Around and Around: Vladimir’s Baby Orphanage

by Ellie Hanson, sophomore

Mai, Ellie and Catherine with some of the baby orphans.

Strong roots of small trees growing along a chain link fence cling tightly to the dirt as I attempt to dig them up. Each skinny tree, still a vibrant green although the weather recently faded to fall, stands about four or five feet above the soft coffee-colored soil, perfect for growth. The Lord provides everything the tree needs…the dirt, water and sunshine. These young healthy trees remind me that this orphanage provides a place of provision for God’s precious young children — “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). I pray the orphanage workers and volunteers share the love of Jesus with the vibrant young children, so that each may grow like a vibrant young tree taking root in the rich soil of Jesus Christ.

Vladimir’s biggest baby orphanage rescues many children, newborn to three years old, from deceased parents, neglect and unwanted pregnancies. Russia’s key orphaning factor is alcohol. It takes over 200 people working at the orphanage to replace the job of two parents, yet it is impossible for the workers to fully complete that father and mother role for each of the 94 babies living at the home. Many infants, dropped off just after birth, have diseases such as spina bifida, down syndrome, and hydrocephalus. According to Paul Lossau, co-founder of Mercy Ministries, many of these young lives do not make it past the age of three, and those who do begin the life of moving around and around from one orphanage or foster home to the next.

Thorns on a rose bush, once full of beautiful buds, penetrate my gloves as I restrain the untamed branches from engulfing my gardening mission below. I proceed to struggle digging up the trees when dirt gets in my shoes and eventually makes its way between my sockless toes. I try to wriggle my toes to remove whatever uncomfortable particles I can as another shovel full of dirt sends more dust my way, but instead give up and continue with the task before me. The broken-in shovel from Mercy Ministries helps, but it still takes a lot of work to pull each root-ball out of the ground. As time passes, nannies begin to walk by with a few children between the ages of two and three. Each child, bundled in warm cloths, waddles along the cement driveway holding the hand of the child next to him. Mismatched brightly colored hats, scarves and puffy coats keep each child warm, but it almost gives them the look of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, who could barely put down his arms due to the extensive layers of clothing.

Groups of nannies and children pass by again and again. I stop shoveling to join them and I realize they just walk around and around the orphanage. Sometimes they stop to enjoy the primary-colored merry-go-round, swings, or to play house. Although the bright paint shines vividly, the grass slowly turns into mud at the center of the well-worn paths and a mixture of dry sand and dirt overflows out of the cracks in the wood floor of the playhouse and cakes itself on the plastic toys. It reminds me of the preschool where I work at home, but then scares me when I realize how far from morning preschool this really is.

Nannies continue to walk around and around to let the toddlers exercise, following them almost anywhere other than outside the iron gate we, the group from Concordia, walked through earlier as we entered the orphanage. Maksim, a young boy probably around twenty-eight months with a mild case down syndrome, now becomes my tour guide. He notices the iron gate too and sees that it serves as a barrier between him and the outside world. I hold the bundled child closely in my arms as he points to the metal bars keeping him inside the orphanage property. He says to me, “Я хочу выйти” which translated means, “I want out.” That is a pretty profound statement for a two-year-old.

Paul helped with translation that time, but I find that the language barrier at the orphanage is not like the locked iron gate. I heard the screeching metal of the gate as the barrier opened for us to go inside, but there is no screeching of metal in seeing people from Concordia love and interact with their new toddler friends. A baby is a baby. It seems as though almost every action toward a baby proves universal. Holding, swinging, bouncing, smiling and our higher pitched voices seem to transcend cultures and make it easy to communicate. Besides the fact that parenthood remains unknown for the vast majority of us, the universality of the babies at the orphanage gives it a natural feeling. I find a calm feeling of normality in loving Maksim and the other children even as I ponder the fact I am in Vladimir, Russia.

The nanny I am walking with gestures for Maksim, three other two-year-olds, Mai Vu and me to follow her inside. A sweet stench of baby powder, diapers, mashed-up cooked food, lots of bodies and stale air instantly fills my first breath once inside. Wooden lockers and a mural cover the plain walls. Inside the mud room I help unbundle Sasha, taking off his turquoise hat and unbuttoning his jacket. We put “indoor” shoes on each child and then the nanny tells Mai and me it is time to go away.

Paul tells me I am invited to tea and cookies. Mai and I walk down the long hallways looking for the open door, but instead we find thirteen children in the playroom. Russian dolls and other various Russian toys sit in a gigantic doll house, a Persian rug covers the floor, a miniature playhouse with a slide sits in the corner, and a kitchenette awaits a child’s presence over by the window. Each of the thirteen toddlers find someone from Concordia to befriend as new people enter the room. Smiles from both the two-year-olds and the twenty-year-olds add joyful character to the room. The moment lasts ever so briefly as teatime calls.

With the iron gate ahead of me, I notice the landscape at the orphanage looks a little nicer from the yard work. A satisfied feeling, both from the tea and the time with the babies, makes me want to come back to observe and learn again. I look back at the building to see the balcony and eight bibs hanging on a clothes line to dry. The thirteen children, all lined up against the glass look out the upstairs window. These children will continue to go around and around, along the pathway encircling their orphanage and eventually from one orphanage or foster home to the next. I will continue to pray that the children looking out the window will find and take root in Jesus and His glorious love, trusting that His love always stays in their hearts and will never wander around and around.

Under the Crypts with Antonio

by Mai Vu, sophomore

Statues adorn the family crypts at Recoleta Cemetery.

Public access to mausoleums underneath the crypts is denied in El Recoleta Cemetario. However, Brock Powell, senior, achieved access and walked among the dead two weeks ago in Buenos Aires.

The crypt keeper emerged unexpectedly from the depths with a feather duster. Turning around, he took a small lock and key out of his pocket and secured the gate. With shoulders hunched he walked away around the corner and out of sight.
After a few minutes of quiet murmurs and light breezes, Powell’s voice broke through the silence: “Bajando en el muerte? Yo Bajando en la casa de muerte?!”

Powell turned the corner and stood towering over the crypt keeper, who looked up and seemed exasperated. Somehow between the little Spanish knowledge that he knew and repeated hand gestures, Powell was able to ask the man to go inside the crypt. Shuffling away, the crypt keeper went to his closet, grabbed his keys, and motioned for Powell to follow.

Moving through the rows of mausoleums, the crypt keeper finally reached his destination. What loomed was an enormous cream-colored mausoleum with black iron gates and bronze plaques. Above the door, the letters “PAX” were carved into the stone and a cross adorned the entire structure. The plaques stated the names and information about the people in the crypt as well: “Homenaje de El Personal Administrativo de la Sdad Anonima Piccardo y Cnia Lda A Juan Leon Piccardo, el 20 Deciembre de 1926, 1929.”

The crypt keeper opened the black iron door and motioned with his hands to enter. Goose bumps appeared on Powell’s arms and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. Not a speck of dust was visible, and the gold trim on the first coffin shown brightly.

The man again motioned to go down the small set of stairs to the right. The stairs were made of marble and they spiraled down to a basement level. Three more coffins occupied the space on white shelves. Looking down, Powell realized that he and the little man stood on a metal grate. The crypt dropped an entire level lower and below where Powell counted six more coffins.

“Es tu familia?” Powell asked.
“No, no,” the man answered. “Yo trabajando en el cemetario. Limpio los mausoleos.”
“Oh, Gracias por… this,” Powell said. “Como te llama?”
“Antonio,” the crypt keeper responded.
“Well, gracias mucho Antonio, gracias.”

Recoleta Cemetery: Constructing Eternity

by Annmarie Utech, senior

Students take notes on Dr. Norton's lecture while sitting at Recoleta Cemetery.

Tourists and admirers gathered at Recoleta Cemetery Friday, despite construction, to catch glimpses of the final resting places of some of Argentina’s most famous citizens. Heavy rainfall in February caused entrance through the main gate to be restricted, but has not impeded visits to the maze-like cemetery.

“I saw and heard the construction but it still didn’t take away from the experience,” said Amy Rosinsky, junior. “It’s all so intricate [the mausoleums] and it was really cool to see the history of Argentina all in one place.”

Construction had begun in March and the city government is now taking this opportunity to restore several other parts of the cemetery while tourism season is not at its peak. According to Recoleta’s website, the city will pay Naku Construction about 225,000 pesos (57,000 USD) for restoration under the supervision of architect Santiago Jorge Bayazbakian, who has been given a soft deadline of 45 days to complete the project before the summer season begins.

Seeking the old and unique mausoleums, tourists come from around the world to marvel at the construction of the tombs as well as to take a walk through the history of Argentina. The cemetery itself dates back to the early 18th century when it was founded as a convent by the monks of the Order of the Recoletos. Although the order disbanded in 1822, the garden of the convent was converted into the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires. Today it houses six past presidents of Argentina as well as former First Lady Eva Peron, the writer José Hernandez, and poet Luis César Amadori.

“Even though I don’t usually like cemeteries it was interesting to walk around and see people that I recognized from history,” said Ethan Scherch, sophomore.

The cemetery is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located on Calle Junín 1790 in Buenos Aires. Until completion of the project, the only access to Recoleta Cemetery is via a service entrance to the left of the main gate.

L.I.F.E. in Argentina

by Jessica Schober, senior

Deana Schooler, Ethan Scherch and Stephen Puls play futbol with kids in the villa.

Childhood in the Argentina slums ends early for girls since many continue to become pregnant as young as the age of twelve. Students from Concordia recently witnessed this during their two-week stay in Argentina.

“We will go to the villa known as Ciudad Oculta. Do you know what a villa is?” asked Lilly, the L.I.F.E. Argentina director. The clueless students pondered the question in silence. “Villas are the slums of the city. No one goes there unless they live there. We work with the children to give them hope and to show them a better life. Many parents do not work. They drink. The children go to school for the food and shelter, not the education. Girls get pregnant really young because their mothers did the same thing.”

Amada blended with the rest of the children there, but when she stepped away from the group and unzipped her jacket, the pregnancy at only 12 years of age proved real. Unlike many young pregnant girls, Amada continues to attend junior high and even takes English classes. Information about her pregnancy and possible stigma or difficulties she may be facing was not obtained due to language difficulties.

Ana, fifteen years old, lives in an even poorer part of Argentine slums. When the volunteers arrived she was kicking a soccer ball with the rest of the kids her age. Ana appeared to be like any other growing girl until the moment she left the game. Erica Norton, a Concordia volunteer with L.I.F.E., handed a baby girl from her arms back to Ana who then transitioned to mothering her baby rather than playing with her friends.

L.I.F.E. Argentina and Concordia students worked together for two weeks for the purpose of showing love and value to girls like Amada and Ana and to any child looking for someone willing to give them their time. Visit for more information about volunteering with this organization.

Nomads of Buenos Aires: Volunteers at L.I.F.E. Argentina

by Amber Watson, sophmore

Volunteers from various parts of the world have recently been attracted to L.I.F.E. Argentina, a non-profit organization with foundations in helping children in villas (slums).  Sarah, Jeremy, Alice, and Christina are four of L.I.F.E. Argentina’s current key volunteers who have come from Denmark, France and the United States to serve others.

Through a love for traveling, Sarah found a passion for serving others. About three years ago she made her way from Denmark to Nicaragua to live with families in the slums. While there, Sarah grew in her Spanish speaking abilities as she spent time helping the children.  About five months ago she moved from Nicaragua to Argentina to help with L.I.F.E. She believes this is her place — it is where her “heart feels at home.”

Alice and Jeremy both recently moved here from Paris, France. They have fallen in love with the children that L.I.F.E. reaches out to. The many L.I.F.E. locations within the Argentine slums allow them to see the differing economic classes even within the villas themselves.    This opportunity has opened their eyes to the many struggles people who grow up in these villas face.  Many children who live in these areas fall into drug abuse and even the selling of drugs.  L.I.F.E., with the help of volunteers like Alice and Jeremy, seek to put an end to the vicious circle that occurs with drugs in the villas.

Joanna Steinhaus plays with Paraguayan immigrants in Ciudad Oculta.

Christina, from Seattle, has been volunteering with L.I.F.E. for two months.  With only five short days left in Buenos Aires she is sad to leave the children she has been bonding with.  When arriving in Argentina, Christina didn’t know very much Spanish, but she has been diligently taking classes.

“Reaching out to these children is so important and being able to connect with them on a linguistic basis has improved the way I can reach out to others,” Christina said. “I’ve had such an amazing experience working with L.I.F.E. Argentina.”

All the reasons for coming to L.I.F.E. Argentina are different, yet all these nomadic volunteers share a basis in love for helping children.  With the help of volunteers from various places around the world, L.I.F.E. Argentina is able to make an impact in the villas of Buenos Aires.

Twenty-three students and two professors from Concordia spent the last two weeks of August volunteering with L.I.F.E. Argentina as part of their Around-the-World Semester Program.

God’s Lead: A Devotional Perspective on Tango

by Martha James, sophomore

He made eye contact with me.  Startled at his advance toward me and the taking of my hand, I let myself be pulled to the center.  Encircled around us, our friends and some strangers watched in anticipation.  I was confused as to why he chose me.  I had not learned the correct steps.  Anxiety pulsed through me as he placed his hand on my waist and asked for my right to accompany his left.  I wanted to warn the hollowed floors beneath our feet of the hurricane that would soon ensue.

I quietly reminded him that I did not know the steps.  He looked at me with gentle calmness and replied, “Confidence, Martha.”   After a brief moment of silence, interrupted by my deep breath, the music commenced.  The tango tune coming from a small radio in the far corner prompted his first step.  He led me forward, to the side, and then back, never losing focus.  His eyes were locked on mine.  In that moment, he guided me.  There was no flaw in his movements.  I felt secure.

Concordia students use blindfolds to practice tango steps.

God is asking for my hand every day.  He desires to take me out of my comfortable state and solicits for my dependency.  There is no hesitation in his strength as he holds me close.  He knows every step perfectly and will not let me fall.  I am graceful and elegant because of His determination to make me so.

He whispers confidence in my ears and my anxiety compares nothing to His peace.  I am overwhelmed by His longing to dance with me.  He chose me.  Without His presence I stand still, motionless, without hope.  The act of dancing by myself or to my own steps is futile.  Looking into my soul, He reminds me of the trust that I am lacking and therefore need.  Nothing wavers His steps.

I hear the beckoning of my love.  He wants to lead me into a place of peace and rest with careful precision and with my faith solely in Him.

Tango Lessons in Buenos Aires

by Kelsey Menke, sophomore

Tango music filled Hostel Milonga two weeks ago as 22 Concordia students took dance lessons in an attempt to embrace the culture of Argentina.  Buenos Aires was the first stop of Concordia’s new Around-the-World Semester Program.

photo by Adam Lee

Mai Vu and Jessica Schober learn steps for the tango.

When the students entered the room for the beginning of the lesson, the instructor, Hugo, immediately noticed that they had too much energy. He explained that the tango contains dramatic, passionate steps, so he insisted on having fifteen minutes of massage techniques and relaxation exercises to calm everyone down.

After they properly loosened up, the students paired off and watched Hugo as he taught the group the basics of the dance. He demonstrated that the tango has six simple steps in which the girls are supposed to mirror any movement made by their partners.  Lined up along the hallway, they practiced the steps repeatedly until they got it right.

Most of the students thought it seemed simple enough, until Hugo surprised them by pulling out blindfolds for everyone to wear. He encouraged everyone to just listen to the music and rely on their partners for guidance as they moved counter-clockwise across the hallway. Ethan Scherch, sophomore, especially enjoyed this exercise, saying, “It forced us to forget about the strict structure of the steps and taught us how to get into the flow of the dance.”

On top of the six basic steps, improvisation also plays a key role in the Argentine tango. With that in mind, Hugo taught all of the students additional movements and poses that would add flavor to their style. Some of the girls’ favorites moves were the ocho, a figure-eight foot movement, and the sandwich, where the girl would kick her foot into the air. Mai Vu, sophomore, said that she liked practicing these movements with Hugo as her partner because he perfectly guided her into all of the correct steps.

By the end of the hour, the students could confidently tango across the hallway with ease. Hugo emphasized that he was impressed with how fast they learned, and that they danced best when they were blindfolded and unaware of other people watching them. The group is excited to discover even more cultural activities that are waiting for them all over the world this semester.