Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, April 3, 2000

Zanders: local family adopts Russian children

By Andrea Vargo

Three small bodies scramble from embrace to embrace, kissing and hugging. Sometimes, they just snuggle.

Tami and Jed Zander of Howard Lake hug, hold, and kiss them back. The three little ones are their youngest adopted children.

They brought them to their home from Pscov, Russia a year ago this month.

Peter, 4, Amber, 3, and Christopher, 2, have stability and a real home, probably for the first time in their short lives.

"I saw them in person for the first time in the orphanage in Russia," said Tyler, 8.

"When Dad told them who I was, Amber just walked up and hugged me," he said.

For Tyler, who was adopted from Brazil when he was 19 days old, this has been a big adjustment.

He was an only child for eight years, and a houseful of small siblings can be overwhelming at times, said Tyler.

"Sometimes, I like to be alone," he added.

When it gets to be too much, Tyler, who likes math, science, and art, retires to his room to do homework or play video games, he said.

The Zanders have so much to say about their adoption experience, they really don't know where to start.

They always wanted a family, and when they couldn't have children of their own, adoption was a clear choice.

With the support and encouragement of family members, friends, and the congregation of St. James Lutheran Church, Tami and Jed launched their quest.

The members of St. James were especially supportive and no one ever was negative, Jed stated.

Adoption process

The home study, where the adoption agency investigated the Zanders, came first about five years ago. That cost them about $10,000.

Then, they started looking in Guatemala for a child that might match Tyler's skin tones and hair color. They wanted the children to to look like siblings.

Normally, it takes two years for the process, but the political climate was not good in Guatemala, so when the Zanders were directed to investigate Russia, they knew from the first video tape that was sent to them, that this was what they were supposed to do, said Tami.

They both have a lot of faith that there is a reason things happen, and when they viewed the tape of the three small children for the first time, they knew this was what God intended for their lives.

The people at the orphanage sent two video tapes of the children. The first one was taken when they first came into the facility. By the time the second tape came, there was a marked difference in their appearance and manner, Jed said.

In the second tape, their physical condition had deteriorated, and they didn't have the "together" look of siblings that they had on the first one, he said.

The explanation came later, when they were in Russia.

Facilities for children are poor in Russia

Children in Russian orphanages are separated by age groups, and the three siblings were not together any longer.

Three years was the top age for this particular facility in Pscov, Russia. After three, the children are shipped to another orphanage for older children.

When they are 12 years old, they are put out on the streets to fend for themselves, Tami said.

Conditions in the orphanages are appalling, she said.

In Pscov, there were more than 100 children, under the age of four, and there was not a sound from any of them when the Zanders and their friends walked into the facility, Jed said.

Because of the unnatural silence in the orphanage, Jed said he thought the children were drugged.

Children do not wear diapers or anything else on their bottoms, Tami said.

They are set on pots every hour until they "go," she said.

Urine puddles dotted the floors.

Water is scarce, and the children were not bathed. The three youngsters they adopted had cradle cap and scabies, she said.

"These children need to be rescued," Tami stated.

At one point, before they left for Russia, Jed asked if he could come over with food and money to take care of his kids. The Russian government said no.

"They are very secretive there, and there is a lot of corruption," Tami stated.

Money or things slated for the orphanages end up with the Russian mafia or some corrupt official.

People told us this orphanage is one of the worst facilities in Russia, he said.

There are more than 500,000 children in the Russian orphanages at all times, he noted.

When the orphanages are shown on television, the pictures are of the special needs children, said Tami, but they are not the majority of the children that need homes.

Journey to Russia

Parents in Russia give their children up for adoption in the hope they will be fed and given good homes.

Unfortunately, that is not the case, Jed said.

Because of the corruption, the Zanders brought clothing and medicines to the orphanage, rather than money.

Jed explained that St. James Lutheran Church in Howard Lake and St. Mary's Catholic Church in Waverly collected clothing and sent it with them.

Donated money purchased the medicines from Gerry's Super Valu at cost.

They took about $12,000 in cash with them, divided up among the adults stashed in their socks and various other places on their bodies.

Tom Zander, Jed's brother, and a sister-in-law, Connie Zander went along to help, as well as the caseworker that assisted them in the process.

Of course, the Zanders would not think of leaving Tyler home. He needed to be in on the process from the very beginning, Tami said.

The nine of them had to squeeze into two tiny cars, and they had to pay the two drivers $50 per day each, she said.

They spoke a little English, and Tami said she thought they were trustworthy.

The most highly paid people in Russia make about $30 per month, right now.

Some of the Russians the Zanders had contact with were nice, others were not. The struggle in Kosovo had started and the Russians were mad at the Americans, Tami said.

There are no houses anywhere in Pscov, just stark white apartment buildings.

In this city of a million people, the food situation is very bad, and vodka is cheaper than water.

The area has had two years of bad crops, and the people are so poor, most children don't get proper care, said Tami.

The Zanders stayed in Pscov for three days, and two apartments were found for them to use the first night.

The group was separated and Jed and Tami found themselves in a first floor room with no door.

"We were a little nervous," Tami said.

Children come home

The Zanders met the three youngsters April 4, 1999, Easter morning.

"That was a 'wow' experience. So many things came together; we were meant to have these children. They were just waiting for us," Jed stated.

Christopher was 11 months and 11 pounds when they adopted him. He was definitely malnourished, Jed said.

Now, he weighs 25 pounds, and has really grown, he said.

Amber went from 19 to 25 pounds, and has grown four inches. Peter has gained just a couple of pounds, but he has also grown four inches.

"We thought there would be a 'breaking in period,' where the children would be very quiet (and perhaps a little timid). We didn't expect all this activity right away," Tami laughed.

The kids were almost immediately curious and active, and by the time they had been out of the orphanage for five days, they were normal active children, Jed explained.

"You don't know how you are going to feel towards these (adopted) children. I can't explain, but I don't think there is any difference (from a natural child)," Tami said.

These three children were older than Tyler when they were adopted, and it took longer to attach to them than it did with Tyler.

"But, when you know you would die for this child, it has happened," Jed stated.

Amber attached to Tami immediately, and Peter attached to Jed. In fact, Peter had traumatic separation anxiety whenever Jed left to work.

In fact, the children always want to know where each member of the family is at all times. They appear to be fearful of being separated, Jed noted.

Peter is happiest when working next to Jed. And work he does. At almost five, Jed said he shows him once what he wants done, and the boy will work until he is through.

This probably stems from his early experiences, said Tami.

"You have to understand what is going on in Russia," she said.

Tami explained that living conditions are worse in Russia than they were in this country during the depression years.

People dress in dark, dreary, ragged clothing. The climate in Pascov is similar to Canada, and people don't have enough to eat.

Children that are old enough to do anything have to work with their parents. Younger children must shift for themselves at home.

Probably, three-year-old Peter had to take care of his two younger siblings. At the time they were placed in the orphanage, both Peter and two-year-old Amber could dress themselves.

Amber had to be broken of the habit of picking up anything that looked edible, said Tami.

Even young children have survival skills, it seems.

Their life experiences were near zero. They had never seen a car, Jed noted.

Peter spent the first day out of the orphanage staring in awe at cars, he said.

There were seven children in the family, according to the orphanage people, and no one knows what happened to the four older ones. Because of the ages, the older children would have been placed in other facilities.

And since things are so secretive, the Zanders will never know exactly where (what city or even what country) their children were born.

Birthdays are also suspect. The orphanage personnel told them that Christopher's birthday was May 2, Amber's May 3, and Peter's May 4. They may just have been assigned dates, said Tami.

Now, it just so happens that Tyler's birthday really is May 2, so the kids can probably all have a party at the same time.

"All we ever wanted was a family. We love the lifestyle. We have the farm, the play equipment and toys to share. We don't do much socially. One child was glorious, but we have so much to share," said Tami.

"I don't know how we could love any child more than we do these children," Jed said.

"There are children everywhere that need parents, and if that is where God wants you to go . . . go," Jed said.


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