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A Full Circle Moment in Transnistria

Lena Ahremtseva was raised in a Transnistrian orphanage with 200 other children from birth through the age of 16.

“Our days were all alike,” said Lena. “We would wake up, go to classes held there, and then we had free time for a couple of hours, but we could not leave the grounds. Then we had dinner and went to bed.”

If you have never heard of Transnistria, you are not alone. The 1,600 square-mile Russian country between Moldova and Ukraine has not been recognized as a sovereign land by the United Nations, though it declared independence in 1990. Transnistrian identity, money and stamps are not recognized outside of Transnistria.

Unemployment is extremely high, and there is a disproportionate population of orphaned youth. 

When Lena entered her teenage years, her future was unknown. As young men and women prepare to leave the orphanage system, they often lack the work experience and skills necessary to secure employment. Because of this, many Transnistrian women end up in prostitution.  Then, the vicious cycles of poverty and foster care continue to the next generation.

“In Transnistria, a lot of kids like me cannot find jobs,” said Lena. “A lot of children from the orphanage, because they’re orphans and have the stigma of orphans, nobody hires them.”

Soles4Souls, using shoes and clothing as a resource, is working to change this reality with the help of our partner on the ground, Help the Children (HTC). HTC provides a range of supportive services for orphans and vulnerable children in Transnistria. They also operate a series of thrift stores that employ youth transitioning out of foster care.

Our partnership with these thrift stores is creating jobs for the very population that needs it most. People like Lena. And perhaps more important than the work itself, is the sense of dignity, hope and support gained through these opportunities.

“For us to give this opportunity to them is almost a life-saving undertaking,” said Fashevsky, Executive Director of Help the Children.

Because of the thrift stores’ success, HTC was able to hire Lena, who is now employed as an accountant for the organization. She is now earning a sustainable income and proudly working towards her bachelor’s degree.

Lena’s work, and our micro-enterprise partnership, also helps HTC provide proper support for children who, like she was, are orphaned. “They gave me a good direction in life and good advice, to stay strong in school and continue my education. Not to give up.”