The Beauty of a Smile

Sonya Sotnikova, 17
Mariupol, East Ukraine

Sonya’s mother sighed as she looked at her beautiful teenage daughter. The once bubbly, energized and driven girl had deteriorated into a shadow of herself, she had become sulky and broody. Sonya used to light up the room and talk their ears off about her hopes and dreams for the future, about how she wanted to be a doctor, now her grades have dropped and she barely opens her mouth.

Sonya remembered her biological father with affection, he used to play with her and make her laugh until her stomach hurt. She had been the light of his life and he had been the center of her world. She remembered the pain she felt when he didn’t come home, the deep emptiness that filled the place that he had occupied. He abandoned his wife and daughter, leaving them with no source of income. Several years later, a relative told them that he had died.

Sonya’s mother remarried, bringing a father figure into Sonya’s life again. She tried hard to connect with her step-father, hoping that he will fill the emptiness that her father had left. He, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with her. She was a nuisance, a burden. Her mother gave birth to two little boys, brothers that lit up Sonya’s life. She cared for them and played with them.

Everything was more or less fine at home. Sonya was doing well at school, her brothers were happy and boisterous. Her step-father, who never really connected with Sonya, was earning a decent living, and her mother was present and available to her husband and children.

Then her step-father started drinking. The drinking turned him mean and ugly. He would come home late at night, drunk. He would pull Sonya out of bed and force her to do menial tasks, demanding that she earn her keep. Sonya’ mother didn’t know what to do, she needed him, depended on him, and loved him. She tried to make him stop, but he started verbally abusing her as well.

Time passed and Sonya deteriorated more and more, becoming a shell of the energetic and positive girl that she had been. Then, one fateful evening, Sonya’s step-father stormed in, drunk and angry, he started to throw plates at Sonya’s head. She ducked and cowered, her hands covering her head to protect herself. Her mother called the police, and that was the last time they saw her step-father.

With the step-father gone, they had no source of income. They had to leave their apartment and move into a small rented room. Their mother tries to get small cleaning jobs here and there to earn a bit of money, but the income is barely enough to cover their bills, let alone pay for heat, food or clothing. They are constantly hungry and sad.

The coordinator of the LifeChanger FSU organization came to visit Sonya’s family. She smiled as she placed a large package of food on the table and handed Sonya’s mother clothing coupons for her and all of the children. Sonya went shopping with her mother and her little brothers. They bought fashionable clothing that would keep them warm and comfortable. She looked at her mother and smiled, a precious smile that brought tears to her mother’s eyes.

Next the LifeChanger FSU coordinator built a personal rehabilitation plan for the entire family, to make sure they have a brighter and better future in all aspects.

Sonya started getting psychological help to overcome the trauma, she began processing her emotions and acting like her happy self again. She was given tutoring to catch up in school until she started talking about her dream to become a doctor again. Now she is a thriving student in the Berdyansk Medicine College.

Olga encouraged Sonya to join the EnerJew Jewish youth movement for teens. She started making social connections and feeling a part of a supportive group.

“I have no words to express the feeling of warmth that entered my heart when I saw my little girl smile at me,” said Sonya’s mother, “It had been so long that I had forgotten how beautiful she looks when she smiles. Thank you  for giving us your support and returning the smile to Sonya’s face.”