Hey, Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State. . . mother of one. . . person with a beating heart), are you listening?
Tonight, there's a 3-and-a-half-year-old toddler who will sleep without the love, protection and goodnight kisses of his parents. His name is Ruslan, and he has been living in an orphanage in his native Kyrgyzstan since he was three days old, despite the tireless efforts of his adoptive parents, Frances and Drew Pardus-Abbadessa to bring him home to New York City.
The couple first held Ruslan when he was seven months old in 2008, and were approved for his adoption, but because of a Kafkaesque process that has been painfully drawn out, the couple continues to fight to be united with Ruslan.
And the long passage of days to months to years has been especially difficult for the Pardus-Abbadessas, because Ruslan is visibly suffering; he's been diagnosed with a "failure to thrive" physically and mentally; in the past year, he hasn't grown at all. And when Ruslan turns 4, he will be transferred to an older orphanage which could make him vulnerable to abuse from older kids.
And this is just one of many families stuck in a confounding nightmare -- there are five dozen others in the same situation, having all been approved to adopt Kyrgyz orphans, but unable to. The families have united to fight for their children, dubbed the Kyrgyz 65, and even though their hopes have been revived and dashed numerous times, they now finally feel that their struggle could soon be coming to a happy end. But not without a last, strong push that will call for a coordinated effort from both the U.S. State Department and the Kyrgyzstan government.
The chronology of events that has led up to this point is maddeningly Byzantine, but the main cause has been fits, detours, stops and starts within Kyrgyzstan policy and a seeming lack of priority from the US State Department. The country, which used to be part of the Soviet Union and borders China, is struggling, recently resorting to the sacrifice of seven sheep to clear its parliament of evil spirits in April. The government had put a one-year moratorium on adoptions soon after many of the American families had been approved. Kyrgyzstan has quite appropriately been concerned that its children do not fall victim to trafficking or other forms of abuse. But since the official lift of the ban, there's been little movement, and while policy has been reviewed, the government has gone through cycles of power transfer, which has caused further delays.
But, according to the American families, all of the proposed reviews have been completed; even the original birth families have been double checked for approval, and yet, still, Kyrgyzstan declines to let the children go.
Tragically, two of the children have died during the delays due to lack of the proper medical attention. Already, some of the American families are tending to the ailments of their Kyrgyzstan children -- about half of whom have serious medical conditions, but these kids are clearly at risk.
"We have great admiration for the parents for their courage and their resilience for remaining so true to these children for so long," says Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the Special Advisor for Children's Issues.
A State Department official also tells me that Ambassador Jacobs and U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Pamela Spratlen have "repeatedly" tried to get the matter resolved "as quickly as possible." They most recently met with officials from Kyrgyzstan, including the Foreign Minister on June 10th. Both sides hope to finalize a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that is needed to permit the pending adoptions to be completed. "We're doing everything we can to unite these children with their adoptive parents in the United States," says Ambassador Jacobs.
That sounds great; there have been indications that Secretary of State Clinton has been giving attention to the issue, but words and intentions are what the families have been hearing for years. What counts is getting things done. Discussions on the MOU began two years ago with work on the MOU going on for nearly a year.
But, still, Pardus-Abbadessa is not willing to cast blame. She doesn't even want to target Kyrgyz officials. Although she will say that there's a "lack of political will on their side," what is most slowing things down is mistrust: the Kyrgyz are truly perplexed that American families want these ailing children so badly.
Specifically, what the American parents want is to get that memorandum of understanding completed, and for U.S. representatives to go to Kyrgyzstan to hold negotiations similar to those recently completed in Russia before August, when the government slows down.
The State Department official tells me that a delegation, including Ambassador Susan Jacobs, plans to visit Kyrgyzstan in the fall. This is important, because the current Kyrgyz government will go through elections this fall and another transition of power at the beginning of next year, when everything may move back two spaces -- yet again. "We are committed to finding a path agreeable to the Kyrgyz to move forward on these cases," the State Department official says.
As a parent myself, it's impossible to fully understand what these families have been going through. Pardus-Abbadessa and her husband had hoped to adopt an infant, but now he is a toddler. At Ruslan's third birthday, she was disturbed at how quiet and reserved the children behaved. What every parent wants is to see their children thrive and feel joy. So, during several visits spanning more than two years, they have brought him gifts and books and vitamins, but it's all piecemeal.
"You feel powerless," Pardus-Abbadessa says. "This has been an emotional roller coaster. It's been absolutely horrible. Now we are the most hopeful, but we still don't know."
She clearly respects Kyrgyzstan's desire to reform its adoption process, but it is just common sense to let the Kyrgyz 65 go to their families immediately. As we can see with our own government's torn and conflicting agenda: where there's a will, there's a way.
To be powerless as a parent, being unable to care for one's suffering children, is perhaps the greatest cruelty a mother or father could endure, I'd think. For now, the Pardus-Abbadessas do what they can. Drew just recently returned from Washington D.C., where he and other Kyrgyz 65 families were meeting with members of Congress.
And yet, every night, the Pardus-Abbadessas know that Ruslan sleeps with a laminated photograph of himself and them together, under his pillow. Is that fact equally on the minds of the people with the power to get things done? How much longer must he cling to this laminated substitute for loving parents?
If that doesn't move governments to action, what will?
For more information, go to the Kyrgyz 65 website (http://thewaiting65.blogspot.com) or their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/kyrgyz65.
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