The three young barefoot siblings held hands as they made their way down the gravel road in the dark. Escaping their home too fast to grab shoes and jackets, the November chill quickly set in as they ran along the same path they walked most afternoons. Their mother and older brother were drunk again, but tonight the fight turned violent. The young kids needed to escape to the only place they knew was safe. Knock-knock-knock. Eliza and Ivan woke up to the noise and made their way to the front door of their home located on the same property as the Pearl Children's Center. They opened the center 10 years ago and spend every day bettering the lives of the local children. But today, their day job continued into the night as they opened the door and brought in the three children.
The children of Moldova often live in broken homes. One or both parents leave the country to find work and the grandparents default to childraising again. Those that remain in Moldova live where the rate of alcoholism is amongst the highest in the world. Alcohol consumption is six times the world average and one in four deaths are alcohol-related. Many kids aren't motivated to finish school and a high percentage follow the well-beaten path to the west to seek a job offering enough money for a slightly better life.
As ongoing supporters of the Children's Center, we were invited to stay a few days and felt honored to do so. The overnight accommodations weren't fancy. A few beds were set up in a converted classroom. A simple bathroom down the hall included a shower with exposed pvc pipes bringing in water.
The three young children seeking safety that night last winter called our room home for a couple of weeks before returning to their home after things cooled off. More recently, waves of refugees from Ukraine stayed a day or two on the beds as well as mattresses on the floor. The border with Ukraine is only five miles to the east. Because their life in Ukraine before the war was better than what can be found in southern Moldova, the refugees were usually anxious to move on. The Center offers so much in the midst of so little.
The building remained quiet through the night but really woke up in the middle of the next day as students started to show up for the after-school program. The converted school facility soon filled to capacity as kids scrambled to their classrooms to begin a schedule alternating between arts and crafts, music, a Bible lesson, and a hot meal. The outdoor activity today was a soccer game on the green lawn Ivan worked so hard to maintain. Next to the soccer field, the construction of a brick patio was recently completed. Ivan pushed to get it done before the summer. A couple of small portable swimming pools are so popular, the kids are assigned a schedule to give everyone a chance to enjoy. The patio will extend the life of the portable pools and keep them filled with kids all summer.
Toward the middle of the afternoon, all the children assembled in one of the larger rooms. The soccer teacher turned into a DJ and music soon boomed from the speakers next to a small platform serving as a stage. Eliza moved from one side of the room to the other in front of the children, microphone in hand, pumping up the energy as the entire room joined in the singing. The words were foreign to us, but only joy and enthusiasm showed on the children's faces.
The Children's Center gives the kids of the village a safe place to grow up when there is so little hope at home. But the hope doesn't come from the building or facilities, but through Eliza, Ivan, and all those working at the Center. Their hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm would likely lead them to much more comfortable lives if they moved west. But instead, they choose to stay and show hope to everyone who enters the Children's Center.