Adopted artist with hand anomaly touches global community

Tyler McNeil
Managing Editor

annaMichael Schaefer|The Hudsonian

Faith influenced Anna Aucompaugh to think beyond birth defects, biological parents and borders.

“I feel like if I didn’t believe in God, maybe I wouldn’t be as cool about my hands or about being adopted, but I attribute a lot of my comfort and self confidence in believing in God,” said Aucompaugh.

Adopted out of a Russian orphanage with her sister, Aucompaugh said that her Christian faith has deterred her from imagining an alternate past. Many children that were not adopted from her orphanage were kicked out before reaching their teens.

“I could’ve been incredibly different so I’m lucky to be here,” she said.

Since departing Russia at the age of two, much of her background has remained obscure. Lacking knowledge about her past, her adopted parents didn’t know her birth name was Irina until after she was renamed.

Along with her birth, Aucompaugh has known little about her medical history. Having a hand deformity since birth, she has been unable to identify the name of the congenital disorder.

Despite growing up with two fingers, she developed a passion for using her hands to create art. According to Aucompaugh, she never faced any barriers drawing.

“This is what I’m used to working with,” she said. “This is my reality.”

With her disability, she had an easier time being accepted by children rather than adults. She said children would ask about it and never mention it again. Adults, she mentioned, have often stared at her hands and have attempted to relate to her.

“Kids don’t care, but adults are always weird about it,” she said.

Without stress finding acceptance, towards the end of her time at Berne Knox Westerlo High School, Aucompaugh’s biggest challenge was deciding her path after graduation. Being active in her church at the time, she decided to spend her time after high school as a missionary with the Adventures in Missions program.

Before arriving in Honduras, her first stop on the five-country trip, Aucompaugh was anxious about her decision to travel the world. Shortly after working with residents of the area, Aucompaugh’s feelings towards her decision changed.

“They’d be always really happy to see you and they loved it when people came over,” she said. “Just seeing that made me realize ‘oh, okay. This is why I’m doing this.’”

Despite experiencing peaceful interaction with locals, her mission group started receiving threats. Originally having planned to stay in Honduras for three months, the mission group decided to leave the country after a month to hit their next stop in Guatemala.

Over Aucompaugh’s stay in Guatemala, with little planning, her organization decided to focus on working in the community among poor living conditions.

“We just tried to help any needy family in any way we could,” she said.

Witnessing poverty and disease throughout her trip, Aucompaugh said that she was impacted by every person she worked with.

“You can’t really get away from that,” she said.

Over her trip, Aucompaugh started to adjust to her surrounding conditions from working with abuse victims in the Philippines to constructing housing in Botswana.

Although she quickly adjusted to living overseas, she never became accustomed to leaving each nation she visited.

“[Locals] would always say, ‘Oh are you going to come back some time?’ and you can’t tell them that you’re going to so that was always really difficult,” said Aucompaugh.

Coming back to the United States after nearly a year abroad, Aucompaugh was still unsure about her future before coming to Hudson Valley. After about two years at the college in the digital media program, she’s still unsure about her next move.

Looking to graduate next semester, she hopes to start volunteering again, but is not currently focused on the future.

“I’ve got some hopes, but nothing’s ever planned out,” she said.

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