Most people discover their world gradually. We learn to talk and interact with the world long before memories consciously form. Who of us can remember the first time they heard their name spoken? Or remembers that first sense of belonging? Or with certainty, knowing that snow was “snow” (for example) and could express their excitement over seeing it? Alina can remember all of these things. She was seven years old when her discovery of the world began.
UKRAINIAN BY BIRTH, AMERICAN BY ADOPTION
Alina, Ukrainian by birth, American by adoption, was born deaf as a result of Waardenburgs Syndrome. Orphaned at age three and presumed “mentally retarded,” she was labeled an outcast in Ukrainian culture. Non-verbal, and presumably unable to learn, she was given no hope for a future and left without any way to communicate and experience the world.
Our family met Alina in her institutional home in Uzhgorod, Ukraine, in October 2014. I helped her change her clothes on the morning she was to begin her new life. I set her orphanage-issued, brown, toe-scuffed, shoes under a chair and slipped her small feet into a pair of shiny, new, white boots. All of the other children gathered in the foyer to say good-bye. Alina waved to them, blew a kiss, and walked out the door. A 37 pound, 4 foot tall, deaf girl on her way to a new life; a life of hope and love; a life of sound and discovery of which she couldn’t possibly have dreamed.
This is the story of Alina’s discovery of the world. It is intended to show that there is significance in the simple. This is a story of perseverance, and the resiliency of one little girl as she transitions from Ukraine to the United States, from being an orphan to being a daughter. It is a journey from hopelessness to hope, and from silence to sound.
My husband and I have served as missionaries to Cambodia since 2010 and lived there full time in 2013-2014. The beautiful people of this nation are among the most inspiring subjects I have had the privilege to photograph, and photography itself has led to the formation of many relationships. It truly is an art that crosses all cultural barriers, and being that I believe firmly in going back, most of these relationships continue to develop.
As former teachers, most of our work is education based. We have partnered with Asian Hope since 2013, whose mission is to protect, educate, and empower the children of Cambodia. While my husband works with the teachers in a mentoring and training capacity, my task is to document lives. As such, most of the people I photograph are children, teachers, and families in both city and rural village settings. I’m blessed to be able to tell their stories and to have a glimpse into their culture, classrooms, and homes. If you would like more information about Cambodia or Asian Hope, let me know – they are a couple of my favorite subjects to talk about!
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