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Young Fil-Ukrainian woman sets up US charity group for orphans, disadvantaged children

Special to the Filipino Reporter, a content partner of GMA News Online It all began on a New York City subway one summer evening in 2008 when Maya Rowencak noticed a cranky little girl. She offered the girl a piece of gum and made silly faces at her. The girl’s eyes lit up and she began laughing. That was Maya’s “aha” moment when she decided to spend time with children who didn’t have a family and make them feel they are important and loved, just like how Rowencak’s late Manileña mother, Maria Milagros Cruz Rowencak, had made her feel. While helping desolate kids cope, the children in turn helped fill the void left by her mother’s untimely passing a year earlier. Today, the U.S.-born Rowencak, whose father is a Ukraine national, heads one of America’s fast growing non-profit children’s charity that prides itself on providing nutrition, medical care and education to orphanages and disadvantaged children living in extreme poverty, and offers hope by instilling value and purpose in each child. The charity group concentrates on children in Rowencak’s parents’ home countries, the Philippines and Ukraine, although it also responds to international emergencies as they arise. Called Maya’s Hope, it is a close-knit organization of volunteers who consider the children and everyone involved in the mission “as family rather than numbers and names.” Love of a mother “Our mission is to provide the love a mother these children have never felt,” said Rowencak, who previously worked as executive assistant to managing directors in finance. “I understand these children’s pain that’s why we always try to make them feel loved and important. We want them to know they are superstars, and that they can be what they want to be.” “As tough as it was for me to lose my mom, I cannot even imagine the emptiness it must feel for a young child to be abandoned and alone,” she added. “We hope that through our love and care, these children would gain confidence to become successful adults in their home countries without being plagued by issues such as drug addiction, alcoholism, and a life of crime,” she said. For Rowencak, traveling to the Philippines and Ukraine every now and then helped her understand her parents better. Not only does she brings monetary and in-kind aid to needy children, she also matches a child with a sponsor back in the U.S. “I find comfort in being able to help the children, and it’s a way for me to say thank you to my mother,” she said. “My mom was my support,” Rowencak disclosed. “She helped me make decisions. She encouraged me. Everything I am today is because of her — my independence, my intelligence, my love of travel, and most importantly, my capacity to love unconditionally.” Help sent directly Rowencak assured that Maya’s Hope send “100 percent of any contribution meant for the children directly to the children.” “This is what makes us different from other organizations,” she explained. “The contributions go directly to the child. There are no administrative costs other than mailings since Maya’s Hope is composed of dedicated volunteers.” Maya’s Hope has its official shipper of toys, school supplies and donated goods to various orphanages and depressed communities it supports in the Philippines. Will Express Delivery based in Union, N.J. makes sure all donations reach their destinations intact and in time, according to Rowencak. Consul Zaldy Patron, who is familiar with Maya’s Hope, told the Filipino Reporter that the charity group is “silently but efficiently” carrying out its mission. It assists the Bethlehem House of Bread in Baliuag, Bulacan; the San Martin de Porres Shelter in Bustos, Bulacan; Damascus Foundation in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan; and two sub-sites in Bustos and Norzagaray, Bulacan. It is currently collaborating with the Bahay ni San San Jose Orphanage, which is undergoing construction in Tarlac City. “I think Maya’s House is great story to tell, something that will inspire our community especially the second generation Filipinos,” Patron said. Maya’s Hope is thrust into spotlight every now and then with some of its fund-raisers becoming a big event that draw celebrities. Late last year, its charity event at the Soigne K. Boutique on Madison Avenue was graced by Bravo stars Sonja Morgan of “The Real Housewives of New York,” Amy Laurent of “Miss Advised,” Liz Marguilies of “Gallery Girls,” and Miss New York 2012 Mallory Hagan, who was recently crowned Miss America 2013. The event, called “Commit To Hope,” was designed to raise awareness for the plight of millions of orphans in the Philippines, Ukraine and India. Many of these children are “abandoned because of poverty and disease and are left to fend for themselves in a world where they become the victims of abuse, indentured servitude, sex trafficking and premature death,” according to the fund-raiser’s organizers. But Rowencak insists that Maya’s Hope remains “fairly silent” in raising money, relying mostly on Facebook postings and by word of mouth. In need of sponsors “So basically if I don’t do any work, we don’t get sponsors,” noted the Rutgers University graduate who majored in French literature and piano performance. “When I was in Ukraine, where I had limited Internet, I got an e-mail that nine people wanted to sponsor kids. These people were co-workers of a current sponsor. They sponsored children in the Philippines. That was pretty amazing. The company was a huge clothing label in NYC.” “People may start to hear about Maya’s Hope, but I know that if I’m not up posting stuff, or answering e-mails, no child will get sponsored in the Philippines,” she added. “I’m an advocate of malnourished, abandoned and abused children,” Rowencak said. “I love children who have disabilities of all types. I find that children with special needs are so resilient and are often happier than regular kids. They sure taught me a lot about life.” Maya’s Hope sponsorship program is mostly based on Rowencak’s relationships with orphanages and foundations “cultivated for years.” “Our job is to find these people and trust them,” she explained. “Without trust, I can’t have a sponsorship program. But if anyone takes money from our kids, I will personally beat them up (laughs).” To know how you can help, log on to or visit Maya’s Hope on Facebook. - Filipino Reporter