River of Thoughts

Christine Royse Niles — Changing the world one word at a time

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning….

…A very good place to start. So many of you have asked how we got into this, and I think you all deserve an answer!

The Discovery

Last spring (March or April, 2006), we stumbled across a brief column in the local newspaper about a “culture camp” for orphans from Ukraine that would be coming to Fort Wayne in the summer. It explained a program that enabled children ages 6-12 to visit the United States for about three weeks, learn more about the US, and get the experience of living with a family. While the hope is to find “forever families” for the children in the program, families could “host” a child without any plans to adopt.

When we first read the article, we thought of some friends who had been considering adopting from Ukraine. We set the article aside. As the days turned into weeks, it remained on the top of the pile of coffee table books. One day, Mark turned to me (or I turned to him…who knows?) and said, “Gee, maybe we should host one of these kids.” I (or he, who knows?) answered “Sure, might be fun.”

The Application

Mark promptly contacted the program coordinator to get details and see what was involved. We learned that while host families pay for travel costs and program fees for most hosting or exchange programs, this program was “risk-free” — if you were not adopting the child, there were no hosting fees. We would need to complete an application, submit to a police check, and take an online course designed for families hosting or adopting an international child from an institutional setting such as an orphanage. The costs for the police check and the online course were minimal, so we thought, “still sounds fun!”

We sat down one evening to complete the application; that’s when the life changes began. One of the first questions was “Are you open to adoption?” Adhering to the “never say never” policy, we answered “yes.” Then came “why are you interested in adoption?” and so on. Each question innocently led to the next, making us think a little more with each one.

When we finished the application, we were still planning to simply host, but our hearts had been opened to the option of adoption…..

Choosing a Child

Once we were approved as host families, the fun began. The application required us to prioritize the age range and gender preferences, as well as to indicate how many siblings we would be willing to host. We had indicated that we’d prefer a single, older girl, but that we would be open to just about any child in need (that pesky “never say never” thing again).

Within a few days, we received an email with photos of two brothers, 8 and 9. They were incredibly cute; the both sort of looked like they had popped right out of a 1950s TV show. But the more I started thinking of the impact of TWO boys on this household, the more I started freaking out.

I called the program coordinator, Lydia, and asked if perhaps they might have any girls in the program…she immediately started sending photos with names and birthdays. We narrowed it down to three girls of various ages, and Lydia shared with me that she had met the oldest girl, Mariya, when she visited this orphanage last spring. When Mark got home that evening, we looked at the photos, debated a lot, and finally concluded that Mariya was the right choice.

When I commented to Lydia how pretty Mariya looked in her photo, she replied that this was a “bad” picture, and that the girl was even prettier in person. I found that hard to believe, but I would have to just wait and see.

Preparation and Education

We began to learn a lot about the orphanage system in Ukraine, and about the conditions these kids live in. Because their resources are so limited, everything they have is shared. Children don’t have clothes or shoes of their own, and we could only expect them to come to the US with one or two outfits. We were told that we would need to buy clothes and shoes for our host child, and that everything we sent back would be a gift and a blessing to all the children at the orphanage.

We also went through a web-based training program that outlined the structured environment that these children live in, and some of the challenges that they might encounter here. We learned that, once away from the rigid environment of the orphanage, many children test their boundaries and act out. We also heard that many of them become overwhelmed by the decisions that they are not used to, and that some of them become overstimulated by the things we are used to…like the grocery store, piles of toys, or lots of new people in a short time. We learned about attachment disorder, and the effects of trauma and loss that many of these children have suffered.

To prepare for her stay, we made a calendar on posterboard for the time she would be here, and we made post-it notes with some of the activities that were planned for her visit. The idea was to give her some way to know what was coming up, and to feel a little more “in control” and to adjust more easily…I can only imagine how scary it is to be thrown into a new environment, with strangers, and have no idea what anyone is saying or what will happen next!

The more we prepared, the more we started thinking about the potential of adoption, and of the possibility that this little girl would be more than a visitor in our home for three weeks. We were still really unsure, and while we were becoming more and more open to the idea, we still thought our main role would be to help find this child a home with another family.

The most important thing in preparation, though, was spending time with a couple who had adopted from Ukraine twice. We met their four kids and found out They were able to share many experiences and insights into the orphanage system, and to help us know what to expect while Mariya was here. Most importantly, they prayed with us that it would be clear to us what we were meant to be for this little girl. The rest is history!!

For more information on Adoption Adventures, please visit their website here. Programs are currently being planned for January and March 2007 in four cities!

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About Christine

I am a writer, a project manager, and a corporate refugee with a heart for orphans around the world. My two daughters were adopted from Ukraine at ages 12 and 14. I post about writing, chasing dreams, and making a difference in the world, and sometimes I share fun snippets of fiction in-progress.

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