Friday, January 26, 2007

Bring Anya Home

"Imagine finally seeing the sister you had only dreamed of? Imagine finally knowing she is a real, living person, with eyes like you, and a smile just like yours? I am so happy for these sisters I could burst."
-Keri Cahill

I have a wonderful friend from college. Some of you who attended Gordon with me at the same time may remember Keri Cahill. Keri was (and still is) an actress, a poet, a dark-eyed, long haired Irish princess with a keen sense of humor and quick smile. She shone upon the stage in many plays at Gordon, and today shares the love of theatre with kids in teaching them Shakespeare in the summertime.

A few years ago I ran into her after a long absence of her presence in my life. She was on her way to Russia to adopt a little girl. Anastasia, or Nastia, would be coming home that summer and would be her daughter to love and hold and cherish for eternity. Shortly thereafter, Keri found out that Nastia has a sister from whom she had been separated when they were put into the orphanages.

Keri wants to adopt her daughter's sister, and make them a family again.

What follows here is reproduced with permission from her blog. I wanted to share it with the few of you who read here and ask for your help. I normally don't do things like this.

Keri has a heart as large as the Hoover Dam, which is bursting and flooding the desserts below. Keri needs our help and is too proud to really ask. She feels as if she's asked a lot from the greater community for the past couple of years. Her home flooded this May (twice) and she lost all of the theatre props and costumes that she had stored there. Most of it was unsalvageable because it was flooded not just by the flash floods that hit the north shore of Boston, but by sewerage that flowed into her home from the surrounding pipes that couldn't handle the sudden surge. She received some press and attention for that, and now she sits here trying to figure out what to do to speed up the process and the ghastly sum of money it will take to get Anya out of Siberia.

Anya is nearing the age where she will not be able to be adopted any longer, where she will "age out" of the orphanage system.

And if she cannot be adopted, she will be stuck in Siberia. End of conversation. She won't be eligible to come into the United States to become a child of our country, to enjoy her sister, to live with the woman who wishes to be her mother. She'll be stuck. And it isn't a good life. Far from it. It is a horrible and dangerous life.

So many of us talk about the importance of the family, and how families should be supported. Anya and Nastia are a family... divided by time, circumstances, bureuracracy.

Can you imagine a town where there are six orphanages? Are there six orphanages in your small city??? I don't think so. But all over Siberia there are orphanages -- there are millions of kids who sit and rot and languish because their parents turned to drugs or crime. There aren't family members to step in. There aren't Foster Homes. There is little or no chance for reuniting with Mom and Dad. These kids are cattle. They become waste products of a society that just can't deal with anything. And for all the bitching we do about how our society works and treats children, honey -- I assure you. I promise you... it is a whole hell of a lot better than Siberia.

I have followed her story since the day I ran into her by chance at a Starbucks in Marblehead. She spoke fluent Russian for me and blew me away. She is driven, she is proud, she is confident, she is trying. She is bending over backwards, she is jumping through flaming hoops. She is pushing a large rock up a very big hill. And I don't want her to be Sisyphus. Sisyphus had no help with his boulder. But I want to be the hand that helps push the rock up the big assed hill so it rolls down the other side.

And it occurs to me -- I want you to help too if you can. I have about 50 unique readers each day or so. If each of you sent 10 bucks to Keri, it would help so damn much... If you sent more than that it would blow her mind.

And if you can't send money, you can pray. I beseech you to do so. With fervor. You can ask for God's hand to intervene in the process and really build a family. Lift your hearts and voices and thoughts, and ask for help from the heavens for these three women.

Trust me -- this isn't some sort of internet scam. She's not taking the money to get a face lift and fake boobies. I know this woman. I can vouch for her situation and her kindness and her efforts. I know the one child. I want to know her sister. I want to make them be a family together.

I'm in for a bunch of money. Who's with me?

Without further preaching or adieu, here is Keri's journal entry.

Two Orphaned Sisters Reuniting- with your help
Here is the story of my is home, one still waits in an orphanage. Please keep us in your prayers. We want Anya home now!

The First Miracle
Nastia Cahill, my daughter, spoke with her sister Anya_________ for the first time in her life on Thanksgiving Day, 2005. It had been about eleven years since they had last seen one other, having been separated when Nastia was only about 18 months old. Anastasia (Nastia) & Anya _________ had been taken from their birth mother in 1994 for abuse and neglect and placed in a hospital for one year. While at the hospital, a neighbor of their birthfather came and claimed Anya, leaving Nastia behind. Nastia was placed in the first of two orphanages, four hours to the south. Anya, to her best recollection, was passed around to numerous neighbors and friends of her family until she was 10 years old. She never attended school and recounts years of abuse and neglect by her varying caretakers. In 2001 the police were notified of a child who was being neglected and was not attending school. Anya remembers the police pushing the door open and forcibly removing her from the apartment she was in. They handed over to an orphanage in Kemerovo. There, she attended school for the first time. When she turned 13, her orphanage closed down, and she was moved to her current orphanage.

All these years, Anya remembered her little sister and longed to see her again. Once she entered the orphanage system, she asked for help in finding her sister, but was denied. When she finally entered her current orphanage, she found a sympathetic ear in the new director. After many months, Anya was able to secure a possible address and wrote her little sister a letter. Sadly, the letter was lost soon after reaching Nastia and Anya never received a reply.

All this time, Nastia nurtured a dim memory of an older sister for years, not knowing if it were a true memory or just a fantasy she had dreamed up during her years as an orphan. She would play "sisters" at the orphanage, and ask her best friend Julia to play her big sister. It was a constant game during her childhood at the orphanage. When she received the letter from Anya, her dream was confirmed. She did have a sister! However, the letter went missing the day it arrived and Nastia was never able to contact her sister.

Fast Forward
In March of 2005 I walked into Detsky Dom #5 in southern Kemerovo Oblast and met my daughter Anastasia. She was cautious and very defensive, but her intelligence and big heart shone through her tough exterior. Within months we were home and creating a new life together. Almost immediately Nastia started to tell me of her sister. Just before I adopted her, she told me, she had received a letter from a girl named Anya claiming to be her sister. In her letter, she told Nastia all about their birth parents and early life together. She wanted her sister to know she loved her and wanted to see her. It had taken her quite a bit of time to track Nastia down. Nastia was overjoyed at the news. She told me she packed a little bag of the few toys she owned so that when her sister came to "get" her, she could leave immediately. Sadly, someone at Nastia's orphanage had misplaced Anya's letter and Nastia was unable to respond to her sister. When I adopted her, her first wish was to find this sister.

While in Kemerovo for our final court date, we tried to locate Anya, but it was a lost cause. No one would give us any information, and we were due to leave within a few days. I promised her that, once home in America, I would get to work on finding her. An online friend, Lindsay Wilson, had recommended I join a sibling search group run by a woman named Mary Kirkpatrick.( Armed with only the name of the birthmother, I contacted Mary, who got Alex Chizenock in Russia on the job. Alex is a television journalist who assists in finding family members of adopted children in his spare time. Meanwhile, I started researching orphanages in Kemerovo, assuming that Anya was likely there as it was her birthplace.

Within days Mary Kirkpatrick emailed the news that Alex had located the birthmother in a Siberian prison. The birthmother confirmed that Anya was indeed in a Kemerovo orphanage…number six, she thought. With this critical information, Nastia jumped on the computer, frantic to find a phone number for this orphanage. She located it via an online database, and called. She spoke briefly to someone and then put down the phone, sobbing. Orphanage number six had closed years ago. This number was not for the orphanage anymore, and they had no idea who she should contact. What could she do? I tried to console her and told her we would find a way to locate her, it would just take time. My determined daughter decided she had waited long enough. She looked up all twenty-two listed orphanages in the Kemerovo area and vowed to call every one of them that night. " God, please you find me my sister." she said before dialing. She then called one of the 22 numbers at random and a woman answered. In Russian Nastia explained, " I hope you can help me. I am trying to locate my sister. I think she was in Children's Home #6 in Kemerovo, but it has been closed. I wondered if you knew where the children from this orphanage were sent."

The woman responded, asking the name of the child Nastia was searching for." Anya _________." The woman told her to wait a moment. Nastia waited, and then suddenly I saw her face beaming. " Mama, she is there! She is there! My sister!" The woman on the phone told Nastia that her sister was indeed a resident of THIS orphanage she had called at random! She asked Nastia to wait while she tried to locate her. After 10 minutes she came back on the phone and said she was obviously out of the building and Nastia should try back later. We were in shock. What are the chances that her sister was in the ONE home Nastia had called? What are the chances that they would even allow them to talk? We were overjoyed. When we called back a few hours later, Anya answered the phone herself. Her voice was so sweet and quiet! The two reunited sisters talked for 20 minutes. I did not dare interrupt, and so I'm not sure of everything that was spoken, but I know both of their hearts were over-full, and their lives were forever changed.

A few weeks later we received photos of Anya from Alex Chizenock who secured permission to visit her in Kemerovo. Nastia was very pensive when she saw her sister's photo for the first time. She took it to her room and closed the door. An hour later I saw her holding up her sister's photo to her face, looking in the bathroom mirror. I think the gift of seeing someone who looked like her was almost too much for her to comprehend.

Our Visit
In the months that followed, God moved mountains. Our seeming-hopeless dream of meeting Anya was realized through a series of fortunate events. A Russian television station, hearing of the story, wanted to film a documentary of their reunion: could we come to Russia? They would secure all the necessary permits, documents, regional approval, etc. They would provide our transportation in country, etc. What would take me over a year to accomplish, they could do in a month. We said yes. On April 23rd 2006, my brother and I watched as Anya and Nastia were reunited at Kemerovo Regional Airport in Siberia. For the next six days, these sisters were inseperable. We laid as much groundwork as we could for Anya's eventual adoption while we were there, and secured the support of the orphanage director and staff, which will come in very handy when we eventually go to court! Saying goodbye was painful. But I assured both girls that we would move heaven and earth to bring them together permanently.

Where We Are Now
With tremendous help from Adoption Advocate and Lobbyist Maureen Flatley, we are plugging away at publicizing the story, raising money , and completing the required mountain of paperwork to adopt Anya. As of January 1st 2007, we have raised nearly $12,000 of the needed $25,000. For those of you who know very little about international adoption, the cost may seem utterly shameful. Yes, it is. It is shameful. But sadly there is not much we can do to change that before Anya's time runs out. Once we get Anya home it is my hope to join Maureen Flatley, SOS and the hundreds of adoptive parents in my shoes who seek to change the laws that regulate foreign adoptions so that it may be affordable for future parents. But that's another battle for another day.

For now, I concentrate on "my girls". Anya and Nastia have changed markedly since finding one another. It's as if their puzzle has been complete. They are positively radiant. Imagine finally seeing the sister you had only dreamed of? Imagine finally knowing she is a real, living person, with eyes like you, and a smile just like yours? I am so happy for these sisters I could burst.

And so now we move onto part two of this wonderful story: getting Anya home. We are working with a wonderful agency now, and hope to finish raising the funds to pay for her adoption. Thank you for your interest in our journey. Your kindness is joined with others' and will soon make it possible for Anya to have a family to call her own. Thank you!

The Bring Anya Home Fund
c/o National Grand Bank
91 Pleasant Street
Marblehead, MA 01945

No comments:

Post a Comment