Russia: Making Progress, Thanks to You

12 12 2011

In 2010, you sprang into action when Joint Council asked you to show your support of Russian adoptions through our We Are The Truth campaign. Thank you for your support!

What a difference a year makes. This past July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed a bilateral adoptions agreement that will strengthen procedural safeguards in adoptions between our countries.

Can we say that your participation, your calls for change and your support of our efforts on behalf of Russian children in need of a family made that agreement happen? Maybe not directly, or individually, but together we made a BIG difference. Your voice gave strength to our work and thanks to people like you, Russian adoptions are back on track.

This year also brought a celebration of the achievements of one very talented Russian adoptee, Tatyana McFadden. Tatyana, who faced multiple health challenges as a child and is a wheelchair user as a result of late-diagnosed spina bifida, was nominated for an ESPY Award this spring! We are all so proud of Tatyana. She truly represents the resiliancey and strength of the human spirit, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.

And that’s what it’s all about for these orphaned children — beating the odds.

You’ve helped us before and now we need your help again. Please make a tax-deductible donation to Joint Council today. Your donation will allow us to continue working with the Russian Federation, the United States government, and adoption advocates everywhere, to ensure that Russian – U.S. adoptions continue well into the future.

International Exhibition: Life In Motion – “I Want To Walk”

30 11 2011

Life in Motion, a unique photo exhibition created to raise awareness about orphaned children who are unable to live a fulfilled life due to their physical limitations will premier on December 8th at the Rita K. Hillman Education Gallery in New York city.  Life in Motion, is an international collaboration between the International Center of Photography, the “Artist Foundation” and Happy Families, Inc. (a Joint Council Member-Partner).

In our supporting role and continued partnership with HFIC, Joint Council is participating in the premier of the exhibition and is working with HFIC to bring this very special exhibition to Washington DC in 2012.

Led by renowned photographer Ed Kashi, the exhibition showcases the work of 10 students from the International Center of Photography (ICP) and the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia who photographed children at orphanages and rehabilitation centers in Russia.

This project is part of a greater program, I Want to Walk, created by HFIC to help orphaned children obtain their dream of walking. For some children this meant physically being able to walk, while for others “walking” also meant being able to leave the orphanage and achieve their goals. All of us at Joint Council are proud to join other partners in supporting I Want To Walk and Life In Motion. Those supporting the exhibition include Flotek, Transaero (Official Transportation Partner of the Life in Motion” project), the Renaissance Moscow Hotel, the Restaurant Mari Vanna-Ginza Project, Social Mavens, the Venta Group, Arts+Business Partners, the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, and the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation.

For more information on Life In Motion and I Want To Walk, please call 212.857.0001.

The Answer for Martha

29 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

Growing in a Heartbeat from Three to Four

by Martha

Submitted by Spence-Chapin

I was born in Moscow, Russia, on August 31, 1992. What I know about my first 13 months of life comes from a book my father created for me.  My “Memory Book” contains pictures and a description of the House of the Child where I lived when my parents Larry and Ellen and big sister Beth first met me. It also contains photos of the women who cared for me, some of my playmates and the rooms where I slept and played. Clearly, I was very well cared for and that is something that makes me happy and proud of my birth country, my first country.  In November 1993, through the cooperation of the Russian and United States governments and our agency Spence-Chapin Services, I was adopted by my new family.  They frequently recall the extraordinary moment when our family “grew in a heartbeat from three to four.”

When I first arrived, I’m told I was very curious … and very hungry.  One of my favorite stories is about the evening my grandfather introduced me to solid food.  I was 15 months old and he thought it was time for me to give up my bottle and eat real food.  So, at a family dinner, he popped a tortellini into my mouth and, as my family says, “the rest is history.”  No more bottle for me.  I went straight from kefir to tri-color salads and tiramisu!

Another story my parents tell is that, when I first arrived, I had trouble sitting up on my own. Yet within one month, I was standing and walking… and then ran across the playroom straight into the arms of my big sister.

As far back as I can remember, my family celebrated the fact that I was adopted from Russia. My family and I are proud of my heritage. When I was younger, I always attended the Eastern European Heritage Parties Spence-Chapin held to celebrate my culture. Later, I volunteered at Spence-Chapin and attended the heritage parties to assist the new little kids adopted from Eastern Europe with crafts and help serve treats as they enjoyed Russian entertainment and stories.

My life here in the U.S. has been great.  In nursery and grammar schools, I did well academically, and enjoyed ballet and Girl Scouts. I was admitted with a scholarship to a very competitive high school where I won the Spanish, Latin and Chemistry Awards and scored at the highest level in a nationwide European History course.  My friends and I studied hard but we also had fun together. I loved watching tennis and hockey, was captain of my varsity badminton team, and an editor of my school newspaper. My family is very supportive of my interests and sent me to summer programs at universities to study global health issues and government.

During my junior and senior years in school while I prepared for my college exams, I also worked on creating “Memory Books” for children in orphanages in Eastern Europe. These books will help the caregivers record the milestones of the children so they are not forgotten. My goal was to provide as many children as possible with a keepsake book that is truly personalized and a treasure to look back on for the rest of their lives…just like mine is to me.

A couple of years ago, my family and I were featured on National Public Radio talking about  adoption and our personal story. I was a little nervous at first but it turned out to be a great experience to reflect on my life and how much adoption has meant to me, my parents and my sister. Simply put, I needed a home, my sister needed a sibling, and my parents wanted to experience the joy of having another child in their life.  It’s a real life story with a happy ending!

This was The Answer For Martha. Be The Answer For Another Child by Watching Joint Council’s Be The Answer Video. Share your thoughts on the video by leaving a comment on YouTube.  

The Answer for Evangeline

12 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

Her Mother

Last year in a Ukrainian court room, a stern judge asked me to rise.  “Mrs. Marchenko, can you be a good mother to this child?”

I was taught to say ‘Da’ (yes) in Russian.  Instead, I burst into tears. The judge’s face softened. “Sit down, woman. The answer is in your tears.” I slumped down and attempted to hush my sobs.  What a difficult, life-changing question.  This little stranger was suddenly supposed to be flesh of my flesh.  I was afraid of her; the two and a half year old not yet walking, with no words, and a profound desire to be left alone.Quick tongued Russian spun around the room.  Court business continued.  And then finally, a little girl abandoned at birth by her parents because of her diagnosis of Down syndrome officially became our daughter, Evangeline Sergeyevna Marchenko.
A year later, I sat in an observation room with Evangeline on my lap.  We just finished singing The Wheels on the Bus under the watchful eye of a social worker taking notes. Evangeline was evaluated to determine if, in addition to Down syndrome, she was autistic.  Her unusual behavior, like eating dirt and rocking back and forth most of the day, was either a symptom of autism or simply part of her being orphaned. At home earlier I had started a montage of pictures documenting her year with the plan to post it on-line. Friends and family will ooh and ahh and talk about how much Evangeline has changed. “Her hair is so long!” “She is so pretty!”  It’s true. She’s beautiful.  Her hair is like corn silk. Her face is shaped like a heart.

But if I were to document her first year honestly, the pictures would be different. There would be a picture of me crying on my husband Sergei’s shoulder. “I can’t do this. She’s not who I expected her to be.”  Another picture would be of Evangeline with a huge knot on her forehead from hitting her head on the crib.  There would be shots of me with scratches on my face from trying to hug her.  Probably another one of me with my back to her, my face bright red and sweating from anger over her rejection. But who wants to watch a montage like that?
At the evaluation she waved ‘hi.’  She banged two plastic rings together, flirted and laughed with me, this little girl who is closed off to the world.  If those skills would have emerged before, I would not have made the appointment to have her evaluated.  My heart split open.We had seen a change in Evangeline recently though.  She had a tonsillectomy two weeks ago. After recuperation she started seeking me out.  Sometimes when I picked her up, she’d smile. She would wrap her chunky arms around my neck and squeeze. I loved these changes but it scared me too. I was afraid of waking up the next day and seeing Evangeline hiding and rocking, back in her own world.

“Give me five adjectives that describe your relationship with Evangeline compared to when you first brought her home” the social worker said. I muddled around, struggled to get words out. Finally I give her the allotted adjectives with little comprehension of what I was even saying.  I couldn’t breathe. “Do you feel like her mother now?” The social worker asked, tapping her pinky on the clipboard, blinking, her face a dead pan. I wrapped my arms around Evangeline, still on my lap, and started to cry just like I did in the Ukrainian court room. “Yes. I am her mother. I feel it.” It struck me.  I cried. Not because Evangeline was being evaluated for a dual diagnosis. I cried not because at three and a half she was still non-verbal. I cried because I realized her gains.  She has come so far. I cried because I’m the one who has farther to go. As an adoptive mom, I cling to those times like they are email from God.  This was his plan for Evangeline to be my daughter. There’s a profound beauty in the bumpy up and down-ness of this path. Our relationship grows through the hard times. I am convinced this depth of joy would not be experienced otherwise. The center piece of our puzzle, the one that gives me a hint of how it will look when completed, has started moving to its place.

I’m her mother.

By: Gillian Marchenko

This was The Answer for Evengeline, be The Answer for other children in need by watching the video below, sharing it with five people and asking them to join the campaign by signing up to learn more about our work in Kyrgyzstan by clicking here.  Make sure you’ve signed up too!

The Answer for Juliana

11 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

My daughter sleeps soundly tonight.

She will wake up tomorrow and I will wash her face, dress her in clean clothing, and give her a full meal.  Before I take her to daycare and begin my work, we will play for a while and maybe read a book or two.  We will talk about the birthday party we went to just a few days ago and she will remind me of the colors of all the balloons.  We will practice numbers, colors and maybe even sing a few of songs.

While driving to daycare, we will play “I Spy” in the car – and she will tell me what she sees out of the car window.  Once at daycare, she will be surrounded by wonderful women who will throw their arms around her upon our arrival.  She will play– and sometimes argue– with the other children in her group.

Later in the week, she will be at her grandparent’s house where she will be spoiled with love, toys and adventures.  She will hug her great grandmother.  She will blow bubbles outside.

At dinner, I will come up with some creative tactic to get her to eat a little bit more than she prefers.  Before bedtime, when I put her in the bathtub, she will fight with me slightly; because she would much rather watch Wonder Pets on television.  But, once she is all clean and shiny, she will say to me, “I smell good Mama!”

This weekend, she will see her cousins and she will not be able to contain her excitement when they play with her on the floor. We will go next door to the park, and she will smile with exuberant pride as she soars down the slide.

This, all because of a wonderful thing called “adoption”.

This, because Russia allowed me the privilege to adopt my daughter.

This, because the United States allowed me the right to immigrate my girl and be able to call her an American Citizen.

This, because every child has the fundamental right to a family.

My story is not unique for those who know about international adoption.  It was painstakingly long.  It was extraordinarily expensive.  It was emotional.  It was hard.  Sometimes, it was agonizing.  But all throughout the process, I was fueled by knowing what would be at the end of the long journey.  And when one day I received an email from my adoption agency, telling me that a “match” had been made, along with a photo of my sweet girl, everything was worth it.  What would end up being 5 trips in 13 months to Russia would finally pay off for me – but more importantly… for my daughter.

On September 1, 2008, I woke up in a small hotel room in Tver, Russia, and got ready to go to the Teremok Orphanage to pick up my girl.  The women who had been my daughter’s caretakers for her first 14 months of life had dressed her in the clothing I had given them the night before.  They walked us to the front door of the orphanage.  I had to turn my head away from my daughter’s caretakers.  They were crying and I could not bear to look at the pain in their eyes.  My girl had been well cared for.

I was grateful.

I was relieved.

And suddenly, I was a mother. But more important than that – far more important than that…  Juliana became a daughter.  She became a citizen of a country where her possibilities are boundless.  And magically, she became a member of a family that immediately welcomed her and effortlessly shower her with unconditional love that she will never go without.

She will always have a pillow on which to rest her head.  She will never be without food.  She will have healthcare.  She will go to school.  She will have choices.  She will be able to drive a car.  She will be able to vote.  One day, she will go to college and learn that she can be anything she wants and pursue whatever it is in which she is interested.  She will be an integral part of a society that will value her.

My daughter sleeps soundly tonight.

This was The Answer for Juliana, Be The Answer for another child by visiting the Both End Burning Website– watch the video, read the petition and sign it today!


P.S. we don’t choose the winner of the $50 gift card to Target for yesterday’s task until next week Wednesday so keep sending your “I am the Answer” pictures!  For more info (read the bottom of the post).

Be the Answer for Nikita

11 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign-Click Here

The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project brings adoptable older Russian orphans to both the United States and Moscow for fun-filled visits with families interested in adoption.  For more information, visit or


Mid-March, toward the end of recruiting, four unusually young children were added to my end-of-month Moscow trip.  One of them, five-year-old Nikita, came without details beyond his orphanage director’s glowing verbal report.  With his age, sandy curls, and personality, the only reason he wasn’t in Russian foster care was his HIV-positive status.  His biological mother shared her disease, not her life, with him, and lost custody through her neglect of his medical needs.

I promoted Nikita, but insufficient time, scanty information, and his diagnosis conspired against him.  When I left for Russia, he was destined to travel without a host family; still, his presence provided me the opportunity to formulate an impression of him.

When the kids arrived, his small stature surprised me, though Russian orphans are generally small for their age.  Nikita was delightful, a standout in attitude, intelligence, attentiveness, cooperation, kindness, and industry.   Cuddly too, he loved sitting on the lap of a lady who had taken a shine to him, but when it was another child’s turn, he would work diligently at different activities.  Young enough to seem genuine, I never sensed his exemplary behavior was a show for the benefit of potential adoptive parents.

One day, as we presented the kids their gifts, cherubic Nikita beamed, thanking me unprompted with a joy-filled, “Spaciba!”   His stoop from the weight of the bagged treasures on his shoulder demanded a photo; instead, when I asked him, the little tyke with great effort straightened tall for me.   Photo formalities over, he dragged his bag behind him to his room for safekeeping.

He personified persistence; on our long walks, he marched along, never complaining.  With the common room a frenzy of activity, Nikita worked solo on a puzzle, rotating the pieces to attempt all possibilities.  Occasionally other kids flitted by to help, but never stayed.   He showed no resentment at their late coming, or early going.   Even when a girl capriciously destroyed the nearly-completed puzzle, Nikita neither groused nor retaliated.  He just started over.

During my days with him, I thought repeatedly that, were I to design the perfect child, Nikita would result.   Yet he remained a little boy, on the lookout for puddles and whispering in ears when he had something to say.   One lady decided to pursue his adoption, though circumstances months later precluded her from proceeding, an outcome over which she shed countless tears.

Much later, I viewed Nikita’s orphanage interview.  Unlike most interviewees his age, he was talkative, responding readily to questions.  Noting he was anxious to begin school, he counted several numbers between one and ten and identified the colors of his sweater’s stripes.  Queried about his hopes, he wanted a mama, a papa, and several different toy vehicles, in that order.  Naming his hometown, he added he’d waited for his mother at the orphanage there and she “never, ever” came for him.

So Nikita, an angel in orphan’s clothes, awaits someone else to come for him, someone whose education about his condition trumps unfounded fear and prejudice.   His HIV status made him an orphan. I’m praying it doesn’t leave him one.

Be The Answer for Nikita by visiting the Both End Burning Website– watch the video, read the petition and sign it today!

P.S. we don’t choose the winner of the $50 gift card to Target for yesterday’s task until next week Wednesday so keep sending your “I am the Answer” pictures!  For more info (read the bottom of the post).

The Answer for Nikolas and Be The Answer for Shelby

2 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign Click Here

A Tale of Two Children

Two children so beautiful, so special and so loved. Both my children but only one I can hold and kiss, teach and provide for. The other lives in my heart and I hold her in my dreams.

In June of 2008 I met Shelby Krystina. She was then 19 months old. Her medical reports include hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, severe malnourishment, global developmental and physical delays; all consistent with the suspicion for cerebral palsy. Shelby sat for the first time unassisted on my first trip. She walked unassisted just prior to my second trip in December of 2008. She remains extremely small for her age. And she remains in an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan. Two and a half years after meeting her government has continued to invoke delay after delay. We have no end in sight. We have no timeline for when or even if she will ever get to be more then the child of my heart.

On a positive note due to continued delays my fiancé and I chose to pursue a concurrent adoption. In December of 2009 (on Shelby’s Birthday) we received photographs of a little boy who we knew instantly was meant to be our son. Six months later Nikolas Benjamin Richard became a United States citizen as we landed on U.S. soil at John F. Kennedy Airport.

I met Nikolas (aka Kolya ) in April 2010. He was just shy of 18 months old. He too is tiny, malnourished and developmentally delayed. But Nikolas has an advantage. Russia, despite recent troubles, has continued to allow International Adoption to proceed. Their government has worked closely with many adoption advocates to unite as many children with families as possible. Kolya turned two on October 10. In less then 4 months he has learned to not only walk without toppling every three steps, he now runs, jumps, skips, and climbs. He has gone from not talking in the orphanage to saying at the very least 25 English words. His latest melts my heart. His new saying makes me sad and happy at the same time. Two days ago Kolya started saying “I wub oo” When going to sleep or being held, “I wub oo” is said over and over. Kolya has transformed from a lonely scared developmentally delayed child into a happy, shining little boy who is almost right on target in all areas for his age.

Kolya came home at the same age that Shelby “should have” come home. I am reminded daily, just by watching him blossom, of what Shelby is missing. No speech, physical, or occupational therapy. No nutrionist to help her thrive, no one to sing her bedtime songs or hold her when she cries. Shelby will turn four in two months. She potentially will be moved to the orphanage for older children. Her world will become scarier as she will go from one of the oldest to the youngest, smallest, and frailest of the children. What will happen to her? Who will watch over her? Who will tell her repeatedly “ I wub oo?”

Nikolas has An Answer.  Be the Answer for Shelby by posting the below message on the president of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, facebook page (found here):

”Please advocate for the 65 Kyrgyz children waiting to be adopted by U.S families.  To learn more about one of these children read this story.”

Be sure that you link to this Blog Post on the President’s Wall!

Update: Russia and U.S. Issue Joint Statement

13 05 2010

Earlier today, Russia and the U.S. issued a joint statement on the progress of their talks related to intercountry adoption.  In addition, the U.S. Department of State has published a separate statement on intercountry adoption in Russia.  Both statements can be found in full below.

Both statements indicate that significant progress has been made and agreement on basic principles of an accord has been reached.   From ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders, it is Joint Council’s assessment that a future agreement will most likely include the specific responsibilities of each government, protocols for direct communication between Read the rest of this entry »

Russia – U.S. Dept of State Announcement

30 04 2010

The U.S. Dept of State, Office of Children’s Issues has issued the following announcement regarding adoptions from Russia.  Joint Council commends the collaborative efforts of the two governments, as well as the efforts of adoptive families, prospective adoptive families, and NGO’s in Russia and the United States in ensuring that intercountry adoptions between Russia and the United States continues.  This announcement can also be viewed on The Office of Children’s Issues website at

April 29, 2010

There has been no official suspension in adoptions of Russian orphans by American parents.  However, in some parts of Russia, we are aware that adoptions are being slowed down or delayed.  The United States and Russia held their first round of talks on adoption issues in Moscow on April 29.  The discussions focused on the U.S. and Russian concerns regarding protecting the welfare and rights of children being adopted internationally.  The talks were productive and an expert-level working group will travel to Moscow for further discussions on an adoption agreement on May 12, 2010.

If you have completed an adoption in Russia and have an immigrant visa appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow:

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow is continuing to schedule and issue immigrant visas for adopted children using normal processing procedures.  Contact the Embassy at to schedule an appointment.  Please also stay in close touch with your adoption service provider.

If you have a court appointment to finalize your child’s adoption in Russia:

Many adoption cases are continuing to move forward in the courts.  We have heard of cases in which a court appointment has been postponed.  If your court appointment is postponed by the court, please provide this information to us by email at and We will work with the Russian authorities to try to resolve any problems.

If you do not yet have a court date to finalize an adoption in Russia, but are in the process of adopting from Russia:

Please stay in close contact with your adoption service provider, and check the website regularly for current information about intercountry adoption from Russia.

The Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues has established a special

e-mail box for inquiries or comments about adoptions from Russia.  Prospective adoptive parents and others with concerns about adoptions from Russia may send their questions to Prospective adoptive parents may also provide complete contact information for themselves, including full address, phone number, and e-mail information, the name of their adoption service provider (if available) and details about the child they are planning to adopt.

Russia – U.S. Government to Meet with Russian Officials

27 04 2010

The U.S. government, represented by seven officials from the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, will meet with Russian officials in Moscow on Thursday, April 29, 2010.  The substance of the meetings will focus on an agreement between the two countries related to intercountry adoption.

The Russian government has called for the signing of an agreement for the past few years and again in the wake of the recent tragedy.   According to Russian officials, the continuation of intercountry adoption between the U.S. and Russia is contingent upon an agreement which formalizes the adoption process between the two countries and increases the protections offered to children and families.

Joint Council fully supports an agreement between Russia and the United States and continues to offer input on those elements of an agreement which would realistically increase child protection measures.   While it is not expected that an agreement will be signed on Thursday, we continue to advocate for timely negotiations and the continuation of intercountry adoption during the negotiation period.

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