Jan. 8, 2007

Russian sisters find home with Lester Prairie family

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

After working with the Russian government and adoption agency for 18 months, and encountering a number of temporary roadblocks, James and Mary Hausladen of Lester Prairie feel very fortunate to finally be able to adopt Russian sisters Yana, 15, and Sara, 11.

In what Mary calls a “whirlwind” that first began in July 2005, the Hausladens returned from Pechory, Russia the first week in December with plenty of time to prepare their, now, seven children for the holidays.

Yana and Sara had met their new siblings, Brianna, 13; Austin, 9; Isabella, 8; Matthew, 5; and Alex, 4, on their first visit to the US August 2005, when they were part of the Journey of Hope program.

The program, sponsored by European Children Adoption Services (ECAS), ran an ad in an area newspaper seen by the Hausladens, asking for host families willing to take in Russian orphans for a few weeks during July and August.

The children in the program are some of more than 650,000 children who struggle to survive in the orphanage system of greater Russia, with only a 5 percent chance to be adopted by a Russian family.

For a few weeks, these children experience an adventure of a lifetime. They share life with American families who offer a loving home, along with summer fun and organized activities.

But the ultimate goal of Journey of Hope is to give these children the reward of a lifetime, a home and caring family in America.

The entire Hausladen family agreed to be a host family for the program. James and Mary felt that the decision needed to be made by their children, as well, because it had a big effect on their lives, too.

“The kids were excited about it from the beginning. We all thought it would be interesting and fun for the family,” Mary said.

At this point in their lives, both James and Mary were open to an adoption sometime in the future. However, they were thinking, definitely, a little baby and, if not a baby, a child age two or under.

“We were not thinking two children, we were not thinking teenagers, we were not thinking foreign. It just kind of picked us and we definitely believe God has made it all fall into place,” Mary said.

The Russian sisters spent three weeks with the Hausladens and loved being in their home in the country. They loved the animals on the farm, riding bikes, swimming in the pool, and jumping on the trampoline.

James and Mary saw them begin to bond with their children.

“Just having them here and knowing a little of what their life was like before – they had been severely neglected. You can’t help but think they deserve a future just like any child,” Mary said.

Three days before the girls were to go back to Russia, James and Mary asked, and the girls agreed, to be adopted.

“We started the process to officially adopt them Sept. 1. We had all of our stuff done by mid-November 2005, including being fingerprinted, and then we got caught up in red tape,” Mary said.

One major roadblock was that Russian adoption agencies are recertified every year. In addition, Russia was having issues with Americans adopting their children.

The Hausladens finally got word that they had a court date the early part of May 2006.

Mary explained that the adoption proceedings include two court dates that take place in Russia. The first court date is a meeting with the children, and then parents officially file to adopt so the government knows this is what they want. Also, it gives the agency a chance to meet the adoptive parents.

The second court date gives the official consent to the adoption.

“We were getting ready to get our airfare to fly to Russia for our first court date, when we were informed that there is a third, middle sister, Elena. All we knew was that she had some kind of disability and she was in a different orphanage and the sisters had been separated for years,” Mary said.

The Hausladens did some investigating and found Elena had a hearing problem. She was in a school for the deaf. They did not know how severe her handicap was or how long the sisters had been separated. Part of getting inadequate information was a result of the language barrier.

In the meantime, the Hausladens were thinking, “We cannot take on this child. We do not know what her issues are and how she will blend in with the family. I was thinking, ‘No way,’” Mary said.

In less than a week’s time, the Hausladens received a picture and a profile of Elena. “We did so much praying throughout this entire process and we finally said, ‘All right. Let’s do it! If they are meant to be together, we will make it work,’” Mary said.

While the Hausladens were trying to make it work, the adoption agency was trying to get permission to adopt them out separately, something that Russian law does not normally allow. Legally, they are not supposed to be separated.

So, by the time the Hausladens had decided “yes,” the adoption agency was able to find another family in Rogers, Minn. to adopt Elena.

“The month of May was really horrible and I didn’t speak to anyone at the adoption agency because I was very upset with them. We were forced to make this life-changing decision and we finally made it and then they said, ‘No! Now you can’t,’” Mary said.

One explanation for the agency’s decision was problems other families had when they had adopted three siblings at one time.

The Hausladens finally accepted the Russian agency’s decision, but this caused another delay. They had to wait for the new family from Rogers to go through the whole process because the sisters needed to be adopted at the same time and on the same court date.

The Hausladens made their first trip June 26 with the family from Rogers. The two families needed to get to know each other so the Russian court could be able to see that the girls would be able to have a future relationship.

“If they were going to be separated, we had to make sure they would get to see each other,” Mary said.

With the first court date behind them, they got a second court date on Thanksgiving Day.

Both families arrived in Russia and spent the day before the hearing signing papers, and they were able to see the girls again.

“The agency told us what they knew about the girls and something about their personalities. History-wise, it is always kind of sketchy because information has been passed down,” Mary said.

On Thanksgiving Day, James and Mary appeared before a female judge in a closed courtroom. Both Yana and Sara were also present with a male prosecutor, a court reporter who wrote everything down by hand, a translator, the director of the orphanage, and the education administrator of the region.

“The entire process went very well. We were so nervous. They have the ability to have us go through all of this and still say no. To go through the money, the time and the emotion,” Mary said.

James and Mary had to tell the court a little about their lives. They had to bring in numerous pictures showing their home and yard, too.

“I have to say the judge really wanted these girls to go to a good home. They want to know that you can afford this and have the time and the energy. They wanted to know about what kind of education they would have. They wanted to know that when the girls turned 18, we were not going to just shove them out of the door and never talk to them again,” Mary said.

With this final court date and the closed courtroom, the possibility of the third sister returning with the Hausladens still seemed to be unsettled.

“It never seemed to be an issue of getting the girls, the issue was if we were getting two or three girls. The prosecutor wanted the three girls to be together and their law required them to be together,” Mary said.

James and Mary felt that all three of the girls really should have been together and were ready to take all three if that was the way the decision had gone. But at the end, the judge gave the Hausladens permision to adopt just the two girls. The Roger’s family adopted Elena.

“There were many tears about Elena. We were torn back and forth. It was difficult to go through, but now, looking back, we feel it was all for a reason. Their sister might never have been adopted and there is nothing wrong with her.

“The problem over there is that these kids are labeled at a very young age and, regardless of what changes, it sticks with them the rest of their life. She was in the school for the deaf and she can hear really, really well. Probably had chronic ear infections when she was a kid,” Mary said.

Since returning to their home in Lester Prairie, family life is beginning to become a little more normal and they are developing a daily routine.

Yana and Sara attended school part-time in Watertown for just a few of days before Christmas break, but now that Christmas vacation is over, the girls have been attending school full-time.

Language has been a very big obstacle to overcome. Neither of the girls can speak English. Everybody at home and school is determined to help the girls make this work.

The girls were sent to school with cheat cards for them to carry, and cards also for the teachers with some general Russian/English translations.

At school, they are studying English Language Learners (ELL), which they have instead of English class for right now.

“There is a lot of ‘repeat after us,’ charades, and we have a computer-type translator that shows the word in English and Russian, and shows how to say it in both languages. We use a lot of short sentences. The girls have a Russian-English picture dictionary. The two have taken it upon themselves to learn words on their own,” Mary said.

When all else fails, there is another girl attending Watertown who was adopted from Russia. She has been attending school there for a year. If there is any situation that needs an explanation, she can be asked to help out. A couple of times they have contacted her.

For the most part, things are falling into place. “Kids just have their own way of communicating. I don’t know how they do it, but they do,” Mary said.

Will the Hausladens adopt another child?

“We have not given up the thought of possibly doing it one more time – one child, and I don’t know if we would even adopt foreign again. Maybe we are open to possibly one more and we would definitely go younger.

“Right now, we have to get these girls established and settled. I am anxious to see life a year from now and to see how far we have come,” Mary said.

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