Spotlight
Maya Rowencak is on a Misson of Hope

"Maya's Hope" helps out orphaned children in Ukraine and the Philippines, and they could use your help.

  The power of 140 characters or less is pretty amazing. It was a simple tweet that led us to interacting with Maya Rowencak, Founder of Maya's Hope right here in New York. A non-profit charitable organization, Rowencak began her work to help out orphaned children who live in poverty in the Philippines and Ukraine. We published a press release last week for the organization's "Glitter" event, which is a fundraising effort to support their projects with the kids, and I began to have a dialogue with Maya herself to find out more about why she started this venture, and how they have fared so far. [slideshow id = 65] For the record, when was Maya's Hope founded? November 2010. It is an incredible kind of sacrifice and servant leadership that you are undertaking. What is it that draws you to go to the Philippines and the Ukraine to help? When I first went to the Philippines, I was shocked by the swarms of street children. I was shocked by the number of kids in orphanages. It's not like anything I've ever seen in America. Street children are ubiquitous that they don't even seem like children, and many people consider them to be like vermin. I remember once giving food and drink to street kids and some woman asked, "Why are you helping them? They're from the streets." I responded adamantly, "They're just kids." As for Ukraine, It was also a calling.  The events that led to this decision were even trivial. I had a clothing drive for the kids in the Philippines and people were donating winter clothing. I didn't know what to do with all the winter clothing, so I did my research and decided to send them to Ukraine. Ukraine had a large number of orphans and was one of the poorest countries since the fall of communism in 1991. When I started visiting orphanages in Ukraine, it was a different situation. Children with special needs were the most neglected. They, again, seemed to not have any hope of an education, family, or purpose in life. They basically existed. I had met some children with special needs in the Philippines but even they were loved and cherished. In Ukraine, it was the absolute opposite.  They were not even considered part of society, unworthy of normal food, normal care, they were simply, not worthy of anything.  What was your childhood like as a Filipino-American? It's odd for me as an adult to be considered Filipino-American. My mom never spoke Tagalog in the house, and the only Tagalog I knew were bad words which she used when she was really mad at me. I just grew up thinking I was American. My mom just happened to be Filipino. Sadly, as a child,  I didn't fit in… and once my Filipino "best" friend told me "You're not Filipino, you're not white, you're 'nothing.'" I had a huge identity crisis because I didn't look like either one. My dad was white and didn't' have an accent, so I never even considered my dad as Ukrainian either. I just remember hating his name and thinking it was weird. Having a Filipino mother, she was strict, overprotective, loving, believed in education, and fed me a lot.  But she didn't always feed me Filipino food. She was the best mother I could ask for, but I just considered her mom. And I accepted her religious ways and her ultra conservative views as "mom's." I didn't realize that this was influenced by her Filipino culture until after she died and I realized her mentality was shaped by the country she grew up in. You mentioned (in your correspondence on how the organization started) the story of the cranky child on the subway (see: A New Family). Was this more or less a realization of how good you are with children? I mentioned the cranky child because that's literally the moment that I had some light bulb go off in my brain. That night I started looking for an orphanage in Thailand. I was determined to go to Thailand because I felt, "What am I waiting for?" I was always naturally good with children. My ex-boyfriend even took a video of me once in Central Park where I quieted a little girl and told her that Samantha the turtle was waiting for her. I think there are people out there who naturally connect with children, and it's one of my gifts. I think children are far cooler than adults. They actually act themselves and are more honest. What was your reaction to seeing how kids peddle candy and cigarettes when you went to Manila? Seeing kids peddle candies and cigarettes literally made me feel ill. I have great empathy. I think this is probably something I learned from my mother. She always gave money to homeless people and children. When I see a child selling rags for pennies, I can't help but think how unfair life is. I never had to do those things. And these children do it to eat very little. They give the money back to their parents, who have other children to feed. It's really survival of the fittest. Losing someone is always hard, but to lose a mother must be an entirely different kind of pain. What kind of traits and lessons are you able to apply from your mom with running Maya's Hope? My mom sacrificed a lot for me. I think that this is also a Filipino cultural trait.  She would give anything, including her happiness, her life, for me. She would rather never spend a dime on herself so that I can go do whatever and spend the money frivolously. She would even shop at cheap places like the Dollar Store and when I would ask her, "Why do you buy such crap?" She would say, "So you can go spend money on nice things." She was the most selfless person I knew. She paid for all my trips to Europe, paid for school, she never told me how hard it was or how much she disliked her job. She just went about her routine and I was the ungrateful child.  When I got into the real world and had to fend for myself, I really didn't like to ask my mother for help. I wanted to prove to (her and) myself that I could do it all on my own. I learned to be resourceful, I learned how to invest and spend my time wisely, I learned how to run a business. Losing my mom left a deep emptiness that is a reminder of what I do to help the kids. There's this pain that manifests itself from time to time, and it reminds me that the kids I help don't have anyone to fight for them or take care of them. There have been times I've wanted to walk away from doing this charity work. It's exhausting, and you question yourself a lot, but then I realize, my mom never walked away from her responsibility in raising me, and I cannot walk away from my responsibility to helping these kids. How often are you able to go to the Philippines and Ukraine? Even when I had my day job, I would go once a year to both countries. I just would squeeze it in during certain vacations. I would do extended vacation during Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day. Sometimes, they were as short as four days. But I still managed. I am required to go once a year to check up on things and also work on building more partnerships. Do you have a favorite or memorable encounter with a child that you have met back home? There's no favorite encounter. Each child I met has a different story and the emotions I felt are different with each one. I have my own sponsor child Alex who is particularly special to me because I found him in the streets one night. If I never found him, he probably would have stayed with his foster mother or run away. He's happy now at San Martin Home, but he knows that I love him dearly. He always asks for me. (Smiles). In this huge world, Alex knows that at least ONE person out there loves him. And that's because I tell him I love him. Where do you see Maya's hope reaching out next as far as other countries? I would like Maya's Hope to expand to countries where there is a GREAT need and where we have good reliable partners. The poverty for example is astonishing in the Philippines. These children walk barefoot, they have rotten and missing teeth, they don't always eat, they don't' have access to education, they're forced to work at a young age. As far as, I know none of our kids have been in child prostitution, but this is very common there. Other countries to consider are Thailand and Cambodia. What is on your upcoming calendar for Maya's Hope? We have our Second Annual Gala for Maya's Hope on October 22nd at the Historic Ukrainian Institute on 5th Avenue. Do you still keep gum with you for the subway rides?  Ha! I actually don't like to chew gum. But maybe I should consider carrying some!   -- For more information about Maya's Hope, you can check out the website, where you can also donate to help their cause. You can also email info@mayashope.org for additional inquiries. You can also contact Maya Rowencak at 347-699-6292. Check out their social media links as well: FB: www.facebook.com/mayashope Twitter: www.twitter.com/mayashope Crowdrise: http://www.crowdrise.com/mayashope Maya’s Hope Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. All donations to Maya’s Hope are U.S. tax-deductible to the full extent allowable under IRS regulations. Maya’s Hope is a unique organization among New York charities for children, founded in 2010 in New York City by Maya Rowencak.  
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