In February of this year, Trish Braun returned to Canada with their second set of siblings from an orphanage in Ukraine. The family of seven, now becoming a family of 10.
This was Trish and Mike Braun’s second adoption from the orphanage. Their first time around, in 2019, resulted in adding three children, who were also siblings, to their family of four.
The Brauns now have two 17-year-olds, two 14-year-olds, two 11-year-olds, an eight-year old, and a six-year-old. So they have kids in grade 1 all the way through to grade 12.
The newest three siblings have been adapting very well to their new life in Grunthal.
Trish Braun says they fit right in with the rest of the family.
“In some ways it feels like they've been here forever, and in some ways, it feels like they just got here,” she says. “They just kind of jump right in and follow along with the rest of the kids.”
She loves watching all eight of her kids interact with each other so naturally, as if they've known each other their whole lives.
"Just behaving like siblings. They fight, but then they're like, ‘you're my favorite brother,'" she says. "And when they climb up on each other's knee and give big hugs, that's just very moving for us because you don't know if they're going to bond or connect and build relationships. So we are excited to be able to watch that happen in front of us.”
Outside of spending time with their siblings and going to school, the kids have been getting together a lot with their new friends.
Braun says they get invited to birthday parties and sleepovers, and there are lots of school and church programs they attend.
“We're just so thankful when people want to come and join our mess, hang out with us, and get to know our kids.”
She says the kids are so busy with their peers that it’s been a little bit overwhelming for them.
“We're trying to do extra sleep and extra things to give them a chance to absorb all of it, but they're all pretty excited about being included in so many things.”
The kids didn’t even speak English when they first arrived, but they were able to make friends fast.
In Ukraine, they start school at a later age, so the six-year-old hadn’t ever been to school. She had her first school experience this year in the Southeast.
“She was beyond excited to be able to start school. And children just play together,” she says. “It doesn't matter if you can speak the same language or not, play is an excellent way of communicating.”
Thanks to playing with the other kids, her language skills developed super-fast.
Over the summer when there was no school, the family spent lots of time outside making memories.
"They love being outside. We did lots of walking and exploring, meeting family and spending time together,” she says. “We did a couple of hikes at Whiteshell, went to the zoo, and did some activities that we knew they'd be excited about.”
She notes their oldest son regularly connects with his friends from the orphanage.
"The orphanage that they were in was evacuated, so they're in Poland. It's good to hear from them and to know that they're actually doing quite well.”
They also have several friends and family that are still in Ukraine, and they are also regularly in contact with them.
"That's more difficult obviously, and it weighs heavily on our kids, especially after the war not letting up,” she says. “And there's still just ongoing things, people without power and water and things that are really important for survival at this time of year, as it gets very cold in Ukraine.”
Back at the orphanage, the kids had a larger celebration for New Year's than Ukrainian Christmas. They would celebrate the holiday with fireworks and plenty of food.
Braun says her family doesn’t usually do much for New Year's, but they want to do something special that's familiar for the kids.
"We're meeting with some other Ukrainian newcomers that have arrived in our community and we’re planning an event. So that will be fun, lots of good food for sure!”
This last year has been filled with many amazing moments for the Braun family, and they are excited for those to come.
“We're have a big surprise in store for them at Christmas time. We're going to be going away somewhere really warm and fun in the next little while,” she says. “We're hoping to give the kids some new experiences within the next year.”
Braun thanks the community for making her family feel very blessed.
"It's so special for our kids to see the community reaching out and showing love to them,” she says. “It makes them feel really special and chosen, which is really important.”
with files from Adi Loewen