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Friday18 April 2014

A Homeland Tour To Russia

By Heather Ames, MSW, LICSW 

It has been 14 years since Russia opened its doors to international adoption. Many of the pioneer families who adopted in the first five years of the program are now thinking about a return trip with their children. in July 2006, I had the opportunity to travel as a group leader on the Russian TIES program. It was a memorable journey and one I would highly recommend. Each child returned home having a greater understanding of the rich history and culture of Russia and having experienced the warmth and caring of Russian people whom we met.

The tour began in St. Petersburg where nine families and their twelve adopted children arrived from seven states. During our four days in St. Petersburg, we visited many of the famous landmarks such as The Hermitage Museum and St. Isaac's Cathedral where our more energetic members climbed the 300 steps up to the colonnade around the drum of the dome for a breathtaking view of the city. During these sightseeing visits, our delightful Russian guide, Anna, told us many stories and taught us about the 300 year old city and the great tsars of Russia. At the end of each visit, Bea Evans, the TIES program director and a former teacher, collected facts from the children that we used later for a 60 questions game. The children took great pride in remembering facts to add to our game.

The high point in St. Petersburg was a day arranged by a local Lions chapter to meet with Russian families and their adopted children. All the children had in common that they were born in Russia and been adopted. We were entertained with games, learning Russian dances and sharing stories about our lives and experiences in different countries. Friendships were made and at the end of the day, addresses were exchanged with promises to keep in touch.

An overnight train took us to Moscow where we became part of a bustling city and visited famous sights such as the Kremlin. From Moscow, most families departed for a day or two to visit their child's orphanage and place of birth. Visits had been prearranged and English speaking guides met and escorted each family. Some families met caretakers who remembered their child and others were welcomed by orphanage directors who had been there at the time of adoption. One child walked into his orphanage and saw his photo, which had been sent a year after his adoption, proudly displayed in a glass case.

Often adult adoptees have told me that they feel as if their lives began when they were adopted and arrived in America. The stories of where they were born and the circumstances do not seem real because there is no connection to the people and places of their first months or years. For all the adopted children on our trip, I believe the experience of meeting people who had known them, seeing where their adoption story began and sharing it with their parents, gave a new understanding to their adoption.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the value that comes with traveling with a group of adoptive families. Adopted children often feel different because their families are different. When they travel with families like theirs, it is comforting and supportive. The children adopted from Russia on our trip were between the ages of nine and fourteen. The younger ones looked up to the older ones and the older ones became role models for the younger. Parents also connected to share stories and give advice about parenting. Strong friendships were formed and shared experiences will have lasting memories. Many children spoke of wanting to return again to Russia. Most important, the children on this trip have a new understanding and pride in their Russian heritage which will nurture their self esteem in years to come.

For more information about the TIES program, contact:
The Ties Program
Phone: 1.800.398.3676