Seven-year-old Yuri was looking out a window when he got the thrill of a lifetime. Heading toward his orphanage were people he recognized from a Lighthouse Project trip he’d been on several months previous; his family had come! Sprinting down the hallway, bounding out the door, Yuri leaped into their arms, overjoyed his wait was over.
It would have been a heartwarming scene, except for one problem: the couple had come for a different child they’d met on his trip. It was devastating for all involved. A pall was cast over the family’s joy, Yuri was crushed, and others who’d witnessed it suffered vicariously with him in his bitter disappointment. I heard the next day, and with aching heart resolved to do my part to locate parents for him who would show up soon.
Yuri, now nine, is a smart boy, as confident and articulate as his age allows. Charming with his darling smile and quick laugh, he’s still young enough that age does not pose an undue hurdle in recruiting. My notes on him are categorically succinct: “complete winner.”
Eighteen months after Yuri’s colossal letdown, I’ve mentioned him to a myriad of families. Thrice since, he’s been scheduled to travel on Lighthouse Project trips I’ve coordinated, but illness conspired to keep him home. His health is fragile, though as an insulin-dependent diabetic, his very life depends on finding a family. Russian orphanage directors have expansive latitude in deciding who can leave and who must stay, and Yuri’s cautiously felt his first trip to America was too taxing. Now, if he is ever to be adopted, a family will have to visit him in Russia first rather than meeting him in America on a Lighthouse trip.
This chafes: as a seasoned coordinator, I am more cognizant than I’d like of the difficulty finding families willing to go to Russia to meet an older child. The Lighthouse Project concept is predicated on our experience that precious few families do so. Most who adopt older international children do so having met them in America with a relatively minimal commitment prior to the meeting. Parents first meeting children in Russia are much further along in their paper chase than families meeting Lighthouse children here. Worse, Yuri’s medical issues do not engender confidence amongst would-be adoptive families who might otherwise visit him. It’s “safer”, for everyone other than Yuri, to just meet a different child here before becoming overly involved. I’ve spoken to hundreds of families in thousands of conversations, so my brain understands the logic.
Envisioning Yuri in his despondent trudge back up the steps of his orphanage, my heart is less acquiescing.