CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Huguenot Park in Chesterfield sits more than 6,000 miles from where Saule Sadykova lives, but the 14-year-old feels right at home.
“First time I came here, I was nervous. I’m learning a lot of things in America, because I’m learning a lot good things in America,” Saule said. “I feel I have a family everywhere -- big family.”
Saule returns to Virginia every year with Richmond native Victoria Charbonneau, who met the the girl she considers her daughter in Kazakhstan.
“Life isn’t always easy. She gives me courage and strength,” Charbonnea said.
Charbonnea embraced the country on a mission trip in 2000.
“I would like to bring the two sides of the world together,” Charbonnea said.
Shortly after arriving in Kazakhstan, Charbonnea founded a non-profit in the ancient city of Taraz to help orphaned children and single mothers with clothing, food and shelter.
“To see children come and grow and be what they can be it fills me with great joy,” Charbonnea said.
Saule was abandoned at birth by her parents who thought her deformed leg and cleft lip were a curse. A determined Charbonnea raised enough money to send the girl to America where surgeons at Chippenham Hospital volunteered their expertise, which helped heal Saule on the outside and in.
The teen is also a familiar face at Hanger Clinic in Chesterfield where Saule is fitted with a donated and larger prosthetic every year.
Staff members volunteer their time and supplies helping her get a leg up.
“We are the ones who are blessed that get to spend time and know her,” said Hanger’s Susan Price.
The generosity of Virginians never ceases to amaze Charbonnea.
“Was it sad (Saule) didn’t have a normal foot at birth? Absolutely, but does it define the rest of her life? Absolutely not,” Charbonnea said.
After a difficult and lonely start, Saule is strolling confidently through life thanks to a bond that stretches half-way around the world.
“My dream is to have America and Kazakhstan together,” Saule said. “I don’t feel alone now. I feel safe.”
Saule and Charbonnea have returned to Kazakhstan where the non-profit helps about 40 children and 20 mothers at any given time.
Charbonnea's friends in Richmond are gathering items like gently-used clothes and toys for the boys and girls in Taraz. The shipment will be sent to Kazakhstan at the end of the month.
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