No Child Left Behind

Bogdan Guzman, 13
Chernovtsy, Ukraine

When Bogdan was a young boy, he and his mother, Irina, lived in his grandmother’s house.  While she didn’t have much room for them and there was never enough food, they had a roof over their heads and beds to sleep in. Bogdan so enjoyed living with his grandmother and has fond memories of the warm broth she would feed him every night before bedtime, not so much to satiate his perpetually growling stomach but simply to reassure him that he was loved.  

He also remembers the awful night that his grandmother finally had enough of Irina’s drinking and delinquent behavior, and kicked her out of the house.  Though he wanted to stay with his grandmother, Bogdan made the painful decision to go with his mother for no other reason than to make sure that there was someone to take care of her.  At that moment, the role reversal was complete, and Bogdan became the parent.

Wandering from place to place, Bogdan and Irina relied on the kindness of strangers for nightly lodging, often sleeping huddled in doorways.  In the summer, Bogdan picked wild blackberries and sold them in town, earning a small amount of money that, while intended for food, was all too often used by Irina to purchase alcohol.

In the winter, they used a friend’s abandoned summer cabin as their home base.  With no electricity, running water, or insulation, the cabin was almost as cold inside as it was outside.  Going to the bathroom and getting water for drinking, bathing and laundry was a fearful task that involved trekking out into the bitter cold, cracking the thick layer of ice that formed around the top of the well, and drawing bucketsful of frigid water.

When the Jewish community of Chernovtsy found out about Bogdan and Irina’s horrid living conditions, they did everything in their power to help.  The lay leaders brought Bogdan and Irina to a special camp in the orphanage of Zhytomyr that catered to mothers who had fallen on hard times and their children.  With a warm bed to sleep in and plentiful food to eat, Bogdan immediately began to flourish.  He felt at home and never wanted to leave.

But Irina had different ideas.  A slave to her alcoholism and self-destructive tendencies, she spent the majority of her time at the local bar convincing strangers to buy her drinks, leaving Bogdan alone day after day.

LifeChanger FSU intervened in an attempt to provide Bogdan with basic necessities and medical care, but immediately hit roadblocks created by Irina’s dependence on alcohol.  After the LifeChanger FSU bought Bogdan new clothes, Irina sold them to buy vodka.  When LifeChanger FSU sent Bogdan food packages, the food was also traded for alcohol.  Though the cycle continued, LifeChanger FSU persisted.

Luckily, LifeChanger FSU was successful in getting Bogdan the medical treatments and psychological assistance he so desperately needed.  The local coordinator also arrange for private tutors so that Bogdan could catch up in his studies.

However, when Irina became aware of Bogdan’s constant contact with the LifeChanger FSU staff, she forbade him from seeing them and turned them away whenever they came to offer their services.  After months of hard work, the LifeChanger FSU staff was able to convince Irina to trust them – for Bogdan’s sake – and she has started seeing a psychologist regularly, the first step of the grueling recovery process. 

Though the road ahead is sure to be fraught with challenges, LifeChanger FSU is determined to succeed, supporting Irina every step of the way and providing Bogdan with everything he needs to learn, grow and thrive, making certain that he will never be left behind.