Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Misery loves company, or so they say, not that shared misery has helped Elena and Lidia lately. The girls, sisters, have a story like most of the orphans who seek families with the Lighthouse Project: biological parents who put the bottle before their kids, ultimately shrugging off their parental rights rather than sobering up.

Elena, 14, and Lidia, 12, have been devastatingly close to coming to America before. Scheduled to travel to Missouri in July, an anxious family I believed would adopt them readied for their arrival. Shortly before departure, a passport issue struck them from the trip, and their host, a teacher, had summers-only availability. Since I planned they’d travel instead on my August Tulsa trip, I didn’t worry. Then the swine flu travel moratorium kept the kids in Russia. Our new “Plan C” is less ambitious: the girls stay closer to home on our October Moscow rendition of the Lighthouse Project.

Lidia, the younger, is hopeful and smiley. She likes skating, and befriends smart, kind, good girls. Asked about America, she admits she’s not heard much. The sixth grader excels in school and enjoys music class, especially when composing is on the docket.

Elena, the elder, seems more affected by her past, less willing to trust the future holds promise. In her interview, she never cracks a full smile, though she tries when Lidia joins her. She praises her friends for their understanding and helpfulness; she disdains dishonest liars. Asked what rules she would make as president, she says she’d decree drinking and smoking illegal; this is a popular orphan response. She sounds ashamed confessing that after three years of orphanage life, she’s gotten used to it. A stellar student with high marks in English, she says she wants to be a lawyer, but quickly qualifies the aspiration, “I don’t know if it will happen.”

Elena turns 15 in mid-October. As long as her younger sister remains available, Elena is eligible to enter the United States on an orphan’s immigrant visa until her eighteenth birthday. But should something render Lidia not available, Elena’s fate is sealed at sixteen, since she cannot enter the United States alone at that age. And if she’s not adopted, Elena’s more likely future is on a corner than in the courtroom. I have no leads on a host for the girls; if the trip happened tomorrow, they’d be left behind. Again.

It troubles me that so many of our Lighthouse kids have Pollyanna-like idealism bearing no resemblance to the likely future that waits in Russia. But the true travesty is Elena, with potential in spades, has aged out of her idealism, with good reason.

I never thought the world needed another lawyer before. Now, I do. Elena’s other option is much grimmer, but without a family, more likely. I recoil envisioning this sad girl forced into prostitution, and lament how impotent I am to stop it.