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Author Bio: Shonda Werry is the founder of C.O.A.T.S. International, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Russian and Ukrainian orphans and vulnerable children. She worked on Capitol Hill for several years before shifting her focus to child welfare in the former Soviet Union. Shonda earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Chicago and a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins University. You can read more about C.O.A.T.S. International at www.coatsinternational.org
There are over 600,000 children in Russia classified as orphans. Compounding the problem in the region, other countries that belonged to the Soviet Union also have hundreds of thousands of orphans in their run-down child welfare systems.
The orphanages in Russia and throughout the former Soviet Union are decrepit holdovers from the Soviet Union, and almost always lack the most basic supplies for the children.
Our effort began as a simple toy drive for the orphans during the Christmas season of 2002. What we saw through our effort was overwhelming. The children in the orphanages needed so much more than toys. They needed vitamins and fresh fruit and hot water and underwear. And, perhaps most of all, warm clothes.
With a new perspective of the needs of the Russian and Ukrainian orphans, we repurposed our project and focused our efforts on providing clothing – coats, underwear, socks, boots – to the orphanages. Over the past decade, the effort has evolved into a non-profit called C.O.A.T.S. International, with the mission of providing material aid to the orphans within the former Soviet Union’s child welfare systems, and also preventing child abandonment. After all, keeping children with their parents and out of the orphanage system entirely is the best way to address the child welfare crisis.
Many other organizations perform the laudable work of getting children out of the orphanage system. But for the hundreds of thousands of children who languish without a family and are trapped in the Soviet-style orphanage system, or for the tens of thousands of single mothers at risk of abandoning their children to the orphanages, C.O.A.T.S. International exists
Our work is divided into two categories: providing material aid and training for children already in the orphanage system, and providing financial assistance to young mothers who are at risk of giving up their children to the orphanage system. Over the years, C.O.A.T.S. International has provided hundreds of coats and blankets to orphans, organized holiday parties for the orphanages, helped build a playroom for an orphanage outside of Moscow, and provided medical supplies and doctor visits to orphanages. In addition to that work, we have also worked directly with at-risk mothers, providing diapers, baby food and formula, and furnished apartments. These efforts have gone a long way to keeping those vulnerable families together and helping those infants never see the inside of an orphanage.
Our website is www.coatsinternational.org and we regularly post stories about our projects. We welcome your feedback, your ideas, and your donations as we expand our work to help even more children in the coming months!