Hello Everyone,
It has been a long while since I last wrote and so much has happened.

I turned 50 last June.  I’m now mid-way through life.  Wow.. How did that happened.  It seems like it has only just begun and in many ways it has.

A heart for children was build into me when I was formed.  I dreamed when I was a small child of living on a large farm with lots of animals and kids running around.  Now, my vision back then did have this farm in the rolling foot hills of Virginia.  

In 2000 I first traveled to Kazakhstan with Interlink Resource on a short term trip.  That is when I first fell in love with the children of Kazakhstan.  That trip took me an entirely different turn then I could have ever imagined and it has been a wild adventure since.  In 2009 I moved to Kazakhstan to live and work full time as the Youth Department Manager with Interlink.  I loved my job, the wonderful people I had the privilege to work with and absolutely loved working with the children.  

It didn’t take long to realize how much more needed to be provided for the children to give them a chance to build productive lives.  It is all about relationship build over time.  People who are committed to the long term process of teaching/mentoring and coaching these children.  They have nothing but mountains of “baggage” filled with pain, hurt, distrust, and stories no child should have to live through. They need a safe place to be loved, encouraged, some tough love with people who are committed for the long haul.

That first year way back in 2000 I knew the call on my life was to care, love and be a voice for these precious children of Kazakhstan.  Most of the children are not legally free for adoption and would never even have a chance to be adopted.  I am called to care for these children.  I dream and pray for each of the children to find their forever family, but am now moving forward with a vision that will  provide these children a place they can call home.

In December after much internal struggle I resigned from Interlink to pursue making this a reality.   It is a huge project and I knew this could not be accomplished alone.  It will take a large number of people being committed to it.

Beth Turnock and I spent many hours while we lived and worked together in Kazakhstan talking and planning for the ranch.  Beth too dreamed of a ranch since she was a young girl.   Beth was the Director of Operations for a large residential facility in Indiana before moving to Kazakhstan.  The last part of her 7 and a half years she was the Director in Kazakhstan.  The end of January 2012 she decided that the calling on her life was to be part of this vision too.  I am so thankful for her friendship, partnership and for the wealth of experience and knowledge she brings to this project.

One chapter has closed and a new chapter has begun or it may be the next book in a series.  Which ever is the case it is a God size project and will only be accomplished in HIS strength.

In February Beth and I went to Kazakhstan to pack our belongings up in the Interlink house and put into storage as well as share about this vision.  It was encouraging to have it be so well received.

We took time to drive to Karatau to visit sweet Saule who use to be at Ulan Orphanage but was moved after I left to a Boarding School for disabled children about an hour and half north of Taraz in the village of Karatau.   It had been snowing and was extremely cold during our time in Taraz.  But that day it dawned bright and sunny and off we headed north with a friend.   The first hour of the trip was uneventful as we drove mile after mile through barren snowy landscape.  It all changed dramatically when we rounded a bend in the road into full white out conditions with wind blowing the snow side ways.    The wind was blowing so hard it blew the car sending it sliding out of control.  Thankfully when it got to the side of the road the snow bank stopped the car from plummeting down the hill.   We thought about turning around at this point.  Then though the village was only another 30 min drive and more importantly a 7 year old young child was waiting for us to come visit her.  So we inched forward.  What should have been a 30 min drive turned into a 2 hour Epic Adventure with scares and detours around each bend through the mountain pass.  

Me walking in front of the car making sure the snow isn’t too deep.  

Saule and me after we arrived

If you would like to read the long version of this trip please email and I’ll gladly send it to you.  But the short version is we finally made it.  And one sweet small girl with a club foot and face disfiguration knew that she was loved enough to come a long way in a snow storm to see her.  The staff didn’t understand why anyone would go to so much trouble for an orphan child that they could see no value in.

I think the experience is going to be a great example to us as we move forward with this vision.   It is a huge project that is going to take lot of people being committed to the children as well as resources.  At times we will not be able to see two steps in front and will have to slowly – inching forward.  The sky will clear at times giving us a glimpse of the long winding road ahead then just a quickly clouds will fall low blocking the view.  We will have to persevere with patience and determination. Never forgetting who is waiting for us.  Saule had sat on a sofa from early morning till 3:00 pm waiting for us to arrive.   The children who have no one else are waiting for a place to call home.

The Vision
The Ranch will give hope to children who are no longer able to live with their family of origin.  The ranch provides a safe place and loving community for the orphans in Taraz, Kazakhstan and surrounding areas to call “home”.  At the Ranch children are surrounded by people who are committed to pouring into their broken lives as they heal and learn how to build productive lives knowing they are valued and uniquely created for a special purpose. More than just meeting needs like food, clothing and shelter, the children’s spiritual, emotional, medical and educational needs will also be addressed.  The goal will be to give children the solid foundation along with the vocational and spiritual preparations needed to fulfill the call on their lives.  Incorporated into each “home” will be a core set of family values with an emphasis on the arts and how the process of creating; whether through dance, drawing, painting, writing, singing, or any other creative endeavor can give insight into living life to the fullest and finding joy and a positive future.  

Stay tuned for how this adventure unfolds.  If you would like more information please feel free to email me at kazakhvictoria@gmail.com  

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New blog page!

Hello dear family and friends;

Here in Kazakhstan things have been finally settling down into somewhat of a normal routine. Due to some difficulties with not being able to access blogger I from Kazakhstan I have had to start a new one at http://kazakhvictoria.viviti.com . I will try to update them both when I can but you may want to check them both.

I’ve been back in Taraz for almost three weeks now and I definitely hit the ground running. I’ve loved being back in Kazakhstan and am ever so thankful for restored health. It has also been great to have spent the last two weekends in the same location which is something I haven’t done since November. Even better, that location has been here at home!! I did visit with some friends but kept things pretty low key after some very busy weeks.

During the last two weeks, the team and I have had fun at the orphanages with the children. I want to share some pictures and tell you about one particular boy.

Arman is a sweet boy who was new at Ulan Orphanages when I returned from my time in the States. He is bigger than the other children in his group and didn’t come running when we entered their room. When I asked about him, I was informed that he was deaf, dumb and mute. Well, he most definitely is deaf. He doesn’t make many noises but does have the ability to make sound because I have since heard him make many. He is trapped in his own world with little or no attention having been paid to him. This young child is not dumb by any means, from what I can tell.

With a little work he will give eye contact. I was thrilled to see him pick up a crayon when I directed him to the table and demonstrated with a crayon what to do. Arman explored the many colors and made many marks on his paper before turning his attention to playing with the crayons like Lincoln Logs. He lined up 5 side by side and, using his hand, rolled them simultaneously back and forth. Then he stacked 4 crayons on top in the opposite direction and again rolled them, observing how they rolled back and forth depending on how he pushed them.

The next week the class decorated book covers and title pages with stickers and their names. We wrote their names both in Kazakh and in English but they did all the decorating. I placed the pages in front of Arman, then handed him a foam sticker and placed the sticker side towards his fingers. After several minutes of exploring the stickiness against his face and hands, he placed it on the cover. I was so pleased to see him work right along with the other children who were decorating.
It has been a challenge getting the other children to realize that we will not tolerate their grabbing things from Arman or hitting him. Whenever a hand goes near him, he flinches. It breaks my heart.

I also let him explore the buttons on my camera. This is not something I generally do! Many of the children in the younger groups have impulse control issues and are not very gentle with things like expensive cameras. Arman very methodically and gently pressed the buttons and soon it became evident to me that he was searching for the button that caused the flash to go off. Once he identified the button, he stood in front of the camera getting it to flash several times. He also found the button that allowed him to scroll back through the pictures I had taken. He touched an image of a child and then searched the room looking for that particular child. Several times he looked directly into my eyes, seemingly to ask me a question and then he turned back to the camera. Oh, how I wanted a way to communicate with this child.

I started researching, looking for resources to help reach Arman. American Sign Language wasn’t what I needed. I needed Kazakh or at least Russian. I talked to Beth and send several emails to various people. This past Monday I found out that Gulnar, who works here at Interlink with the older orphans after they leave the orphanage, actually knows Kazakh sign language! And her mother is a translator for the deaf community right here in Taraz. Amazing!! What an answer to my prayers! It turns out there also is a deaf boarding school here in Taraz. We are looking into seeing what kind of facility this is and if Arman could go there and what kind of services we can get for Arman right now. I am so excited about this.

Last Thursday I was greatly encouraged when Arman let out a heartfelt giggle while I was playing with him. To see this precious boy smile and laugh made the hardships I encounter living here more than worth it.

Thank you, dear friends and family, for your continued support and encouraging words. I love hearing from each of you.



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2009 “Many Blessings and Adventures”

2009 in Pictures – The Many Blessings and Adventures from Victoria Charbonneau on Vimeo.

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Remembering a year so full of blessings and adventures!

This past year was bursting at the seams with an abundance of blessings and treasured memories. I’ve started this new year in the same place I started last year! In Virginia! And my travels since my return 15 December to the States are taking me back and forth from Virginia to Pennsylvania and soon to Indiana and then returning to Virginia to leave again for Kazakhstan on 2 February. Last January I went from Virginia to North Carolina back to Virginia to Indiana back to Virginia then to Texas back to Virginia down to North Carolina to Virginia to Pennsylvania and then back to Virginia before boarding the plane that would take me to Kazakhstan. I am still amazed at the most amazing people that have crossed my path as I’ve traveled on the journey. Sweet friendship have been made and memories that I will treasure for a life time.

Kazakhstan filled my heart with great joy in 2009, as well as breaking my heart for the hardship and conditions facing its people. I count it a great joy and privilege to be able to serve the people but especially the children of Kazakhstan. They captured my heart in 2000 and this love has only grown.

I have been so amazed and touched by all of you who help in so many ways for me to carry out this work that I have been called to do. It wouldn’t happen without your financial support and for that I am eternally grateful. I am even more grateful that you not only give of your finances to help in the work here but in the notes and encouraging words I receive. Each one I hold close to my heart especially on the days that the great needs all around me can seem a little overwhelming. Thank you, dear friends, for joining me and Interlink to care for the least of these.

To use well the time I have been given and to finish well the race before me takes preparation, discipline and the support of my dear friends who carry me through with their prayers. I am ever so thankful for each one of you.

Since arriving in Richmond, Virginia, I have been checked head to toe by my regular doctor, GI guy, eye specialist and a neurologist. The Neurological doctor made me laugh with his dry “Well, if it was a brain tumor making your pupils fixed and unequal for this long, you would be dead. Since you are sitting here, I’ll assume you aren’t dead!” That was a good thing. So, no brain tumor, though he did do a through examimation. My blood work does show a predisposition to having auto immune issues which bilateral Iritis is, but otherwise my report was good. With eye drops the pressure in my eyes are within normal range so, all in all, I’m good to go.

The nutritionist I’ve been seeing identified some food allergies and reconfirmed the need to eat food that is truly good for me. Range feed meats, eggs from chickens that have run free, raw non-pasteurized milk, fresh veggies and fruit from locally grown sources that don’t use chemicals and pesticides, whole grains soaked and not processed, no processed foods, no artificial sweeteners and very little sugar is the basic diet. In other words, eating like our ancestors did. What is put into the body makes such a difference to how it is able to heal itself and run properly. It is amazing how much money is spent on drugs and running to the doctor yet people don’t want to spend on food that is actually good for them. If the body is feed well, it can preform well and medical cost would be lower.

Well, that is my little soap box lecture for the new year. I never have eaten much processed food but have now identified with the nutritionist’s help a few foods that I’m allergic to. With the changes in diet I am feeling so much better.

I am excited about this new year and all it holds. I know I am blessed and have much to be thankful for — no matter what! I will rejoice in all things because rejoicing is a choice not a feeling. I will count my blessings even in the midst of storms. I will cling to the dear friends I have been given and not hide during the times life seems overwhelming.

I am truly thankful for each one of you who are joining me on my “Epic Adventure,” whether it is for a short walk on the trail or for a long haul. Each one of you is a treasured and most valuable gift.

Happy New year, dear friends.

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No Bake Cookies – so much fun!

Making cookies at Saramoldiva from Victoria Charbonneau on Vimeo.

The week before I left for the UAE because of my eye emergency, our team here took Tim and Walter (here from Virginia visiting their sponsored children) to Saramoldiva Orphanage to do an activity with the youngest children. After I came back from the UAE, our team here went to Ulan Orphanage. At both orphanages we did the same activity – making no bake cookies. It was such fun each time! It was also a little chaotic because this was a new activity for the children, but all in all it went well. We have started introducing themes with the activities planned around the day’s lesson. The no bake cookies activity was to introduce basic cooking along with the idea of taking turns, sharing, identifying what the children have to be thankful for and learning to give to others. So, the children ate some of the sweet treats they made and they also gave some of the treats to their teachers and caregivers.

They took turns dumping the sugar, butter, vanilla, and evaporated milk into a pot and then stirring it until it melted. Once melted, the heat was turn off. Then the children helped mix in peanut butter, rolled oats and cocoa. They then spooned out dollops of the mixture onto wax paper. The children had never had this kind of opportunity. Their faces showed their excitement. My heart loved seeing them experiencing this simple activity. I wish they each could be in a loving home getting to do these kinds of things on a regular basis.

While the cookies hardened, we had the children decorate two paper bags. One was for them to keep and one to give to one of their caregivers. We spent time talking about all their caregivers do for them. It is always easy to see what we each don’t have in our lives. Learning to be thankful for the things we do have helps us develop an ability to enjoy life more fully no matter what storms roll through. We wanted to start showing the children what they do have to be thankful for. It is easy to see all their lives lack, but they could be in far worse places. Many of them have come from very bad situations and are in a much better place now, even though I wish for them so much more.

Everyone enjoyed the sweet treat when all was finished. It was fun to see their joy and excitement doing something my children grew up doing all the time. Helping me in the kitchen and learning life skills are treasured memories for us. My desire is for activities like this to build life skills into the children here, life skills they will need once they are out of the orphanage. Hopefully, these activities will also give them some treasured memories to store in their hearts. It is fun to hear other groups at the orphanages ask when they get to make cookies.

Though the time was a little chaotic, it was fun and the staff were pleased to receive their little bags of cookies. The staff also expressed their thanks for our focus on what they do for the children. Oftentimes the staff is not acknowledged for all the hard work they do.

If you ever want to come join us in our fun here, you are most welcome. There are usually two trips a year for those who sponsor children through us. If you don’t sponsor a child yet and just want to come see what we do here, you can still join one of the trips. Go to Interlink’s web link on the right side of this blog to find more information. If you are interested in coming to work full time, you can also find more information there or you can contact us here in Taraz.

It is almost Thanksgiving, a time when we focus more on what we have to be thankful for. I am incredibly thankful that I have the privilege to work with these precious children here in Kazakhstan. I will miss Marc and Sarah terribly this first Thanksgiving and Christmas that we will spend apart, but I am comforted by the fact that I know being here is the call on my life.

Thank you, each one, for joining me on this incredible journey.

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An unexpected trip!

Dear Family and Friends,
This is an unusual post. The stories I usually share are about people here in Kazakhstan. However, during the last couple of weeks my life was turned upside. I know there is a bigger plan in all that happened even if I don’t understand it all.

On the 18th of October I journeyed to Abu Dhabi in the UAE – and it wasn’t planned for or for a vacation. Why did I go? Well, because between the 7th and 17th of October I visited 5 different doctors at 5 different clinics trying to get a diagnosis as to what was happening to my eyes. I woke up Wednesday morning the 4th with both eyes red, sore, and sensitive to light. By Saturday the 7th, the pain was worse so I went to see a local doctor in Taraz. She said I had a cold or virus in my eyes. I did have a pretty bad cold so that made sense to me and my eyes did get some better with the medication.

An American team arrived on Sunday the 11th and I was the coordinator for their time here in KZ. On Wednesday the 14th I was showing the team Ulan orphanage. During the visit I kept cleaning my glasses – especially the left lense – thinking there must be something on the glass to blur my vision. About the 20th cleaning I decided to look at the glass to see what could possibly be there that wouldn’t clean off. That is when I realized my glasses were actually clean and something was seriously wrong with my eye. I finished out what we were doing, knowing we were scheduled to go back to the office.

Upon arriving at the office, I looked at my eye more closely. What I saw was my left pupil wide open while the right eye was constricted. I was in a bright room. My heart sank. This didn’t seem like a good thing, especially because my vision had been deteriorating during the morning. The film I thought was on my glasses was really a loss of vision in my left eye. We were suppose to be leaving for Shimkent in a hour. There were two stops along the way – one for lunch in a Kazakh’s home in a village and the other at the orphanage in Vanovka. I didn’t want to delay any of this, but my heart was filled with a sinking feeling. Things were much worse than I had previously thought.

I went to Beth, our director, and asked her to look at my eyes and tell me what she saw. Her face let me know immediately that things weren’t good. Thankfully she is a very calm, take care of business kind of woman because at that moment I began to cry. I don’t cry often but the pain that had been there for a week and the exhaustion from being sick with a cold hit me. Beth went into action and within 30 minutes I was in another eye doctor’s office here in Taraz. After much examining, the doctor said it wasn’t glaucoma but the pressure in my eyes, especially my left eye, was very high. He gave me different drops and sent me on my way. He said it was no problem to go to Shimkent and to come back in a week to check the pressure. Okay! I still wasn’t sure why the vision was blurry and why my eyes hurt so much, but hey, a doctor said I was okay. The doctor’s visit put the schedule for the delegation’s trip an hour and a half behind schedule so, as soon as I returned to the office, Beth, Walther, Tim and I hit the road for Shimkent.

I trudged through that day trying to convince myself things were fine. I knew I would be seeing Dr. Lori, an American general practitioner in Shimkent. She handles the medical needs of our teams when they arise. Beth had called her on Wednesday and she agreed she’d like to see me Thursday morning. After an exam she wanted me seen by a eye doctor in Shimkent and she mentioned I might need to leave the country to seek medical treatment. This idea didn’t excite me, but I certainly wanted to get my eyes treated properly. She was thinking, because of the high pressure in the eyes, I had developed Acute Onset Closed Angle Glaucoma. I knew about regular glaucoma but nothing about this kind. I didn’t like the sound of it.

By going to Skimkent I missed some of the activities scheduled for the team visiting in Shimkent but Beth was able to fill in when I was away. My eyes seemed to be getting worse and the pain was increasing. The eye doctor in Shimkent said I did have Closed Angle Acute Onset Glaucoma and possibly needed surgery to lower the pressure. That didn’t sound very good. I prayed and trusted God would take care of what ever problem I had. Thursday evening Dr. Lori said we needed to start calling and see if I could be seen by a doctor in either the UAE or Turkey, the closest places to find American doctors for this issue. My heart sank for I couldn’t imagine how I could figure all that out much less pay for it. This all was just not in my plans. As I went to sleep that night, I prayed for God’s comfort and wisdom for what to do.

On Friday when I woke I could barely open my eyes and the pain had doubled. Crying, I called my dear friend and mentor Edith. It was 4:30 am my time but I needed some advice because I couldn’t figure out the next step. I couldn’t think clearly any longer. I was a mess. I had been sick for three weeks and struggling with my eyes for over a week by this point.

I love Edith for many, many reasons and one is her totally efficient manner. A “small” detail of her life was put in place long before I even came to Kazakhstan. Edith and her husband Rip lived in the UAE for several years and still have many friends there. In my current situation, this is not a coincidence. When I mentioned where the doctor said to go, she picked up the ball and ran with it. I was in the office in Shimkent, Beth came in wondering how I was doing. I couldn’t handle any more of anything so turned my computer over to her and laid down on the sofa. These two women are amazing in administration and efficiency. During the rest of the morning, through emails and calls all kinds of arrangements were made while I laid on the sofa listening to worship music in order not to focus on either the intense pain or the despair sneaking into my heart.

It was all quite amazing – Edith started emailing her large network of friends in the UAE. The response is a testimony to the friendships she has and their commitment to show God’s love. Edith’s friend, Linda Clark, is the head of operations at the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Daubi. She contacted Dr. Chris Cummins who agreed to see me Monday at 1 pm. Linda arranged for me to be met plane side and escorted through the airport to a waiting car. Janie Garrett, a friend of Edith’s, agreed to host me. Beth and Marina Tsoy made all my travel arrangements from Taraz to Almaty then to Dubai. Heather Lewis agreed to host me in Almaty. It was absolutely amazing how all these people from Kazakhstan to America and then back to the UAE all came together to get me the medical treatment I needed. When Dr. Lori first said I needed to go out of the country, my mind could not even begin to process how I would figure all of that out. When she said the UAE, I thought “Well, Edith use to live there and knows some people there who may be able to help.” What are the odds of knowing anyone in the place Dr. Lori suggested. Not very likely.

Edith and Rip moved to Richmond Virginia about 4 years ago. Edith was assigned my mentor for my application process with Interlink Resources. We became fast friends. All those years ago the foundation for what would be needed here and now were laid. We just never know what series of events will lead. All this was an ordained time and place.

Beth, Walter, Tim, Katie and I left Shimkent Friday afternoon heading for Taraz. We arrived around dinner time. After dropping Tim and Walter off at the team house to enjoy Pizza with Ken and an American family adopting their second child from Kazakhstan Beth took me to Adilya’s house were I was staying to repack my bag for my trip. I actually could do very little so Beth pretty much did the work then took Katie and I to the train station to catch the night train to Almaty. Katie is part of the English center in Shimkent and was on her way back to America for a planned furlough. She actually wasn’t planning on going to Almaty till Tuesday but agreed to escort me there so I wouldn’t have to travel alone. So many people going out of their way. Thank you Katie.

We took a taxi the Saturday morning to Heather’s apartment. Dr. Lori had gotten me an appointment at the Eye Institute in Almaty which has the top doctors in the country. Heather who speaks fluent Russian agreed to take me there and translate. Dr. Lori had gotten me a 10 am appointment. I still had the flight out but was still thinking if I could be treated in country that would be best. After many many eye examinations with many different pieces of equipment the top doctor said I did have Acute Onset Closed Angle Glaucoma and needed surgery right away. He was the only one who could do it but he was going on vacation for two weeks so I would have to wait. Wait… that didn’t seem like a good idea. He said it probably would be alright and not too much permanent damage would be done. Well, that pretty much determined I would fly to Dubai to seek medical treatment. Heather hosted Katie and I for another night and Sergey who does a lot of work for Interlink in Almaty took me to the airport on Sunday.

I flew out of Almaty Sunday 18 Oct and arrived to Janie Garrett’s apartment about 1:30 am Monday morning. Linda Clark had arranged to have someone meet me plane side to escort me through the airport on one of those little carts and a driver to take me from the airport in Dubai the 90 miles to Abu Dhabi. Janie welcomed me with open arms and showed me to a comfortable bed where I collapsed. Edith has the dearest friends and I enjoyed getting to know them, as well as Janie during my time there. Janie drove me all around after taking me to the doctors that Monday to see the many beautiful sights of Abu Dhabi as well as some the harsher realities of how this beauty is built and by whom.

Dr Chris Cummins, an American doctor living and working in Abu Dhabi, diagnosed my issue after a through exam. His diagnosis: Iritis NOT glaucoma. Iritis is the third leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Without proper treatment, it does cause blindness. Usually iritis occurs in only one eye. Rarely are both eyes affected, but that’s exactly what’s happened to me. Iritis results in an increase of white blood cells in the eyes and inflammation, which is painful. Because my condition has gone on for so long the iris have started to deteriorate, sluffing cells off the iris which, in turn, caused my eye ducts to clog and, as a result raised the pressure in my eyes mimicking glaucoma. If the pressure hadn’t been addressed it would have damaged the optic nerve but, thankfully, there is no damage now. The dilation of the iris is due to the infection. The doctor prescribed a daily drop to unclog the ducts and then a steroid drop every hour during waking hours to help decrease the inflammation of the iris. It will take time for the infection to clear – about 4 – 6 months. This is definitely a serious eye condition but very treatable and in the long run preferable over glaucoma. He needed to see me Wednesday to make sure the medicine was working. After my Wednesday visit he did think things were improving thankfully. My next appointment is 6 December.

My heart is full of thankfulness to God’s faithfulness and all HIS provisions for this entire trip. I was so cared for by Edith and Rip’s wonderful friends. I was humbled by their generousity and my heart touched by their kindness. It was a difficult situation yet I have come away feeling refreshed and relaxed. Everyday, no matter what storms rage about me, I am blessed beyond measure and deeply thankful.

My time in Abu Dhabi resembled a vacation. Below are sights from my time there. Because my eyes are so sensitive to light, I didn’t make the beach scene but there are many other beautiful things to see in Abu Dhabi besides the beach.

Some of the behind-the-scenes aren’t as beautiful. I will not focus on those issues today. Enjoy the beautiful sights.

Workers who are brought in to do all the manual labor for little monies.

Shaikh Zayhed Grand Mosque

Every detail is beautiful

The Royal Grand Palace Hotel

High Tea with Janie and Linda, both dear friends of Edith, who helped with details of my trip.

Thank you, Janie, for opening your home and your heart. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to show me some of the sights in Abu Dhabi and pampering me at a time I truly needed such.

A beautiful mural in the Hotel. The horses represent the seven colors of sand in the area.

Getting to say thank you to Linda Clark for all she did to organize my trip to Abu Dhabi. We were at Mug and Bean at the Abu Dhabi Mall. I was in culture shock. They had Krispy Kream Dounuts and Starbuck Coffee. Just amazing.

Thank you, Linda, for all you did put all the pieces together.

Thursday morning I had the great joy of going to Shaikh Mohammed’s Royal Stables and riding one of his horses. Oh! how this was pure joy for my heart and soul. After a difficult several weeks, this was just what my heart needed – to be on the back of a beautiful horse filled me with great joy.

I had a personal trainer for an hour, a sweet Brit who was raised in South Africa now working in Abu Dhabi. I enjoyed her very much. The next day I remembered her when I awoke with sore legs. After a time of training I got to ride a trail on the grounds. As I rode, I marveled at how blessed I am, what wonderful friends I have, and how faithful God is.

I’m not sure if you can notice my smile in the pictures below. I was beyond happy with this unexpected treat. I went at 7 am and so the sun wasn’t too bad for my eyes on the trail. My time training I was in an inside ring which couldn’t have been better for my eyes. What a treasured gift.

The horses name is “Link.” I am amazed at how many links were in place to get me to the doctor to accurately diagnose my iritis.

I am so thankful for each link on this “side” adventure! I am thankful God worked out all the details and had everything in place long before this event occurred. I am thankful for all my family and friends who were praying as soon as they heard from Edith and Beth the struggle I was having. I am thankful for all Edith’s friends in Abu Dhabi who rolled out the red carpet to make me feel welcomed and comforted during my stay.

Thank you, Beth and Trish, for taking me back to the airport in Dubai and for showing me the sights. I can’t believe I didn’t get pictures of you two.

I am blessed beyond measure with dear, dear friends whose friends take care of me when need be. I am thankful to be home in Taraz. I was gone five days and had a great time but also missed my home here in Taraz.

Blessings to you each, my friends. And a special thank you to all my new friends in Abu Dhabi.


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Two different visits to the camp where the Ulan children spend most of the summer.

Dear Friends and Family,

For a couple of reasons it has been five weeks since I’ve posted a new blog. First, I wanted to keep Saulet in the front of everyone for a bit – and I now have potentially good news to share! A friend of mine in Portland, Oregon has made some initial contacts. One surgeon has said he would donate his time; however, the hospital where he works doesn’t do international surgeries. The surgeon gave my friend the name of another local hospital that does. Next week she will be checking to see if that hospital could help. She also has a friend from the Ukraine who is helping to find a host family for Saulet. We still need help with transportation and other details but at least things are moving in the right direction. I am praying for all the right doors to open.

A second reason I haven’t posted is that we’ve been super busy here. And, on top of it all, I’ve been battling a cold and flu. Not fun! No matter where you live.

There are so many things to share but I wanted to let you know about two visits we made to a camp where the children from Ulan spend their summer.

The first visit to Ulan came when a high school group from Muncie was here on a short term work trip and we loaded up two cars and headed out to the camp to spend an afternoon with the children. We swam in the nearby river and then the teens held a carnival for the children. I was touched and amazed to see this group of high school kids give of their hearts and time. What an inspiration!

The picture below is from 2006 and the young man was one of those I worked with that summer. He was quite a challenge and expressed such anger and hurt that my heart just broke for him. Before it was time to leave that August he informed me he would not cry when I left. I said that was fine and that I would continue to love him even after I was gone. I also said I wanted him to grow into a good Kazakh man. The day I finally left he kept his distance. Then, right as I was getting into my vehicle to leave, he came rushing up to me and embrassed me with a bear hug crying. Over and over he said, “Mama, I love you!” I usually don’t like to cry in front of the children and I like goodbyes to be sweet and short, but I couldn’t hold my tears in and we stood there with tears running down both our faces. I finally peeled him off telling him I loved him and knew that he would grow into a good Kazakh man. He remained in my heart along with all the other children, encouraging me to keep stepping forward on faith as I prepared to make the move from Virginia to Kazakhstan.

Below is this same young man. I had not been able to see him since that first visit. When he saw me this time, he ran up to me with a big smile and engulfed me in a big hug telling me how much he has missed me and how happy he was to see me. He had heard I had now returned to live in Kazakhstan. He couldn’t believe that I would leave home to come here. I told him it was because of the love that has been placed in my heart for him and all the children of Kazakhstan. I told him I didn’t forget him or the others and now am here for good. I am so thankful for the call on my life and for the chance to touch the hearts of children who feel forgotten and abandon. He followed me around that day, sometimes holding my hand and other times just standing close by as I interacted with other children and holding my camera or what ever else he could for me. What a great gift I have been given!

We left that day as the sun was setting and above is the image I captured. Such beauty! This land is full of contrasts and contradictions – great beauty set against the harsh reality of great heartache and pain. The shot below was one I see so many times a day and still love – a little burrow pulling the cart with whatever needs to be hauled.

The Kid Connection Team later went back to celebrate birthdays with the children who were celebrating birthdays that month. This is always a fun time for the children. We bring them cupcakes, snacks and juice and have a time to play some games before eating. Then we give out gifts for each child. As you can see, the children greatly enjoy our time together.

The two above were peeking in so they could catch a glimps of the celebration, too.

As I walk to work in the mornings, I couldn’t help but smile as I pass school children, stray dogs and other things I am recognizing as part of the local landscape. I smile because I am really here in the land that captured my heart in 2000. There are many things that are hard about living here but the great joy, peace and contentment I feel knowing I am exactly where I am suppose to be far out weighs any discomfort or hardship.

Thank you each, dear friends, for your support. You have no idea how each note of encouragement touches my heart. I have been truly blessed with dear friends and family.


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Who will help Saulet?

I want to introduce Saulet to you. In this picture he is sitting with his little sister and Mother in their humble home. He is a shy young man and very self conscious of his burns. Saulet dreams of going to university and he loves sports. He endured a great deal of teasing and taunting while in high school but continued his classes because of his dream to go to university.

As I sat and listened to Saulet’s Mama and Papa share their worries and concerns for their son and their attempts to find a doctor who would help, as well as their distress over being unable financially to get their son the help he desperately needs, my heart broke. I am fortunate to have been born in the United States with access to the finest medical care even though I was a single mom on the lower end of the income scale.

This family has traveled to Almaty and Astana seeking help. Saulet has endured many surgeries and is in need of more to give him the possibility of providing a life for himself as an adult. Saulet has grown quite a bit since the last surgery. The burned skin isn’t flexible and he is having more and more difficulties with his knees, neck and mouth as a result of those burnt areas.

My mother’s heart understood how much a mother is willing to sacrifice for her son. I could hear the desire in this Mama and Papa’s voices for their son to receive help so he can reach for his dreams. This family may be poor in finances but their love for each other was evident. I was honored to sit in their humble home and listen to them pour out their hearts for their son. As I listened, I thought about all my dear friends at home and wondered if we all worked together what could be done for this family. Saulet has bravely endured so much. He is an inspiration to me.

Saulet’s parents came to Interlink seeking help. Interlink does a lot of humanitarian aid but we are not a medical organization and do not have a network of doctors in the States. Saulet’s parents have given permission for him to come to the United States if we can find a doctor and hospital who will help. I am reaching out to you, dear friends, asking you to open your hearts to help us secure this dream for this family.

I’m looking for a doctor who would take this case and a hospital that would provide for the surgery. I’m also looking for someone to help Saulet with transportation to the States round trip from Kazakhstan, as well as housing while in America and the oversight of his needs while on that side of the ocean. I know this is a huge request. To be honest, however, I don’t know how I could not ask. I know there is much need everywhere in this world. Why does this one young man mean so much? I cannot fully answer that question. I know it is totally out of my hands as to this family’s dream becoming reality, but I have to do what I can. I have to speak about it to every person I know, praying that hearts will open and respond.

Thank you, dear friends, for taking the time to read Saulet’s story. Thank you for considering how you might help. If you have additional questions or if you know someone who might help, contact me at vcharbonneau@interlinkresources.org. I am believing in a miracle for Saulet. Yes, I still believe in miracles! Join me in being part of this one.


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Peter and Zarina’s Wedding

This is the new thing to do in Kazakhstan – ride around town in a limousine. Several fancy, white cars with friends led the procession while music blared and horns beeped!

Peter’s mother greeted the new couple outside the gate of the home where the reception was held. She did a traditional blessing of giving the young couple bread with grain sugar on top. She fed each of them a small piece of bread. As soon as I find out the meaning of this, I will let you know. The mother of the groom did not change out of her house clothes until after the guests arrived because she was the one preparing everything. It is fun to learn different customs.

Wednesday 12 Aug I had the privilege of attending the reception for Peter and Zarina’s Wedding. Peter used to work for Interlink Resources and still stays in touch because of the friendships build during his time there. Peter is Russian and his beautiful bride is Karachai Cherkess, one of the Caucasian Nationalities. Ken, Beth, Assel, and Olya and myself enjoyed the evening of celebrating.

In Kazakhstan there is a time when they say things will begin. Then there is the time when things actually begin. We had been told the reception would start at 6 o’clock, meaning to an American, it would start at 6 – that’s on time. Well here, in true Kazakh fashion, the reception started on Kazakh time – about 7:45 p.m. But this gave me time to visit with people and take a look around at how things are done here. It really depends on the nationality of the couple as to what traditions will be followed. There are over 130 different people groups in Kazakhstan, so there are a wide range of traditions.

Most everyone dresses in their very best. Everywhere big & little girls love to dress up and here is no exception. I loved seeing the wee girls all dressed up. I imagine they, too, are dreaming of the day they will find their prince charming and marry.

When the bride and groom arrived, they went into the house for a bit and then entered the courtyard among well wishes and cheers. A hired MC kept the activities going with many games, toasts and songs for the new couple. Several songs were played for just the couple to dance while their friends looked on. She was a beautiful bride in a traditional dress from her heritage. Later in the evening she changed into another lovely dress which had more of a western flavor.

After several dances, they were escourted to the head table where they, along with the maid of honor and best man, sat for the next part of the celebration. The table was decorated for the new couple with tasty treats and flowers. When they were seated, the first course of the meal was served.

In the picture above you see Beth, Olya, Ken and Assel as they are waiting for the first course. Several choices of sodas were offered on each table. Usually there is a great deal of alcohol but at this wedding there was very little, for which we were thankful. Sometimes that can be an issue in this country. Pete’s family, his parents, siblings and other family members prepared the food and served it. They worked all day preparing the feast and I imagine worked late into the night cleaning up afterwards. The first course included several different salads and bread followed by a hearty traditional soup with more bread and fresh fruit and finally followed by a traditional dish of pilaf. (rice, vegetables and lamb)

As people ate their first course, the parents of the bride and groom gave words of encouragement and blessings for the new couple. After they spoke many others got up to give their best wishes for this young couple. Traditionally, people also give gifts of money to help the young couple begin their new life.

I went out back and captured a couple of pictures of the guys preparing the pilaf. You can see more pictures of the entire wedding by going to the link on the right side of this blog and then going to the “Peter’s Wedding” album.

As the evening went on and the sun had set, more speeches with encouraging words and blessings came from individuals and various groups of family and friends in between songs, wedding games, and eating.

Here is our group from Interlink up to say their words of blessings and encouragement. Beth is letting me know she realizes I am “hiding” behind my camera. I pretended not to understand what she was wanting me to do. Someone needs to document all our activities, right!!

Kazakh’s love to laugh and have fun. The party games were a mix of fun, as well as some designed to bless the couple with many children, riches and long life. Money was collected in infant pants. Each attendee put money in either the pink pants or blue pants depending whether you wanted them to have a boy or girl first. The picture below is a group the MC gathered and then had the girls dress the men in wild outfits she said to made them Tarzan. They had to give a Tarzan cry and then were given a spear to go collect food from the tables in a set time. The winner was the one who collected the most food. They were asked to dance in these crazy outfits, which they did with enthusiasium. It was fun to watch.

Ken was pulled into playing a round of musical stools. When he lost a round, he had to polka with another guest.

This young boy begged to play this game after knowing what it was. The bride and groom had to race to dress their “babies,” feed them a bottle, and then burp them. It was way too funny to watch. Then these two, all dressed up, had to walk around among all the guests.

In this picture the couple had to spit the pacifiers to see who would get their choice for the first child. Lots of the games were themed to bless the new couple with children.

The celebration went late into the night. Being a Wednesday night and having work the next day, our group started heading out around 10:30 in two shifts, so as not offend the family. It was a fun night. I was touched by the blessing so many gave, amazed by some of the games and touched by the sense of family that was obviously a priority. I had fun capturing the moment for this couple. They came by the office the Tuesday after the wedding asking for copies of the pictures I took. They had hired a group to film and capture the special time but they hadn’t captured much of the activities so hoped I had. They were overwhelmed and pleased by the 500 and then some pictures I had captured. They were so grateful when I said it was my gift to them. I was glad I could give them something that brought so much joy. That evening several of the guests tried to speak to me, but since most spoke only Russian, I couldn’t understand much. Olya was able to translate for me and I gave out several cards so they could go on-line and download pictures from that night.

My desire is that they will each enjoy the pictures for years to come. I was blessed to be able to join in the celebration. I am thankful to learn a little bit more about my new home. Sometimes I see what is lacking and the great need but this night I was able to see the beauty, the love, the joy of family.

It did make me miss my family and friends, as well as the wedding I missed back home and the ones I will miss in the future, but my heart is at peace and has a deep joy knowing this is where I am supposed to be. I never imagined I would be on this adventure. I was talking to my youngest sister the other day and said “Can you believe that Marc, Sarah and I are in three different time zones, in three different countries?” It is hard in some ways but oh what an adventure I could never have imagined 10 years ago. I am so thankful to not be sitting in a lazy boy chair watching the world go by on the boob tube in my living room, to not letting fear of the unknown grip my heart and keep me for reaching out to others. There is so much to see, so much to learn, so much to experience.

Thank you, dear friends and family, for the gift of friendship you so graciously give. Each of you is a gift. Love those well who are in your life. Let those little things go that, in the end, will not make a difference – the new outfit, newest computer, bigger house, fancier car isn’t what brings peace and joy to your heart. Friends and family, giving out of the gifts we have each been given, and living in the Truth are where we find joy and peace that passes all understanding.


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