Faraway War Underlines Merit of Va. Family's Work

By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

Thousands of miles from the tanks and soldiers, the conflict between Georgian and Russian military forces reverberates in a Northern Virginia household.

In 2005, Vienna residents Kelvin and Susan Pierce founded the Divine Child Foundation to help children in Georgian orphanages by improving the facilities, providing education and collecting relief supplies, including clothing, toys and medicine.

But the recent conflict has caused problems for the orphanage the foundation is currently helping, making it difficult for it to get food and spurring a three-day evacuation because of its proximity to Russian forces.

There also is concern that the orphanage will be overtaken by refugees. So far, the orphanage director has been able to keep that from happening. But Kelvin Pierce said schools are being used as refugee shelters, so few, if any, Georgian schools will be open this year. That means children in the orphanage won't get their usual three hours of schooling a day.

There is concern that "this orphanage house would get caught in the middle," said Pierce, who visited Georgia in January and plans to return next month.

The Pierces' interest in Georgia stems from the adoption of their two daughters, Mariame and Marieka, both 12. The couple first visited Georgia in 1996, spending almost a month there during the adoption process. When they returned home, they had two living ties to the republic and had seen conditions that would stick with them.

"Conditions were terrible there," Susan Pierce said, "wretched." She said they spent much of their time driving around looking for areas with electricity and such basics as copiers and fax machines. And among the few programs on television, when they could watch it, were stories about "how bad the orphanage conditions were," she said.

When they visited in February 2007, things were much better, she said, and the capital, Tbilisi, was "bustling." Now, with the conflict, residents have trouble with even basic needs. The family's liaison in the country said she had had trouble getting groceries because supplies could not be shipped into the area.

For the girls, who were about 4 months old when they were adopted, the conflict is a disturbing way to hear about the birthplace they've never visited.

"It's nice knowing about where I come from," said Mariame, who is younger than her sister by three days.

Mariame talks about the fighting in a calm, measured tone, while Marieka gets more riled up. Her mother calls it a "helpless rage," and Marieka is forbidden to use the "R" word (Russian). "It's a bad word," Marieka said, by way of explanation.

Kelvin Pierce said that when he asks Marieka why she gets so mad, she says it is because she likes saying that she is from Georgia, but there has to be a Georgia for that to mean something.

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