By Aimee Hornberger, Herald staff writer, Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake, Washington state, USA,
Wednesday, Dec 21, 2005

MOSES LAKE — Ukraine native Natalya Skala is just about to sing a bedtime song to the 17 children housed inside Light of the World children’s center she helped open in 2004 in Ukraine.

It is August 2005 and Natalya will soon take a return flight back to Moses Lake after spending a month at the center, a nonprofit agency dedicated to providing homes to abandoned children living with HIV and other life-threatening illnesses.

As Natalya gets ready to leave, a 5-year-old girl comes up to hug her. “She just grabbed me and didn’t let me go,” she said. With seven children of her own, Natalya does not make a distinction between them and the children at the center who range in age from 5 up to 16.

In the year since the center opened, Natalya and other volunteer workers have been fighting to keep it operating amidst changes in government, a public fear of HIV and harsh criticism toward the Christian beliefs held by staff at the center. “Our trip was so tense,” Natalya said.

Accompanied with a group of seven missionaries from Moses Lake and around Washington State, Natalya spent some days giving tours of the center to government officials, taking the children on field trips and confronting opposition to the center.

Some of the government officials were impressed with the center, but the rumors and negative stigma in the Ukraine about what HIV is and how it spreads have made keeping the center open a challenge. These children still deserve to attend public school and live normal lives despite their illnesses, Natalya said.

Interviews with media from both the Ukraine and U.S. are helping Natalya to get the word out about the center and speak openly about socioeconomic problems in the Ukraine.

One of the more memorable moments for Natalya on her last trip was taking the children to surrounding villages where they performed a puppet show, portraying biblically-based themes. “It gave them a new sparkle of life, happiness that they are able to give something to somebody,” Natalya said.

Natalya’s third child, 21-year-old Natazshya Skala, currently resides in the Ukraine where she is studying medicine and is the vice president of the center. Natazshya moved to the Ukraine at the end of July and plans to be there six years. She is a link between the U.S. and Ukraine in running the day-to-day operations at the center.

In between the high demands of her medical studies, Natazshya visits the center and makes phone calls weekly. The efforts of Natazshya and others has been to make the center a welcoming place that offers children a normal life despite their illnesses and troubled backgrounds.

“Institutions that house and raise children without parents/relatives are very strict and standardized, and rarely have a home-like environment,” Natazshya wrote in a Dec. 12 e-mail from the Ukraine. “Although the law provides that these children not be separated and closed off from other children, this is what normally happens.”

All the students at the center attend public school. Each day they are walked to their classes by center work volunteers after eating breakfast. The meals the students at the center eat are modeled after a specific diet plan to help build their immune systems from the illnesses they carry. Weekends are filled with a combination of homework studies, socializing and physical activity like most other children.

Donations made to the center from individuals and churches in Moses Lake have helped continue the day-to-day operations there. Those donations have included a new refrigerator, washing machine, clothes and other miscellaneous items.

The next biggest challenge for the center is financing a major remodel of an abandoned building 15 minutes from the current center site. Because the building is much larger and has been abandoned for six years, Natalya is hoping to acquire it for free from the Ukraine government to expand the center.

The building can house between 150 and 200 children compared to the less than 20 children the current site houses. The remodel would include a large kitchen, six rooms with master bedrooms and bathrooms and a performance theater.

The ultimate goal is to have seven to 10 adult couples taking care of the children and living with them in mini family units inside the new building once it’s remodeled, Natalya said.

Pairing children with adult couples is part of what Natalya calls raising up “the future of Ukraine.” Natazshya said the center hopes to have the remodel completed by next spring or summer as the waiting list of agencies wanting to house children with HIV/AIDS continues to grow.

One day, Natalya would like to have a center in the U.S. for abandoned children. “I have peace for children’s center,” Natalya said. -30-

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