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Experience with international visitors shows sharing makes a difference

On Sunday evening I received a text message from my community partner Brenda Tuck asking if I would like to spend time with children from the Ukraine who were visiting West Alabama. This text has done more for me over the past week than some messages do in a lifetime. 

Tuesday morning, I went to Demopolis to meet orphans participating in a program sponsored by Bridges of Faith. I would end up spending the next two days with them. As the van door opened, ten children poured out speaking what I assumed was Ukrainian.  I later found out it was a mix of both Russian and Ukrainian.

Just two days before the visiting children had arrived under the helping hand of Bridges Of Faith, an organization that helps Ukrainian orphans find sponsorship for travel to the United States. The orphans stay in the United States for a month in hopes of starting the adoption process. I was put in contact with Bridges of Faith by Brenda Tuck.

Tuck, who works with Bridges of Faith, said, “Our (her and her husband Shane Tuck) lives have never been the same. We visited the camp during one of three times each year that 10 Ukrainian orphans are there. The children stole my heart. One hug, one smile, one thank you from their sweet voices was all it took.”

And thus the butterfly effect happened.  The butterfly effect is the idea that just one action whether big or small can affect the entire world.  The Tucks’ choice to be involved lead to me learning so much.

The University of West Alabama provided the perfect setting for the visitors to play soccer. All but one of the young men from Ukraine began to play. As they did, I noticed a young boy named Danya sitting on the bench. I walked over and sat down next to him and introduced myself.

I’m not quite sure he understood me at the time because he began to speak Russian. Then he took my hand and grabbed his shirt. Moving his shirt back and forth was the international signal for “it’s really hot in the state of Alabama.”

So, I took off my sunhat and motioned for him to put it on his head. He was ready.  He simply smiled and said thank you in his best attempt at English. We then proceeded to begin talking through Google Translate. Without Google, I wouldn’t have been able to understand half of what Danya and company were saying.

After an hour and a half of conversation via Google, it was time for lunch. This is where I learned something that is universal. Humans, no matter the barriers, want to help one another.

As all the orphans got their lunch, Danya began to eat his before I grabbed mine. He looked across the plaza, saw me without food, and tore his sandwich in half and carried it over to me. He offered it out to my hand, and I accepted.

He reminded me how important it is to share, whether you are sharing food or you are sharing time with someone. This was refreshing and helped remind me that we really aren’t all that different. Despite growing up in conditions that to most would seem difficult, Danya was able to remind me that sharing is indeed caring.

The day progressed, and the children began to swim. During this time, I got to know a chaperone, a 21- year-old named Dima. He spoke almost no English so Google Translate was in order. We talked about our families and we quickly became friends.

At one point Dima said, “I need to go shopping. Can you help me?” I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure what he needed. We went to Wal-mart anyway. Before we entered the store, he told me what he needed, deodorant, tennis shoes, flip flops, some new athletic t-shirts and finally socks. The process of getting everything he needed was short.

As we approached checkout, I realized we hadn’t gotten Dima the most important thing, an Auburn hat. This situation was swiftly taken care of, and I taught Dima how to say War Eagle. After checking out, he asked to use my phone two more times, and he said, “Thank God something on zustryty (This word did not translate correctly) gives people like you.”

Re-reading that message brings tears to my eyes. At that moment, I realized what the entire day had been about, serving one another. I realized that Dima and I were a year apart in age, had grown up in two opposite parts of the world, but we still could connect. I learned that friendship and love transcends all boundaries. All it took was nine translated words.