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March 14, 2014 THE MIAMI HERALD

By Clara Pascal


September 15, 2012 EVENING ODESSA




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Clara Pascal

Age: 45
Where I live: Ukraine and France (where my son, Luke, 12, goes to school)

Occupation: Advocate for the orphans of Ukraine

The trip that changed my life In April 1995, I was filming a documentary on Ukrainian orphanages for a church in Florida, where I lived. Conditions for orphans in the former Soviet states were desperate. Lacking funds, the government often cut off the orphanages’ power and heat in the brutal winters. Hungry children- with hollow, sunken faces- were miserable in the freezing dark. They died from simple infections. Many had untreated cleft palates. The buildings were crumbling, with foul toilets and broken windows. The kids lacked bedding, clothing, toys, books and any affection. They were left completely alone at night because there wasn’t enough staff; the few people working there weren’t paid for months at a time, and their own kids were hungry.

How I became a mother During that first trip, I was filming an undernourished infant. He woke up and gave me an amazing smile. I’d had no intention of adopting, but this baby captured my heart. I didn’t even know if he was a girl or a boy, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

What we’ve done so far A friend was running a relief organization called Universal Aid for Children. In just two months, with her help, I was able to start UAC – Ukraine (, which has it’s own programs and funding through foundations and donations. Since then, we’ve brought doctors, surgical instruments and antibiotics to Ukraine hospitals so kids can be treated. One local orphanage had been relying on a single doctor who sharpened his sole scalpel after every surgery. We’ve gotten rid of the lice-infested mattresses, renovated many of the 21 orphanages we work with and introduced the kids to Christmas and birthdays.

What really makes me proud In 1998, we started a college scholarship program. Before, when orphans reached 17, they were thrown out with the clothes on their backs and $25. There was little choice except crime or prostitution or suicide. Although Ukrainian law lets them attend college free, they could never go because they were stigmatized and poorly prepared. Now, with prep classes and monthly survival money, we have kids going to Ukraine medical and law schools.

My philosophy We can’t change the whole world, but tiny step by tiny step we can make a major difference. -J.G


Julia D. Age 11, Florida

Julia’s project:
Julia made a really beautiful book that tells her life story in photos and in her own words. Julia was born in Ukraine and lived in an orphanage for six years.

She had problems with her right leg, but surgery didn’t help. After she was adopted by her American Family, she had to have her leg removed. Julia uses an artificial leg now, and her determination to be like any other American girl has helped her to learn how to dance ballet, be a cheerleader, play soccer, ice-skate and even ride a bicycle!

Judge’s comments about her project:
“Her determination shows on every page. ‘She never gave up,’ This girl is unstoppable!”

Julia’s favorite part of AG Magazine:
The crafts

Julia’s favorite part of the cover shoot:
Having her picture taken!

December 2002 THE MIAMI HERALD

For 2,000 Ukrainian orphans, Santa Claus is a petite woman with caramel-colored hair. Their Santa--Clara Pascal--comes not from the North Pole, but from Coral Gables.

Pascal was a far cry from Santa Claus when she first visited Odessa, Ukraine, in April 1995 to film a documentary about orphanages. Shocked by what she saw--children who were neglected and malnourished, children with serious medical problems like cleft palates--she ended up falling in love with one of the orphans and adopting him.

''There was one little baby,'' Pascal said. `Everyone else was crying, sad, but he was the happy one, the survivor. He looked straight at me, and I thought, `I'm coming back for you. ''

Pascal was 33 and single. Braving Ukrainian bureaucracy and adopting a foreign orphan seemed overwhelming, ''but somehow, I knew it would be possible,'' she recalled.

Two months after her return, Pascal, now 40, ended her film career to become Ukrainian programs director for Universal Aid for Children, Inc. Established in 1977, the Pompano Beach-based nonprofit agency focuses on humanitarian relief efforts and international adoption.

It would take her two years to adopt her son Luke, now 8.

''The love I had for Luke catapulted me. I knew I had to do something,'' said Pascal, who returns to Odessa several times a year to give the thousands of orphans she couldn't adopt some of the care they need.

Her programs serve 18 separate Ukrainian institutions, offering nutrition, health care, psychological counseling, education and scholarship opportunities for orphans who are otherwise released, without resources, to the state when they reach 17.

The Ukrainian government resisted outside help, so Pascal staffed her program with Odessa locals to help break down cultural barriers. ''Humanitarian was a word I had to explain to government officials,'' Pascal said. “It's a closed culture. It's a pride thing - you have to respect that.''

Her top priorities: Providing orphans with proper nutrition and medical care. Creating emotional support, even joy, are also important.


That's why Pascal looks forward to Christmas, when she gets to play Santa to 2,000 orphans, thanks to donations by individuals and organizations, including DHL and Florida Healthcare Supply.

“We try to get one present for each child. That in itself is a huge feat because there's so many of them. The sense of ownership is so big with them because they have to share everything they have.'` Christmas, which the Russian Orthodox celebrate on Jan. 6, was a concept these children couldn't grasp at first.

''Most of these kids don't even know their own birthdays, let alone what Christmas is. It would be like every other day, unless we did something,'' Pascal said. The presents are basics - sweaters, blankets and the like.

''They need everything. I can never keep up,'' said Pascal. ” We try to raise $25 per child and have our staff take them shopping. They pick out what they like and have it Christmas morning. For the little ones, we take stockings and put warm clothing in them. It's freezing and the heat is always off there.''

Pascal, who grew up in Maryland, got her leadership skills from her father, Robert Pascal, who worked in county government, and her charitable impulse from her mother, Nancy Ware Pascal Wainwright, a Miami native.


''At Christmas, we always had a family we would go help,'' recalled Pascal. "Being a humanitarian was instilled in me by my mother.'` Pascal, who studied at the University of Central Florida in the mid-1980s, made Miami her home in 1994.

As Ukrainian programs director, she has received assistance from as far as California, and as close as South Florida.

Susan Macpherson, a nurse practitioner from West Palm Beach, first visited Odessa with Pascal in June 1995, during Pascal's first trip with Universal Aid for Children. Macpherson was on hand to assess the orphans' medical needs.

''Ophthalmology, orthopedics, plastic surgery, infectious disease - really severe,'' she said.

Macpherson now sponsors sisters Galina and Irina Gromevnko, for Universal Aid's scholarship program.

Through Macpherson's support, Galina, 22, has completed beauty school. Irina, 20, is studying at a university and wants to be a journalist. ''I send them care packages a couple times a year, clothing, extra money,'' said Macpherson. `They've become very close to me. I told the girls, `Learn English and I'll bring you to spend a couple weeks in Florida.' ''

Since the scholarship program began four years ago, Pascal has raised $45,000, enabling 75 orphans to pursue a college education in the Ukraine.

''These kids are my mission now,'' said Pascal. ``All they need is the right environment and they thrive. What they overcome is phenomenal.'` She wants her son Luke to meet these young people who inspire her, but not yet, not this Christmas. ''I'm still protective of him,'' she said.

Although adopted children often have problems adjusting to a new environment, Luke has taken well to his. He says he loves to play kick and catch and freeze-tag.

Like her, he laughs a lot. And like her, he senses he is linked to a world far beyond Coral Gables. He studies pictures and videos of the other orphans, and talks about his brothers and sisters in Ukraine. ''I want to go over there and be with them and help them,'' Luke said. ''We're all citizens of the world. We're all in this together,'' said Pascal. "I wish more people would become involved in a personal way, whether it's with the person next door or someone around the world. I believe goodness begets goodness. It helps us in the end, too.'`


Universal for Children Inc accepts donations of money and various goods, like new clothing, which Land's End contributed last year. All donations are tax deductible.


There appeared to be a lot of funds helping poor children. In pre-election campaigns, the funds grow like mushrooms. It is not bad certainly. The children’s lives do become better. But it seems that this help is rendered somehow slow- witted! Excuse me for the harsh word. Kind men and women come for a holiday and bring lot’s of presents.

Nobody knows when they will appear the next time. Last year, children in “The Lighthouse Boarding School received 15 presents each for Christmas and New Year holidays. They shared their presents with other similar institutions. At the same time, children from one city boarding school did not get anything for the holidays. They appreciate “planned help”. One faithful man for example, regularly supplies orphanage #1 with greens from spring to late fall.

Universal Aid for Children, which is represented by the clever Clara Pascal, plans its work. It helps several institutions. Boarding school No. 4 gets special attention. This is one such boarding school in Odessa for orphans. This organization helps all children, but the 11th grade children get good, sound care.

The graduates are usually supplied with clothes and footwear (good ones), and books needed for entering the institutes. The tutors are invited if needed, and preparatory courses are paid for. The graduates as a rule enter the higher educational establishments, or prestigious colleges #35 or higher, #26. While the kids study, they receive scholarship from Universal Aid for Children. It is not a scanty sum like our state gives our students. It is possible to live normally on “Clara’s Scholarship” (as the children call it).

There is one rule – each scholarship student must work monthly 36 hours on weekends (for the 1st course 24 hours) at one of Clara’s institutions, boarding schools, orphanages, children’s hospitals, social rehabilitation schools, or a detention center. The references from the educational establishment and the job must be positive.

On scholarship day, I started for the meeting supposing that it might not happen. Will American’s continue the charity projects after the events of September 11th? The organization exists not on budget money, but on private charity investments.

The Ukrainian representatives of Universal Aid for Children, I.A. Tishchenko and P.S. Panin explain more. “This help is a good will to people. And the kids must be good so that Clara will always have arguments in their favor!” About 40 children got the scholarship this time. Irina Gromovenko nearly missed her scholarship. The matter is that Irina received the scholarship last year too and studied at preparatory courses in the university. This year she entered the university. She was considered a first year student, and worked 24 hours. Now she has to work 36 hours. Still, she was given the scholarship for a second year. Irina got scared. She promised to work. When she fulfills her promise, she will get the scholarship.

It is a pity there are several cases when the kids lost this financial support. We are sorry for Christina – a beauty, a good girl, but it was her fault. She entered the university, but did not attend classes, so she was expelled. She still lives in the dorm. Christina is getting a job. Alexey entered the academy but was expelled because of his bad behavior.

Sergey is a seller at the market. It seems he said good-bye to the institute forever. But there is good news as well. Olga Chernova also says good-bye to the scholarship, but the reason is that she earns money and can support herself! “We led her to an independent life”, Irina Anatolevna smiles. Olga finished college #35 excellently with a red diploma, and became a hairdresser. When Clara came in to the store, the girl made her a hairdo that Clara liked very much. Olga works in “Sharm” hairdressers shop. The clients like her, she is friendly, smiling and thankful. In summer, she cut the kids’ hair. Olga has a flat. What else does one need? Irina Anatolevna says, “In difficult situations, you remain a member of our family. This is what Clara said”.

The children’s attitude towards boarding school children is special. Family is family. Tanya Litvinova is finishing medical college. Her work is in the resuscitation department of Oblast Children’s Hospital. They speak well about her there. She is professionally well prepared and attentive to kids... to all the kids. When a girl named Irina, (from the 7th grade) came to the hospital from #4, Tanya did not leave her. When a child is unconscious, they need to be fed by the probe, and get special care. Tanya did everything she could. When Irina opened her eyes she cried with joy. Tanya wants to enter the medical institute, but will she succeed?

Valya Volk studies in polytechnic university. She says her main problem is the lack of time. She asks for body basic training. Last year Valentina attended the trainings. She wants to attend them again. Valya “works” at native #4. There is no need to teach her, she know herself what to do. She sews the buttons on, irons the linen, puts everything In order in the wardrobe. If needed, she checks the heads for lice (life is life)! And of course, plays with the children (she sews the dresses to dolls – amazing!). She reads to them and even reprimands if needed. “She is balanced and strict, and always gets along well with my 6th grade kids,” says the caretaker V.A. Kruchenyh.

Dima Shumeyko studies at the 3rd course of marine academy. He is big, strong, and noisy. His 5th grade pupils adore him. And Dima for them…”I am the father for them, he explains…I will not give them to anybody.” I ask him if his scholarship is enough for him. “ To pay the debts back,” jokes the boy? “Certainly enough, but not more”. I may continue with this company for a long time.

Children are so different, and so good. But many of them are united (besides Clara’s scholarship) by the absence of housing. Ilona S. lives with her neighbors and is thankful to them. Vlada B. struggles to take her room back and asks for help. Valya P. rents a flat. Natasha G. pays big money for renting a flat.

But it is a topic of another talk. We will speak about it next time. And now… I glance into someone’s “report” and see the words, “Dear Clara, we are thankful to you, we remember about you and pray for you.” Clara Pascal will come to Odessa on December 4th, and it will be a big holiday for a big boarding school family.


November 1995 THE MIAMI HERALD

The first time that I walked into Orphanage three in Odessa, Ukraine, I was carrying in a video camera. The next time that I walk out of Orphanage three, buy the grace of God, I will be carrying out my son.

It started as a 10-day shoot. I went to make a video about the Ukrainian orphans. I was a single woman with a minor mission. My life has never been the same since that day last March. The sweet spirits of many young souls sang out to me. What a song they have learned to cry.

There are an estimated 55,000-orphaned children in Ukraine. This struggling nation is the poorest of the former Soviet-bloc countries. Its annual inflation rate has reached a staggering 2,500 percent. The average Ukrainian worker makes approximately $15 a month. A pair of shoes at the open market costs $20. In practical terms, it is an impossible life.

Alexandra is a nanny in my son’s room. She works 24-hour shifts four days a week. She smiles and sings as she bounces three babies at once on her ample knees. Alexandra has worked in the orphanage for 25 years. The babies all call her mama. “It makes them feel better, “ she says.

Luke Anthony was not the first child whom I saw. He was, however, the first one to see me. At 4 months old, he looked me straight in the eye, and he knew me. He knew all the moments and memories in my heart. He recognized me right away. I am his mother.

Luke was abandoned at birth. His biological mom delivered him and left the hospital. Chances are his young mother was an orphan herself. The state releases homeless kids at 17. They are thrown into a crumbling society with no real chance for a future.

Luke Anthony is now 10 months old. He still lives in Public Orphanage three. I lived in Odessa for two months this past summer and I visited him every morning and night. He loved the grass and the warm breeze. In the evening he would fall asleep in my arms with a smile on his little face. I have been approved to adopt Luke Anthony. It is a long, complicated process so as to ensure that each child has a responsible family.

Now there is a moratorium on all international adoptions out of Ukraine. I feel as though someone has ripped my heart out of my body. Luke is just one of the 55,000 homeless orphans.