Friday, May 4, 2012


Daniil celebrates his Uno victory.
Daniil, 8, trotted ahead of our group to open the door for us; an older boy had done it the first day, and Daniil wanted to help, too.  He was anxious to please, and took a sweet delight at being acknowledged.

While several kids had to be pried from the TV during the trip, Daniil joined willingly in hands of Uno with Derek, a host dad, reacting with jubilation when he won.   His favorite pastime was playing games, he said.  Svetlana, his orphanage chaperone, echoed this, mentioning he excelled at logic puzzles and learning game rules.  She noted that rather than watching television at the orphanage, Daniil would frequently toil at organizing games and goading all the kids into participating.   

At interview time, I prefaced my questions to him with, “We have a nice little boy to talk to.”  It was evident the moment he understood my compliment because a shy, but pleased, smile brightened his face.   Introducing himself in a whisper, he spoke louder when encouraged.  Though I knew he had been institutionalized at seven months when, because of neglect, his biological mother was deprived of her rights, Daniil knew nothing of how long, or why, he’d languished there.  He wanted a family, while having no guess as to what it such a life would offer. Paradoxically, he liked his orphanage, everything about it.  I probed further, confident there was something he didn’t like; I was wrong.  “I like everything!” he insisted.

Daniil at his orphanage, taken by
one of our adoptive families
during their recent visit
Svetlana labeled him “a mathematician,” ahead of his peers in both math and reading.  Daniil outlined his school day as five or six lessons, all enjoyed, with math favored for the opportunity it presented to draw straight lines with rulers.  After class, he returned hungry to the orphanage for lunch.  Children with families, not orphans, ate at school he said, explaining matter-of-factly, “If we do, we must pay.”  He didn’t seem aggrieved by the inequity as he related an anecdote about Sasha, an orphan I knew from two previous trips, who once had the audacity to enter the lunchroom with the home kids.  The workers gave him a pastry and shooed him out. 

I wondered how Daniil would describe himself, and was surprised when he chose “weak.”  Then he clarified Sasha would beat him up, and he couldn’t “overcome” him. 

Visiting Daniil’s orphanage shortly before our Lighthouse Project trip, a recent adoptive family noticed that, unlike Sasha and the other boys who bounced around hyperactively, Daniil paid exquisite attention to the proceedings between the adults.  Invited to throw a football with the new father, he jumped in, playing respectfully and not emulating Sasha, who threw with vengeance. After departing, our family wrote me promptly with their impression of Daniil as an unusually well-mannered boy.

Help Daniil find his family! Click to Tweet this below.

Daniil likely shared his bracelet with this precious boy.
Svetlana praised Daniil’s affection and big-heartedness, citing how at New Year’s, when children receive candy from Father Frost, he would share his sweets unsolicited until nothing was left. One morning I presented the two girls staying with me glow bracelets as they woke up.  When Daniil stopped by to say good morning, he saw the girls’ bracelets.  He didn’t ask, but I gave him a red bracelet, which brought a broad smile of appreciation.  That evening, reviewing photos I’d taken throughout the day, I noticed another boy wearing the red bracelet, though the only children I’d yet given bracelets to were the two girls, and Daniil. Initially upset at the other boy for stealing Daniil’s bracelet, I suddenly remembered Svetlana’s accolades, and realized the red band around another’s wrist was more likely a reflection of Daniil’s kindness than the other boy’s treachery.

Daniil nearly always had a smile during our trip.
Noting Daniil’s persistence in seeking help until his needs were met, Svetlana said he needed and liked individual attention immensely, and remembered how as a young boy, he’d “tortured” caretakers with questions.  I esteem Svetlana as an exceptionally attentive caretaker, but her words encapsulated why kids need families, not orphanages.  While most parents would foster such a little boy’s curiosity, to those only paid to care the natural questions young Daniil vocalized were a nuisance to be borne.   And his desire for individual attention was recognized not as a universal need in childhood, but a quirky oddity, warranting comment.

Daniil couldn't stop smiling
at the pool.
At the end of our visit Daniil returned to his orphanage, to Sasha and the other boys who sit entranced before the television.  There he waits, persistently organizing his games, inquiring about his world, and craving acknowledgment. 

Most likely, he’s smiling.  After all, he likes everything.


Help Daniil find his family! Click to Tweet this now.

Visit Daniil and other adoptable Russian orphans in Russia with our welcoming group of American travelers July 9-16, 2012.  For more information, contact Becky at (616) 245-3216 or

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