January 29, 2023
U.S. Presbyterian minister Robert Gamble poses for {a photograph} as he holds a boy all through a coaching consultation for foster households in Odesa in 2020. Gamble has been supporting Ukrainian orphans and kids in want since 2006. (Robert Gamble)

One early September 16 years in the past, U.S. Presbyterian minister Robert Gamble were given off the educate in Odesa, Ukraine’s greatest port town, the place he had selected to spend his sabbatical. 

He didn’t discuss any Ukrainian or Russian, and had neither kin nor buddies within the area. His handiest lifeline used to be a small piece of paper with a hand-written telephone selection of somebody within the town who may just discuss English. 

He used to be there for a reason why: Gamble had heard concerning the top selection of orphans in Ukraine, each in orphanages and at the streets. He already had revel in of operating with youngsters, and used to be decided to lend a hand.

He known as the quantity he’d been given, and used to be steered to take a tram to a close-by resort. As he stood within the foyer, making an attempt to provide an explanation for to the bemused workforce what he used to be on the lookout for, he heard a voice from at the back of. 

“Are you American? What are you doing right here?” a girl requested. 

She used to be a tender Estonian volunteer operating for an area charity known as The Means House (“Doroha Dodomu” in Ukrainian), which has been supporting homeless youngsters in Odesa since 1996. 

The girl invited Gamble to volunteer for the charity. It used to be the start of one thing that changed into a lot more than a three-month sabbatical: Gamble ended up converting now not handiest his personal lifestyles however the lives of a large number of youngsters as neatly. 

There are recently nearly 69,000 youngsters in orphanages in all places Ukraine, in step with Ukraine’s social coverage ministry. 

On moderate, 10,000 youngsters develop into orphans yearly. Whilst a lot of them finally end up in orphanages, and a few even run away and develop into homeless, the selection of adoptions within the nation stays reasonably low: In 2020, only one,239 youngsters had been followed.

After seeing the on a regular basis battle of the youngsters he helped, Gamble, now 70, determined to release his personal nonprofit and transfer to Odesa. He did so in 2006. 

His group, This Kid Right here, started via supporting homeless youngsters and shortly introduced quite a lot of coaching systems for orphans, foster households, the ones displaced via the struggle within the Donbas, and extra. 

However Gamble is but to succeed in his greatest objective – to discover a house and a loving circle of relatives for each kid in Ukraine. 

“Each and every kid merits a lifestyles grounded in dignity and peace,” he says. 

Lifesaving trade

Gamble himself didn’t have a “common” youth: He used to be born in Rhode Island, however since his father used to be a Military officer the circle of relatives needed to relocate and trip so much. 

“I’m from a large number of puts,” Gamble says. “We stayed two years within the (United) States and 3 years in a foreign country.” 

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However, Gamble had a contented youth. Due to the consistent touring, he used to be ready to discover other puts and meet youngsters of various nationalities, and the dependancy to trip changed into deeply rooted in his lifestyles. 

Gamble studied on the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut. He remembers his father joking that it used to be the “hooligan army.” Even though he discovered a large number of life-saving tactics there, 5 years into his provider as an officer within the Coast Guard Gamble began to really feel he used to be involved in one thing else. 

“There isn’t a large number of room for creativity within the army, so I used to be very within the religious aspect of items,” he says. 

Even all through his provider because the commanding officer of a Coast Guard base in Missouri, Gamble used to be already concerned with the church: He used to be operating with children at an area church as a volunteer when he confided to his pastor that he used to be pondering of leaving the Coast Guard and turning into a formative years social employee. 

“He mentioned to me ‘No, you aren’t going to try this,’” Gamble remembers, pronouncing that the pastor instructed that he attend a seminary. The younger officer duly did so.

Robert Gamble poses for {a photograph} with a homeless woman in Odesa again within the 2000s. (Robert Gamble)

He says his oldsters had been “fearful” after they heard about their son’s resolution, however modified their minds once they noticed the college and learned what he used to be going to be informed there. 

“It wasn’t tricky for them to know at that time,” Gamble says.  

His mom used to be a Presbyterian, so he selected the seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Atlanta, Georgia, to be informed theology, languages, ethics, historical past, and extra. What maximum attracted Gamble to an ecclesiastical lifestyles had been the relationships that he used to be about to determine. 

“You’re nearer with other folks,” Gamble says. “You don’t put on a uniform, looking to care for the ones barriers, you’ll be able to speak about issues which can be extra necessary in lifestyles.”

“I’ve all the time been within the life-saving trade: Coast Guard, church buildings, and now in Ukraine,” he provides. “That has been the development of my lifestyles.” 

Nicaraguan orphans 

When the most important nation in Central The usa, Nicaragua, become a warzone within the Nineteen Eighties, Gamble went there as a chairperson of the peacemaking job drive of Presbyterian Church buildings in Tennessee. 

It used to be now not the struggle that inspired him probably the most, however slightly the youngsters he met at an orphanage there. 

“I have in mind sitting down with my Nikon digital camera, simply taking pictures the faces of youngsters who amassed round me,” he says, including that he noticed the images handiest after coming again to the U.S. 

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“The faces of the ones youngsters… they caught with me,” Gamble says. 

He had labored with youngsters at church earlier than, however now not with orphans who dream of being cared for via a loving circle of relatives, however don’t have one. Gamble used to be decided to go back to them. 

He got here again within the Nineteen Nineties, bringing his 3 sons and a few different youngsters, most commonly from his church, to engage with the orphans and lend a hand them be told one thing new from each and every different. They performed video games, song, and made artwork in combination, however most significantly, they bonded. 

“Other folks exchange other folks,” Gamble says. 

He believes that medication and meals can save lives, but it surely takes an individual to really exchange others. 

“I’m a bit extra pessimistic about converting adults’ lives, however with younger other folks – you may have a possibility of that.” 

Henceforth, Gamble determined to proceed supporting orphans in want. 

He would stay coming again to Nicaragua till the early 2000s, when he heard concerning the tens of hundreds of orphans dwelling in Ukraine. His sabbatical used to be simply across the nook, so Gamble determined to head on an extended adventure to Ukraine and ended up in Odesa. 

“It used to be all peculiar and peculiar for me,” Gamble remembers his first hours within the town. “I took a bit tram to the resort and there have been only some other folks on it, after which a canine were given on, two stops later the canine were given off,” he laughs. 

He quickly began volunteering for The Means House, riding in conjunction with their “social patrol” on the lookout for youngsters who had been dwelling at the streets to convey them to the charity’s shelters. 

After he returned to the U.S., one concept started to hang-out Gamble: He sought after to go back to Ukraine to switch the lives of the ones youngsters. 

He now says that coming again and founding his personal charity used to be probably the most wisest issues he has completed. 

U.S. Presbyterian minister Robert Gamble talks to youngsters all through the peace camp coaching in Odesa in 2019. Gamble’s nonprofit This Kid Right here helps Ukrainian orphans, youngsters, and households in want, in addition to households that had been pressured to transport as a result of Russia’s struggle. (Robert Gamble)

This Kid Right here

All the way through its first two years, This Kid Right here used to be operating basically with homeless youngsters, looking to convey them to The Means House’s safe haven. Even though there have been no recorded statistics of youngsters dwelling at the streets of Odesa again then, Gamble says he quickly started to note fewer homeless formative years. 

Lots of those that ended up at the streets had run clear of orphanages, on the lookout for extra freedom.

The group subsequently started operating with youngsters in orphanages to lend a hand them shape a way of group and persuade them to not run away. 

“Lets merely spend two days there, doing paintings with the ones youngsters, looking to lend a hand them believe each and every different,” Gamble says. 

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They’d a unique program with video games designed to create bonds between youngsters, educate them decision-making abilities, and extra. Again then, Gamble believed there used to be room for orphanages within the device. 

“I now not do,” he says. 

“Each and every kid that lives in orphanages has trauma,” Gamble says. “It places a pause on a kid’s construction.”

The largest step find a circle of relatives for each orphaned kid used to be to start out coaching applicants for adoptive oldsters in 2014. 

“We determined to position our power into households extra,” Gamble says. 

This Kid Right here now holds lectures and workshops to organize oldsters for long term demanding situations, ensuring that households don’t really feel the wish to convey youngsters again to orphanages. The organisation has skilled over 600 oldsters in 5 years. 

They stepped in when Russia began its struggle towards Ukraine in 2014, displacing hundreds of Ukrainians from their properties: The nonprofit introduced particular “Peace Camps” for households displaced via the struggle, permitting them to leisure via the ocean and play video games, in addition to spend time with different individuals who have additionally misplaced their properties. 

The struggle additionally driven This Kid Right here to start out coaching youngsters within the tactics of peacemaking. They teamed up with Ukraine’s Minor Academy of Science and were given 200 letters from youngsters from in all places Ukraine who sought after to take part, with 16 of them being decided on for the educational. 

“The overall examination used to be for this complete staff of children to return to a consensus on a query,” Gamble says. “It took them seven hours.” 

This Kid Right here additionally helps single-parent households dwelling in poverty throughout Odesa, in conjunction with a unique program for kids of Ukrainian squaddies. In 2021, they held their first camp for foster households with youngsters, and plan to run it once more this yr. 

All the way through his time in Ukraine, Gamble has been touring backward and forward to the U.S. to boost cash and spot his circle of relatives. But he calls Ukraine a spot the place his lifestyles really occurs. 

As he cherishes his private connections, and believes in other folks converting other folks, Gamble nonetheless assists in keeping involved with a few of the ones youngsters he helped rescue from the streets again within the 2000s. Seeing them are living glad and satisfying lives is the most productive praise for his paintings. 

“For each kid a house, for each kid a circle of relatives, that’s what I firmly imagine,” Gamble says.

Donate to “This Kid Right here” at www.thischildhere.org