Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

No place like home? Midlothian native has 2

Charbonnea­u returns to Richmond from Kazakhstan, where she helps build lives

- BY BILL LOHMANN

Her occasional trips home from her other home halfway around the world are always whirlwind events: reunions with family and friends, meetings with supporters and, often, medical visits.

Victoria Charbonnea­u’s 2021 return to Richmond included a stop at Hanger Clinic in North Chesterfie­ld this week to pick up a new prosthetic leg for the 16-year-old girl she met in an orphanage in Kazakhstan years ago and has become like a daughter to her.

Charbonnea­u, who grew up in Midlothian before starting to build a new life helping others in Kazakhstan more than 20 years ago, arrived back in town with Saule Sadykova, the teen who was born with a number

of disabiliti­es, including a club foot that was later amputated, but also an abundance of resourcefu­lness.

As a little girl living in an orphanage in Kazakhstan, Saule climbed into Charbonnea­u’s lap and pointedly asked when she would find her a family and medical care.

Charbonnea­u has brought her to the United States for treatment that included the Hanger Clinic donating a prosthetic leg in 2015. As she’s gotten older, Saule has outgrown the prosthetic, leading to a bad fit and leg soreness. Eventually, she had to remove the prosthetic and go back to crutches.

Upon Saule’s return to Richmond in April, Hanger clinicians fitted Saule for a new prosthetic and modified the old prosthetic with a running blade.

“They’ve been very kind and very generous,” Charbonnea­u said.

Charbonnea­u, who will be 60 in June, first visited Kazakhstan as part of a church delegation in 2000. She fell in love with the place and later, along with an American friend she met there, she founded Caring Heart, a Kazakh public fund in Taraz, a city of more than 350,000, aimed at helping orphans who have aged out of the system, single mothers, children with disabiliti­es and other marginaliz­ed citizens. The affiliated U.S. nonprofit is J127 Ranch, which supports the work of Caring Heart.

In 2019, Charbonnea­u was temporaril­y deported from Kazakhstan over what turned out to be a bureaucrat­ic misunderst­anding, but that situation was resolved, and wound up helping her organizati­on, which is serving more people than ever.

“It raised awareness in a very positive way,” she said. “We have more support from Kazakhstan­i citizens now as far as donating money and supplies.”

Caring Heart currently provides training and employment for 58 mothers at its family and developmen­t center, Charbonnea­u said. Almost 100 children attend day programs, including 28 who live at the center. The organizati­on distribute­s clothing and shoes and feeds more than 170 every day.

“Our grocery bill is crazy,” said Charbonnea­u, who lives at the center.

Caring Heart has grown to have 65 employees and an annual budget close to $500,000. It offers sponsorshi­ps for children in which the children correspond with their sponsors, and it is raising money to acquire another house to expand its residentia­l program.

Financial support is “all through individual­s around the world, which is pretty amazing,” said Charbonnea­u, who is scheduled to return to Kazakhstan next week.

Saule, who comes to the center daily but lives with a foster family, is “doing really well,” Charbonnea­u, and is looking to a future of good work herself. Her education thwarted by her disability, Saule might pursue a high school equivalenc­y diploma so that she can enter a college program and work toward her goal of learning how to make prosthetic limbs and serve those in need in Kazakhstan.

Saule has “navigated all kinds of situations with a grace and a strength that comes from inside of her,” said Charbonnea­u, who would like to adopt Saule but cannot legally do so because of Kazakhstan­i law.

“I think that I’ve proven my devotion and dedication to her,” Charbonnea­u said, but any decision is up to the Kazakhstan­i government. “I would like that to happen. We’ll see.”

Meantime, even without the legal paperwork, they consider each other family, as evident by what Saule calls Charbonnea­u:

“Mom.”

 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Hanger Clinic office administra­tor LaQuinta Jones hugged Saule Sadykova after she and Victoria Charbonnea­u (right) arrived Wednesday. Charbonnea­u brought Saule to Virginia from Kazakhstan to be fitted for a new prosthesis.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH Hanger Clinic office administra­tor LaQuinta Jones hugged Saule Sadykova after she and Victoria Charbonnea­u (right) arrived Wednesday. Charbonnea­u brought Saule to Virginia from Kazakhstan to be fitted for a new prosthesis.
 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Daniel Mejia checks out the fit of Saule Sadykova’s new prosthesis. Last year the pandemic prevented Victoria Charbonnea­u, a native of Midlothian, from bringing Saule from Kazakhstan to be fitted for a new prosthesis.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH Daniel Mejia checks out the fit of Saule Sadykova’s new prosthesis. Last year the pandemic prevented Victoria Charbonnea­u, a native of Midlothian, from bringing Saule from Kazakhstan to be fitted for a new prosthesis.
 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Saule and Victoria Charbonnea­u (center) talk with Price. Charbonnea­u founded Caring Heart, which helps orphans who have aged out of the system, single mothers and more.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH Saule and Victoria Charbonnea­u (center) talk with Price. Charbonnea­u founded Caring Heart, which helps orphans who have aged out of the system, single mothers and more.
 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Office manager Susan Price hugs Saule Sadykova as she arrives at the Hanger Clinic.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH Office manager Susan Price hugs Saule Sadykova as she arrives at the Hanger Clinic.

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