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For week ended March 19, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 27Mar00

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

The orphans of Vladivostok
Deseret News 19Mar00 P2
By Elaine Jarvik: Deseret News special writer

Rebecca Rasmussen, along with five other friends, took a trip to the edge of a frozen bay on the eastern tip of Russia to visit a town called Vladivostok, the very last stop on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Packed tightly into their suitcases were toys and medicine and their purses were full of crisp, new $100 bills. They were representing the Mothers of Utah for the Children of Russia. This year-old organization was founded by a grass roots Cache Valley effort to help the orphanages and children's hospitals in a country that is full of the young victims of Russia's faltering economy.

Rasmussen chose Vladivostok because she claims, "you have to start somewhere" and that is the city her Uncle Lew had written to her about. Lew Lamb and his wife, Kathie, had been in Vladivostok in 1997 and 1998 to serve a humanitarian mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They taught English to the doctors at the local hospital and regularly visited some of the region's orphanages and children's hospitals. They sent e-mails home describing sparce facilities with barely enough blankets, antibiotics, baby formula, syringes, x-rays or food. He wrote home about children who were shivering, hungry and dying. "I thought, who will help these children if we don't," said Lamb's niece, Rasmussen.

It wasn't long before Rasmussen started the Mothers of Utah for the Children of Russia. Soon the community was holding fund-raisers for Vladivostok. Lions Club breakfasts, car washes and a Christmas home show began to bring in money. The children at North Park Elementary brought in dimes and quarters they earned at home, which quickly added up to $700. A retired truck driver in Washington state started sending $20 a month. By February of this year, the Utah Mothers for the Children of Russia had raised $50,000.

Unable to wire the money safely, and in an effort to avoid tax laws and red tape, Rasmussen and five others made the long journey to make sure the money went to where it was needed most. Working through a Wyoming-based adoption and humanitarian aid group, called Focus on Children, the Utahns made plans to deliver their donations personally.

In addition to Rasmussen, the journey was made by Sonja Jorgenson of Ogden, Carolyn Ashcroft, Stephanie Allred and Bonnie Child, all of Hyde Park in Cache Valley, plus Child's son, Dan, who had returned from an LDS mission to Russia. They arrived on a bitter-cold afternoon to find that the donated rocking chair they had brought from Logan, was requiring a $60 import tax, ($l20 if they wanted a receipt.) The group brought about $20,000. Crisp, new $l00 bills were recommended. The Russians didn't want worn-out old money.

The group spent the next 10 days visiting orphanages and children's hospitals. They soon realized that the children could use more of everything. In a country suffering from a desperate local economy, shopping proved a problem. It was immpossible to buy a crib, find baby formula, paint, light fixtures and copper wire. The attempt to buy from local businesses proved difficult. It took two days to find food items, and still they could not spend their money.

At all the orphanages that were visited, the Utah mothers reported, the children seemed happy, although skinny, hungry and small for their ages. "You watch these little 2-year-old's eat and they eat every drop in a minute or two," remembers Sonja Jorgenson. Their diet is heavy in a grain and borscht mixture with few fresh fruits, vegetables or meats. "The babies gulped down the food, then would cry for more. The directors told us, 'That's all they get.'"

"I've never seen a child respond like that to someone opening up a suitcase," said Jorgenson. "They were almost hysterical. They loved everything." While handing out candybars, "they would take a bite, then run up to the adults and say, 'It tastes good. Here, take a bite.'"

Soon, Lew and Kathie Lamb will lead a second contingent to Valdivostok, hoping to spend more this time. They hope to visit the region's most needy orphanages. "It is not just about money and supplies," recounted Carolyn Ashcroft. "It is just a band-aid." "But, maybe more important is that we're strangers and we gave something."

Mothers of Utah for the Children of Russia can be contacted at 400 W. Center St., Hyde Park, Utah 84318.


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