Five years ago, in the summer of 2003, the doors finally opened on a long awaited ministry of the Orthodox Church of Albania – The Orthodox Home of Hope. This family-structured home for children in need was started with the blessing and funds secured by His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios. It was built on the beautiful campus of the Theological Academy “The Resurrection of Christ” at the Monastery of St. Vlash near Durres. Although it began with only 8 children, within a very short time it reached its maximum capacity of 30.
This home is a blessing and gift to the children, ages 5-18, who come from particularly difficult backgrounds. Some came from dire economic situations, others from unstable or misfortunate families, while others from families where one of the biological parents had died or left. As with all children, their needs are many, but more than anything they need unconditional love from the people who surround them. They also need to feel safe, valued, respected, and not be treated differently than any other kids their age. This has been the ongoing focus of the caring people who work at this home.
As in any family, the directors, like good parents, try to attend to all the needs of the children: physical, emotional, and spiritual.
The Home provides the children with 3 healthy meals a day (prepared by a staff of cooks at the Home) and the children make regular medical and dental check-ups. The children are able to stay healthy and happy also through free time and organized time for games and sports.
Some of their clothing comes from donations, but to ensure that they have all they need; the Home also employs a seamstress who makes everything from curtains to Sunday dresses!
A number of the 28 children, who presently reside in the Home of Hope, had not been attending school before they came to stay there. Some of the children were even completely illiterate although they were well into school age. Now all the children (19 girls and 9 boys) attend the local public school, from 2nd – 10th grade. Their education is further supported at the Home where tutors work one on one with those who need extra help and they are all given ample time and encouragement to study and complete homework. With this extra attention all the children get along fine at school, some even receive the highest grades in their classes.
Often the children who have come to live at the Home of Hope have passed through severe family traumas and need psychological and social support and stimulation. This too is offered by specialists and many of the children have recovered basic social skills and a lost sense of joy thanks to this and to the loving atmosphere in which they live. Some of the changes noted in the children have been dramatic. Over the years very aggressive children, others with serious emotional problems, or some who were extremely introverted, have made great strides and are now noticeably more child-like and well-adjusted. The children are always encouraged to have healthy self-esteems and to realize their ability for continuous improvement in life. All of their development in this field is naturally aided by their faith which is an ever-present aspect of life at the Home through morning and evening prayers together and frequent attendance in Church services.
One of the most important aspects of the Home is that it keeps the children in constant contact with their parents and relatives (when possible), always keeping in mind the goal of returning them to their families. With this view, the staff not only sees to the immediate needs of the children, but also gives a lot of support to their families, trying to improve their circumstances and encourage a safe and stable family environment. Furthermore, the Home of Hope does not care only for those currently within the Home, but continues to look after those who have left, taking interest in their well-being and education. This is evident in the case of two children who returned to their biological family last year and also a girl who is in her senior year of one of our Church’s high schools where she lives in the dormitory there and makes excellent grades.
In the “Orthodox Home of Hope” children are raised as unique individuals, respected in all their rights and needs, both material and spiritual, always with the purpose to allow them to be well-adjusted and positive people in the future society.