Alla Soroka is inspired by opportunity to participate in Peacemaking program
July 26, 2017
Although she never planned it as her life’s vocation, Alla Soroka has been actively working with at-risk children since 2005. She found her passion, and her trust in God, working with teenage prisoners, children and orphans living in the streets of her native Odessa, Ukraine. She will be sharing some of her experiences this fall (Sept. 22–Oct. 16) at Presbyterian churches, universities and theological institutions in the United States as a 2017 International Peacemaker.
The challenges Soroka faces in Ukraine have roots that go back nearly a century to her country’s communist heritage. A sovereign state in Eastern Europe, Ukraine is bordered by Russia and saw its territories consolidated into the Soviet empire in 1922. It gained its independence after the end of the Cold War in 1991, but the communist mindset is still very much alive.
“My country has a difficult past, and we’re still dealing with rules established under the Soviet regime,” Soroka said.
Working with kids every day, she sees how the system can harm the entire family structure.
“Quite often, I see damaged kids, and many of them have damaged parents. Children who live in orphanages or prisons live in a system that doesn’t address their needs,” she said. “They’re deprived of care, support and understanding, and no one values their importance or uniqueness. I often find that parents are also lost and many have a childish attitude because of their past, where they were also left to fend for themselves.”
Soroka has a master’s degree in psychology and began her career working with the Odessa Regional Mediation Group’s “Restorative Justice” program, focusing on youth in jail. She has also served as the Ukraine coordinator of the “Alternatives to Violence” project, which was developed by the Quakers, and taught nonviolent strategies and communication skills to groups, including incarcerated young men.
For the past 10 years, she’s been on staff at This Child Here, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping orphans and other vulnerable youth in Ukraine, and currently serves as its project manager. This Child Here also designs and funds programs to help children deal with addiction and self-esteem issues.
She’s expanded her work over the years to include Ukraine’s orphanages, public schoolchildren and potential foster parents. For the past two years, she’s helped organize a peacemaking and reconciliation camp for families displaced by military conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Summer Camp for Peace creates an atmosphere to help participants feel more comfortable and relaxed, features games and crafts and generally provides a joyful, safe environment for families evicted from their homes by war.
Soroka is quick to point out the support she and her mentor, Robert Gamble, have received from Presbyterians. Gamble, This Child Here’s executive director, is a graduate of Columbia and Princeton seminaries, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
“Robert is a person who breathes Christianity and evangelism by putting it into practice; he is not just a theorist. We have the same goals and we’re both empowered by caring for children,” Soroka said. “I think that is a big reason why we’ve succeeded in our mission for the past 10 years. Some of our greatest support for our projects have been financed by Presbyterians; for that we are extremely grateful.”
Soroka is humble about her life’s work.
“I don’t think I’m doing something special,” she said. “My work is a regular job that’s part of life. Through it I would like to learn something and I believe God wants to reach me.”
Soroka looks forward to her opportunity this fall as an International Peacemaker with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and believes it’s a truly powerful experience when people from different countries and cultures meet each other and are linked by the same goals and values.
“There is a lot of precious power in peacemaking, and God loves it.”
Scott O’Neill, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Peacemaking Program
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker
Nadia Ayoub, Ukraine
This Child Here Staff
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Loving God, we thank you. You sent Jesus Christ to help us in times of need, and you change us so that we can help our neighbors come to know your love for them. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.