Sunday, September 26, 2010


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 Artem, came without details beyond his orphanage director’s glowing verbal report. With his age, sandy curls, and personality, his only salvation from 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 Artem, 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. Artem 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 Artem 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, Artem worked solo on a puzzle, rotating the pieces to attempt all possibilities. Occasionally other kids flitted by to help, but never stayed. Artem showed no resentment at their late coming, or early going. Even when a girl capriciously destroyed the nearly-completed puzzle, Artem neither groused nor retaliated. He just started over.

During my days with him, I thought repeatedly that, were I to design the perfect child, Artem 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 Artem’s orphanage interview. Unlike most interviewees his age, he was talkative, responding readily to questions. Asked his name, he offered his nickname, Toma. 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 Artem, an angel in orphan’s clothes, awaits someone else to come for him, someone whose education about his condition trumps unfounded fear and prejudice (Positive, 3/18/10). His HIV status made him an orphan.

May it not leave him one.


For more information on adopting HIV-positive children, please visit Project Hopeful.  Adoptive families of HIV-positive children are willing to speak to others about their experience with the condition; names and numbers will be provided.   The prognosis is much more favorable, and treatment much less involved, than most people believe.  Families interested in Artem may meet him on our November 9-15 trip to Moscow.  If you're interested in travelling with us, please call Becky at (616) 245-3216 or e-mail

Yuliana, Artem, and Yana