Five years ago, I received an unexpected invitation from the Department of Education in the Far East of Russia. They wanted me to come for a visit so that we could talk about using distance-learning technology in their remote orphanages.
As background, the DOE in Russia is responsible for the 3,000,000 orphans that live in their many orphanages. Unfortunately, the reason they were considering the distance-learning project turned out to be quite a sad story. They were hoping that by providing more education to the orphans, it would help break a continuing cycle that seemed to plague the orphanages. Former orphans, who were now young married adults, were abandoning their own children when they found themselves unable to earn enough money to support their families. They were just not prepared for the harsh realities of life. Moreover, without family members around to help them, their babies were now appearing on the orphanages’ doorsteps, in hopes that the kids would have a better chance for survival. As crazy as this might sound, these impoverished adult orphans are the lucky ones. An even sadder reality is that less than 50 of these kids do and turn to crime, prostitution and the Russian Mafia? Would I fall victim to some fanatical terrorist group who offered me food and work in exchange for some day having to blow myself up for their God? Maybe this was the best I could hope for - if I were in their shoes.
So who should solve this horrible problem? According to the estimates of the adoption world, there are over 500 million children without homes. When will we give these children their lives back? A good friend answered those questions for me. He simply said, very slowly, “If not now, then when? If not you, then who?”
So now, my life begins anew. Five years later, Tatiana and I have just celebrated our 4-year wedding anniversary. Seeing her love and focus has truly changed everything in my life. I can no longer care about "bottom lines…" Instead, I think about how to send "lifelines" to those children that we left behind.
Now the hard work really begins. As a Christmas present for Tatiana last year, I formed a nonprofit called The Orphan Foundation. We invested in 400 donation boxes, and we started putting them out in gas stations and convenience stores to raise money for adopting families. With domestic adoptions averaging $19,180 per child, and with international adoptions costing even more, we know we need to eliminate or minimize this financial barrier. As we grow our volunteer “donation box managers” across the country, more donation boxes will bring more dollars, and we will be able to help remove this heavy financial barrier for many loving families. It takes a full year, and 35 donation boxes, in high traffic locations, to pay for one domestic adoption. It takes 50 for an international adoption.
Many wonderful people have already signed up to help us, and we now have a website to seek more volunteers and donations: www.TheOrphanFoundation.org. We have a dozen business and adoption experts on our Board of Directors now, and we hope to round up 5,000 "donation box managers" this year, to help us manage 5 donation boxes, each. For all of us, it has become a race for hope. The more volunteers we can round up, the more kids we can help find homes and loving families.
So here I am, at the age of 60, beginning a new journey - a journey of love. Someone posted this question on one of the AARP chat forums: "Is life beginning or ending at 55?" A smile forms easily on my face, because I think you know the answer.
At 60, I say to all of you, "I think I finally just discovered what life is all about!" Tatiana and I send you our love and blessings, and we hope you discover the richness that waits for all of us, if we only look.