Posted Jul 10, 2010 by 7 Comments

It’s amazing how much we rely on non-verbal cues when communicating, isn’t it?  Every time you or I are having a conversation, we’re performing thousands of subtle actions to help us get across what we’re trying to say.

A raised finger, a lifted eyebrow, a shrug… Each gesture is pregnant with meaning and interpreted by our brains in the blink of an eye.

But imagine for a moment what life would be like if you couldn’t control your gestures.  Imagine if something as simple as a wave of your hand took a few seconds of complete concentration…

People would have difficulty understanding you.  You would appear strange and different.  And one of the most crucial aspects of your life would be drastically changed: interpersonal communication.

Dima, mentally healthy but physically disabled.

Well, for many people with cerebral palsy, this is exactly what life is like.  Misunderstandings, frustration, pain…

But for one young man at the Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage, being misunderstood has led to more than just frustration.  For Dima, being unable to communicate could very well cost him his life…


If you’ve been reading World Next Door for a while, you’ve heard all about the Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage and the incredible story of Peter, an orphan there who was adopted by a wonderful Ukrainian family.

With companions that cannot speak, Dima will never receive the social, emotional and mental development he needs.

Peter, a mentally healthy boy with muscular dystrophy, was kept in the severely disabled section of the orphanage.  Even though he could think and read and learn, he was trapped in a prison of maltreatment.  There was little hope for him until a brave family of Christ followers here in Zhytomyr and a group of dedicated financial sponsors from the U.S. got together to rescue him.

But Peter was not the only boy in his position.  There was another.

His name is Dima.  And he is still trapped at Romaniv.


As I mentioned above, Dima has cerebral palsy.  Because of a traumatic event (e.g. lack of oxygen, blood toxicity, shaken baby syndrome, etc.) that happened to him early in his brain’s development, he has a very hard time controlling his body.

His arms occasionally flail around, he has difficulty walking, and often he simply can’t quite get his body to do what he wants it to do.

But looking into Dima’s eyes, you can see the truth.  Dima is mentally healthy.  Just like Peter, he can think, grow and learn.

Unfortunately, his caretakers don’t understand this.  As I’ve mentioned before, they have no training in working with the disabled.  They see his tightly clenched fists, they see the drool on his chin, and they assume that he is stupid.

Romaniv is improving, it will take more than toys to help Dima become fully healthy.

They don’t hug him.  They don’t teach him.  They don’t even speak to him.

But Dima is far from stupid.  With a little consistent education, Dima could make some incredible leaps in his development.  He could learn.  He could grow.  He could live.

After attending Mission to Ukraine’s summer camp last year, he was like a new person.  He was alert, energetic and talkative.  At camp he laughed and played with the American volunteers, he talked on the phone with his best friend Peter and he told Oksana his heart’s desire:  “I want to go home too.”

Far From Home

Instead, he went back to Romaniv.

Dima went back to a place where he is ignored.  Back to a place where nobody talks to him.  Back to a place where his only companions are boys with terribly debilitating mental and physical impairments…

One year later, being ignored has taken its toll.  Now he is easily distracted.  His responses are sluggish. Like a shipwreck survivor coming back to civilization, he seems a bit like he’s in another world.

And while physically his needs are being met, in a very real way his life is in danger.

Dima learning the story of baby Moses in the basket. It’s both exciting and heartbreaking to see his capacity for growth.

If he continues to be left in an environment like Romaniv, Dima will sink further inwards.  Without consistent, meaningful interactions with people, his emotional isolation could become permanent.

It breaks my heart to think that this sweet, gentle young man could spend the rest of his life trapped in an unnecessary prison, lacking the love and affection he so desperately needs to grow.


Thankfully, there is hope for Dima.

With the right ingredients, he too can be adopted by a Ukrainian family.  But before I tell you what those ingredients are, I’d like you to watch this video and meet Dima yourself!

(Sorry about how distracted I am in the video.  As you can hear, it’s hard to focus in such a noisy place…)

Finding Dima a Home

So what would it take to get Dima adopted like little Peter?  How can we rescue this beautiful young man from the terrible conditions he is living in now?

Well, as I said above, it will take three crucial ingredients.

First, of course, it will take God’s powerful hand.  With Peter, the unbelievable became possible in less time than I could have ever imagined.  This time, I won’t let my faith be so puny.  If God can really move mountains (Matthew 17:20), then it will be no sweat for him to find Dima a home.

Dima needs a home. Will you step up to help that become a reality?

Second, we will need a Ukrainian family to step up to the call.  This is not an easy thing to ask for.  A family adopting Dima will need to be gentle, compassionate, patient and secure in their identity.  In this culture, having a disabled child is still viewed as a great dishonor.  And as we’ve seen already, this city is not exactly an ideal place for the disabled to live.

Third and finally, we will need to find financial sponsors to help cover the $300 a month that Dima’s new family will need to take care of him.  And here’s the deal: I want you to be one of those sponsors.

Through it all, we will need to pray… To pray that hearts would be softened.  To pray that the money and family would be found.  And to pray that the kingdom of God would move.

Will You Step Up?

So there you have it.  The most explicit call I’ve ever made for you to step up and get into the game.

You’ve read all about the Romaniv Orphanage.  You’ve rejoiced with me about Peter’s adoption.  Now it’s time for you to act… and play an integral part in the rescue of one beautiful young man that needs your help now.

Will you pledge your finances?  Will you commit to spread the word?  Will you pray?

If so, sign up below.  And let’s find Dima a home!

Enjoy this post? Get future updates sent to you for free! Join by email or RSS

Next Steps
    • Pledge to support Dima’s new family monthly. Even if you can only give $5 a month, you will be playing a part in his rescue! Sign up above to receive more information.
    • Commit to pray for Dima regularly. Finding a family will be difficult without the powerful work of God.
    • Spread the word about this opportunity. Post this article on your Facebook page. Send it to your co-workers and neighbors. Let’s create a huge community all eager to see Dima rescued!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

More posts by Follow Barry on Twitter


  1. Ken said... 


    July 12th, 2010 at 3:05 pm  

    Thanks Barry. I echo everything Barry said about Dima. He is a sweet guy. Let’s find him a home!

  2. Ken said... 


    July 13th, 2010 at 4:25 pm  

    thanks Barry. He is a great guy. Let’s get him a home.

  3. Rachel said... 


    July 23rd, 2010 at 1:37 pm  

    I was wondering if you will be sharing reports from the point of view of the Orphanage workers. Though I don’t question the accuracy of your observations… I wonder perhaps how the ‘caretakers’ would address your comments about their care and how you came to assess his health accurately. Of course, I fully agree that Dima and any other child (whether considered mentally ‘healthy’ or not) is better cared for in a well-supported family setting. I suppose I am just curious about the wider picture… having never been to a Ukranian orphange of any kind I’m woefully uneducated but find myself wondering about the phrases you use to describe the workers at the home such as: … “they assume that he is stupid…They don’t hug him. They don’t teach him. They don’t even speak to him.”

    I found the phrase, “But looking into Dima’s eyes, you can see the truth. Dima is mentally health” particularly intriguing. I know there has obviously been careful assessment of Dima’s need and wonder who else, if the caretakers are as neglectful as described, is part of the team helping the boys there.

    Without sounding accusing, sometimes the article can sound a little like Americans come as Saviours to do the obvious things that the Orphanage workers miss… I know this isn’t the case… I ‘d just love to hear more about the process so that I don’t make assumptions.

  4. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    July 23rd, 2010 at 2:38 pm  

    Hey Rachel,

    Great questions! Hopefully I can help to clear things up a little bit.

    First of all, I should probably explain who all the players are in this.

    First, there are the Romaniv Orphanage boys and their caretakers. The orphanage has been around for decades, but has only begun to improve due to the efforts of the orphanage’s director over the last few years (http://www.worldnextdoor.org/2010/06/return-to-romaniv/).

    Second, there are the staff and volunteers of Mission to Ukraine. These folks have been visiting the orphanage weekly for two years, and have contributed greatly to the improvement in living conditions for the boys.

    Finally, there is World Next Door. We are simply observers, watching the work of MTU and writing about our experiences while “embedded” with them.

    Of all three groups, we (WND) are the only Americans. Apart from some board members and occasional volunteers, Mission to Ukraine is run almost entirely by indigenous leaders (i.e. Ukrainians).

    I’m with you 100% about how bad it is when Americans come in to “save the day.” We do that quite often in the world, and it can do a lot of damage. And I can tell you with complete certainty that that is not the case here.

    Apart from the money I’d like to raise from our readers, there are essentially no Americans involved. So that should help to allay some of your concerns.

    As far as the things I wrote about the caretakers and Dima’s condition, I received all of this information through interviews with MTU’s staff over multiple visits to the orphanage.

    Mission to Ukraine is staffed by professionals who have spent decades working with disabled kids, so I have the utmost trust in their analysis of the situation. They have also been super consistent in their care. They’ve spent time with Dima every week for two years…

    Finally, as to the ways I described the caretakers…

    I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I wasn’t. In fact, I sort of toned it down for this article. According to my friends at MTU, the orphanage caretakers often beat the boys for misbehaving, and I’ve seen firsthand how the severely disabled boys can sometimes be simply abandoned in dark corners when they get to be too much to handle.

    It’s not that they are cruel or evil people. They just don’t know how to deal with special needs children.

    There have been improvements, though. Oksana from MTU tells me that the caretakers have been saying recently, “We are so shocked to see the boys behaving this well. We didn’t think they were even capable of it!”

    As to your comment about Ukrainian orphanages, many are quite terrible. However, there have been major improvements over the last ten or twenty years as the economy has strengthened.

    Unfortunately, because of leftover cultural stigmas in the psyche of many Ukrainians, disabled children are still looked at in a very negative light. Most people prefer them to be out of sight and out of mind.

    As a result, orphanages like Romaniv are some of the last to receive the improvements that many other orphanages in the country have already begun to implement.

    Perhaps someday soon the orphanage caretakers will be able to attend their first training on working with the disabled. Maybe the orphanage will be able to hire more workers (and bring the caretaker/child ratio up from the current 1/8).

    Until that time, we’ll just have to hope and pray that God will work through all the parties involved.

    And we’ll have to continue to support the work of Mission to Ukraine, without which, Romaniv would still be the festering prison it was when MTU first arrived (not an exaggeration – black walls, bars on the windows, 12 boys dying every year…).

    It’s still a pretty terrible place, but there is hope. You can see it in the smiles of the boys whenever the MTU van pulls up… :)

    Well, Rachel, I hope that helps to clear up the article for you! If you have any further questions, by all means post them here or shoot me an email (barry@worldnextdoor.org). I’d love to continue the conversation.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful inquiry!


  5. Rachel said... 


    July 23rd, 2010 at 3:12 pm  

    Thanks Barry – this does clear up things more for me. Thanks for taking the time to explain the wider picture! Rach

  6. Jim.M said... 


    July 24th, 2010 at 6:15 pm  

    Barry, Your response was almost an article in and of itself. It really “unpacked” a lot of what’s going on there. Rachel great questions, sometimes the questions are what bring things into sharper focus.


  7. Lauren said... 


    August 9th, 2010 at 4:48 pm  

    We’ll add Dima to our prayer list. I’m on the Dave Ramsey plan so can’t give financially right now but it is in our plan to be able to contribute one day soon as well as to even adopt a special needs child from E. Europe! I’m dying to go on a mission trip to an orphanage but am 17 weeks pregnant so that is in the forecast (mission trip in the future that is) as well.

Leave a Reply