Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I have blogged before about Robert Gamble and his work with street children in Odessa, Ukraine HERE and HERE and HERE.  This post is reprinted with permission from his last newsletter.

In August of 2005 on my first trip to Ukraine, I was with a team of social workers.   We climbed the side of an abandoned building , crossed the tar roof and entered a room with five children.  One girl, I guessed to be fifteen sat on a mattress, her back to the wall.  While the team was talking with the other four, I looked at her and motioned with my camera.  “May I?”  She nodded and I stepped in front of her.  At first I just crouched to make a picture.... but she seemed so completely at ease with this that I sat down about six feet away, cross-legged.  One click of the shutter then another and another.... the final frames revealed the slightest smile.  That's Vika's picture in black and white below.

You would have to be a photographer to understand what I mean when I say that something happens between shooter and subject, a kind of understanding can be achieved without words.  Permission is given, approval.  In seconds, a relationship was established between me and Vika.  I took the memory of this moment and these images along with thousands of others back to the states.

You don’t need to be a photographer to understand the power of images.   I looked at them again and again; I thought about this girl who lived on the streets.  If I were to pick a moment as a photographer that called it for me, when I felt certain, this was what I wanted to do for the next stage of my life. It would be that moment, not because I decided then, but because I kept looking back to it...  that small room in an abandoned building, seated a few feet from Vika. A year later, I left the pastorate and moved to Ukraine to start This Child Here.   

In the past five years, she left the streets and moved into a shelter for kids called The Way Home where I kept an office. She stayed for a while, then left, then came back again.  She got pregnant; she got an abortion.  She got a job;  I heard she was living with some relative on the south side of the town. From time to time, she would come into the office and show herself to me, always when she had clean clothes and looked her best.  Then I lost touch.  Last week, while on a visit to Odessa and The Way Home and in the middle of a lot of worries about a shipment of used bicycles, I was standing next to my “wall of photos” of street kids.  A girl from the streets who was in office pointed up to Vika’s photo and said, “She died.”

What, who? Vika?  How?”

She jumped... off a building.”

I asked around... and learned she had been to a clinic for patients with STD's and that she was pregnant.

Others have died:  Last fall, Elvira jumped from a building and died.  Losha hung himself; Taras died from an injection of drugs into his neck; Tolik froze to death last winter.  Igor died in August after he took a handful of pills and downed it with vodka.  But the death of Vika takes me back to the beginning, to my first connection to a child on the streets and first hopes for one of them.  And her death impels me all the more to attend to other kids who are “at risk.”

Below is another photo. I don't know the name of this girl, but I took her picture while attending a training we were doing in an orphange for kids who are at risk.  This is the place where work needs to be done.  Kids come and go in shelters and orphanges. They often cycle from orphanage to streets, to prison, to streets again; on the streets they can make poor choices.  These trainings focus on Self-Esteem, Personal Boundaries, Addictions, and Life in Community. We hope for a level of conversation that leads to emotional healing and healthy choices in life.  We hope to build something on the inside, a stronger, more resilient child, a child with the desire and skill to choose to live.

Grace and peace,
Robert Gamble

Director, This Child Here


  1. Powerful and heartbreaking. I can't begin to imagine what traumas these street children endured before and during their time on the streets. Sometimes help and warmth come too late -- the pain is too great for them to bear.

  2. I see grace in her expression. Counter that with the faces of children who have been raised with a sense of entitlement. You will never see an expression of grace, only greed.

  3. Tragic and powerful. Thank you for posting this.

  4. The PayPal donate button was not working for a couple days but it is working now. You can also donate by credit card on the same button if you don't like PayPal.
    Someday I want to get to Odessa and meet the man and some of his co-workers and some of the kids.


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