In May of 1995, Kelvin and Susan Pierce were watching a television program about a couple adopting two children from Russia. Having no children of their own, they decided to look into the possibility. Within weeks they had started the adoption process. Their two girls were born in Tbilisi, Georgia on December 9th and 12th of that same year and they flew over to see them. In March of 1996 Kelvin and Susan traveled to Tbilisi to pick up their children and to complete the official adoption process. In their own words:
“We were in Tbilisi for almost three weeks in 1996 and experienced first-hand the plight of the Georgian people. We lived with a Georgian family for almost two weeks during that stay and experienced frequent power outages, no heat, a devastated economy with massive unemployment, and a bleak outlook for the future. Many young couples were faced with the choice of abandoning their children or starving. The orphanages at that time were in terrible condition and had little-to-no help from the government.
“After we returned home with our two girls, we heard that there was a flu epidemic at the very same place where our girls were before we adopted them. Several of the babies there died from the flu in the next few weeks. It could have easily been our girls who perished. The line between the lucky ones and the not so lucky ones, we learned, is a very fine one. We knew, right then and there, that we wanted to do something for the unlucky children of Georgia. But what to do? How could we possibly help with what seemed to be an impossible situation? It seemed to be an overwhelming task and we had no idea where to start. We wrestled with this for quite a while and allowed doubt and uncertainty to get the better of us.”
Finally in 2004, prompted by a New York Times article about the ongoing plight of children in Georgian orphanages and their bleak outlook, Kelvin and Susan formed The Divine Child Foundation.
“Instead of just collecting money and sending it to Georgia, we decided that we would take the funds to Georgia ourselves and be actively involved in putting the funds to the best use possible, addressing not only the short-term needs but also the long-term needs of the Children’s Houses. We are committed to making sure that every penny that is given to the children is spent in a way that makes the largest impact to their lives in a holistic way.”
Kelvin and Susan provided an initial grant to the Foundation of US$22,000 (32,000 GEL) and in February of 2007 traveled to Tbilisi to choose a place to start the work of the foundation (see attached notes from that initial trip). They decided that the Saguramo Children’s House just north of Tbilisi was in great need, had a good Director in David Navdarashvili, and was best suited for the type of work that DCF visualized.
“Prior to our departure we had established contact with Irma Barbakadze, a wizard in logistics with a PHD in Education, who was to act as our trip coordinator and translator during our visit. Irma also arranged for Paata Nodia to be our driver during our stay in Georgia. Both Irma and Paata are absolutely wonderful people and we soon became good friends. By the end of the trip we all shared a common passion to help Georgia’s children in need.”
Irma, in addition to her full time job with American Councils, subsequently became the DCF Representative in Georgia and remains so until this day. And while Paata moved on to unrelated full-time employment, he is always willing to lend a hand to help us and the children at Saguramo.
In the early fall of 2007, Kelvin introduced the Divine Child Foundation and its mission to Gilbert Jullien, a customer of Kelvin’s home remodeling business. After hearing Kelvin’s story, and working with Kelvin to understand the specific needs of Saguramo, Gil and his wife Anna made a matching grant in October of 2007 to DCF of US$22,000 (32,000 GEL) and Gil asked to join the DCF Board of Directors. Gil wanted DCF to embark on larger and more immediate projects and one condition of the grant was that Gil and Kelvin would travel to Georgia as soon as it was possible and get to work. In his own words:
“I was so touched by Kelvin’s story that in my heart, I knew that I wanted to participate. After reading everything there was to read and studying Kelvin’s excellent pictures, Kelvin and I made some very aggressive plans for improvements at Saguramo Children’s House that subsequently had to be scaled back due to the extent of the conditions that we found.
In early November of 2007 Kelvin and I arrived in Georgia in the middle of the night and after very little sleep traveled to the Saguramo Children’s house. The children were amazing and each and every one of them tore at my heart. During our entire trip to Georgia, we spent time with the children, looking at their work, playing with them, and generally trying to establish a bond of trust and friendship.
The electrical system was actually dangerous and un-protected and the building was falling apart in every sense of the word. In addition to our work with the children, we made drawings and wrote specifications for the building re-construction, met with contractors, and with the help of our hired driver Paata, we rebuilt the main switchgear for the facility. We almost missed our plane as we completed the final wiring after midnight, with a departure at 04:30!”
Since the beginning of our on-the-ground efforts, we have travelled to Georgia fourteen times. Each time we have made some improvements at Saguramo while visiting other Children’s Houses that might need help. Each time, we have visited people and organizations that might help us in realizing our mission. We have met with the Minister of Education, The Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, their Deputies and the Agency that handles Children’s Houses, the leaders of numerous NGOs, Our Home Association, one of the organizations that is training the nannies, Caritas Georgia, the Rotary Club, and many organizations and individuals.
At the Saguramo Children’s House, the DCF has:
- Rebuilt the main building including repairing the foundation, correcting all damaged brickwork, resurfacing the entire outside with new stucco, and replacing all the exterior doors and windows
- Designed and installed a complete circulating hot-water heating system.
- Rebuilt the main switchgear, installing modern circuit breakers for the feeds to the buildings.
- Replaced the mains electrical panels in the Main Building and the Kitchen
- Replaced all but the one modern Branch Circuit Panels in the Main building, five of six panels.
- Provided food, clothing, gifts, and educational resources for the children
- Provided electronics and games for the children
- Started a tradition of, “American Sandwich Day”, one afternoon meal on each visit.
- Started a tradition of a January 1st formal New-Year’s Dinner for all the children.
- And the thing that we are proudest of: We have become trusted friends of the children, the staff, and the Director.
In addition, we like to think out-of-the-box. We have visited other orphanages in Georgia with an eye to doing similar or very different types of projects:
- We carefully examined the type of Pre and Post graduation training programs that would give the children of the Georgian Children’s House programs real opportunity to find work in the real world of work in Georgia.
- We looked into the prospect of creating a Hotel Operations and Management School in the form of a “Boutique Hotel” at Tashiskari. Our concept was that this on-campus facility would bring additional income to the Children’s house while providing training for the older children and graduates. World-wide hotel chains had agreed in concept to provide trainers and accept graduates as employees in their hotels and the Ministry of Health had agreed to consider the full proposal. The condition of the world economy prevented further consideration.
- We considered creating a bakery in an abandoned building on the campus of the Kodjori Children’s House or building one on the campus of the Saguramo Children’s House, where the older children could be trained and the bread sold to the surrounding communities. Father Witold Szulczynski of Caritas Georgia had agreed to provide trainers from Panetteria for this program if we could get it launched. This is still under consideration by DCF and now that the economy is in recovery, we will carefully look at it again.
Recently we have formed a Georgian NGO, Divine Child Foundation of Georgia, and with our Georgian team have won a contract to administer two homes in the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia’s “Small Family Type Homes” initiative.
All of us remain dedicated to the precept that “each child is divine.”
We invite you to share in the joy of making a real and tangible difference in the lives of these children.