made pleasant by the response of the children to the care that they received.

At first, Emma said, the children were skeptical of the girls' affections. "They had never had people who treated them with good intentions," Emma said.

But by the end of the two weeks, the children were "loveable and happy," she said. "They really appreciated what we were doing."

Emma said that while in Kiev, she and Maria saw signs of the ongoing fight there between nationalists and pro-Russian separatists. Outside of the city, "things were not affected that much," Emma said. But even there, attitudes had changed since last summer.

"When we went the year before, the kids didn't talk about their country," Emma said.

"But this year, they did. And we saw little Ukrainian flags everywhere. When we did face painting, they all wanted the symbol of the armed forces."

The unrest only makes their work with the orphans more important, Maria said. "Now more than ever, children in Ukraine need encouragement," she said. "They need to know that the rest of the world is listening to them."

"Our message was that the love that we showed them didn't leave with us," Emma added. "That love is from God, and it remains with them even when we go home."

Maria and Emma returned to the United States on July 17, the same day that a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. U.S. intelligence determined that the plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile that was fired from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Throughout their journey from Kiev to Paris and then Paris to Detroit, Emma and Maria knew nothing of the plane crash. Once in Detroit, they called their mom and dad, who were extremely happy to hear their voices, Emma said.

Despite that, and despite the ongoing turmoil in the country, both Maria and Emma said that their time in Ukraine was important. Both women came home with a renewed appreciation for their family. "The kids there just couldn't believe it when we said that both our father and mother are alive and that our family is intact," Maria said. "Seeing what they have gave me so much appreciation for my family."

Emma said that she came home with a new realization of how fortunate she is to live in the United States. She also learned a lesson in the value of love and affection, she said. "I saw the effect that they can have on a life."

Finally, Maria said that the experience strengthened her faith.

"In the camp, you really work and pray and believe that things will change, and you get answers to those prayers immediately," she said.

"I've come back home with a real sense of believing that God will answer prayers and that things will get better. And I've learned that there are good, kind people who are working to change things."

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