Thursday, September 11, 2014

Moscow. Through the back door

We spent the second day meeting at Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO). It is Russia's Johns Hopkins, SAIS and Harvard rolled into one. When one attends a forum representing the people and attitudes of two or more nations which aren't getting along, one expects diversity of opinion, hopes for honest debate, and dreams of consensus. By and large, we achieved diversity, got honest debate and while not in unanimous agreement on what to do next, we came closer than I would have thought possible.  

The past couple of days I have listened to an entire range of views, with some common themes that should not be ignored. Humor defused what could have been a tense beginning when Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute on Globalization, stood up near the beginning of the conference and said, "Experts have not yet proven that Russians are to blame for everything."

We all laughed, and the tone of mutual problem-solving was set. Among the key messages that surfaced; economic sanctions could well kill the European economy. "My objective," said, Alexis Rodzinko, President of the US-Russian Chamber of Commerce, "is to preserve what has been created in the past twenty five years. Russia has suffered through one economic crisis of its own, and two, 1998 and 2008-9, that it didn't create. What is being created now is a political crisis, not an economic one. Russia is one of our most promising markets for American goods!"

You may not have noticed, but it is nearly impossible to participate in an honest debate any more; people have become so polarized, on such a range of topics, that listening to others with an open mind, doing as my Grandmother used to say, “allowing as how other people may have a different point of view,” is rare. It shouldn't be. Walk around that term “point-of-view,” for a minute. It implies a single position, upon a fixed line, within an entire spectrum of possible views, each one a singular “point-of-view.” It suggests that in the scientific framework there may be more than one way to look at things. It directs each of us to have the courtesy and respect due another to listen to their “point-of-view."

"This dialogue is urgent," said Sergei Makov, Director of the Institute of Policy Studies. "We value the great American civilization that shaped the twentieth century. We would never try to blame America or portray it in a bad light. We believe in the American people; most are good and want a good relationship with us. We have other things to work on together. To mention two; ISIS, the rise of fundamentalist, extremist Islam, the degradation of the environment."

Nicholai Petro, a Professor at the University of Rhode Island, spend the last year on a Fulbright in Odessa, Ukraine. "To have a hope of healing this, we need to realize that we have two crisis here: A crisis of Ukrainian statehood, and a crisis of US-Russian relationship."

Dr. Gil Doctorow, the founder of the European Committee for East-West Accord, led a discussion about re-creating the East-West Accord. It existed in the 1970-80s and kept our scientific, academic, business and cultural communities talking and often working together during the cold war. “Russia,” he said “continues to be portrayed as the enemy of a values conflict, and it isn't. In fact, Putin has been heard to say that perhaps the west needs to be reminded of its own values.” He asked for ideas for cooperation.

The academics present, especially those in the field of nuclear energy, expressed the hope of direct contact with their counterparts in the west at a time when it is more important than ever to be in contact, so that misunderstandings don't happen. Key European news media present committed to balance the news about east-west cooperation. Sharon Tennison, CEO of the Center for Citizen Initiatives, who has worked in Russia since the early 1980s, said she would increase their efforts for citizen exchanges and joint business initiatives.

At that point I had chance to offer an idea to the group. If what is needed is civil society people-to-people effort, I suggests that the FRUA support structure for adoptive families is grass-roots; a positive affirmation of family that, if offered to Russian adoptive families, would make sense. And as it includes the names of both Russia and Ukraine, might be a way to bring ordinary people back together. It was well-received. Several members of this gathering offered to help spread the word abut FRUA, both from within the U.S. and Russia. Tennison will be coming to Denver at the end of this month and at that time we will meet to explore a FRUA citizen initiative.

At break, we joined the students in the cafeteria, where large color photos of famous US cities cover the walls. Many students came and went from the discussions, which had been arranged by the brilliant Igo Okunev, who only in his late 20s, is Vice-Dean at MGIMO. The day went long and late; no one wanted to end the conversation. The formation of an east-west accord is in the works. 

We had moved beyond politics into the human potential we all have to overcome obstacles and make things happen. Don't we adoptive parents know how true this can be? 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Moscow: the first day

Tension surrounds this meeting. But all of us meet anyway.

We are quite a diverse group; part  academic, part policy, part science, (including a few nuclear energy experts, and Russian policy advisers who actually consult on their stockpile) former CIA, former Duma, international journalists, Russian media, part non-governmental organizations (I have learned here, that one is actually much safer calling a non-profit a "non-commercial" entity because use of the word "government" even if preceded by the word "non," can mean that you and your organization are against the government.  A really good thing to know in Russia.) I find myself next to one of the most famous people of the people-to-people initiatives, Sharon Tennison, President of the Center for Citizen Initiatives. I have already learned from my friend, Deb Palmaeri, the Honorary Consul of Colorado, she is coming to Colorado in a few weeks. We put our heads together.

What we share in this World-US-Russian Forum is that everyone here is really smart, not one of us wants to see our countries on the verge of war, and everyone agrees that something must be done by we people about the status of our relationship; Better heads than mine announced that it's the worst it has been since the Cuban missile crisis. That's saying a lot. I have been reminded more than once that a cold war we can handle. No one should want a hot one.

As I write, there is an ad for a computer warfare game running on the hotel lobby bar video.  Two tanks. Guess which countries they appear to be? This is followed by the news, the lead story features somber people in military uniforms, armed officers uncovering weapons in Ukraine, and what appear to be launches of anti-ballistic weapons, although I am fairly certain those are stock footage. At least I hope so.

I have pages of notes, that are going to go into my report following this meeting. For tonight, let me say that while during day one we Americans endured a certain amount of posturing from some of the Russians present, there was a lot of pain. They do not understand where we are.  They do not understand why America seems to hate them. They do not understand why the west thinks they would not be worried about what happens on it's borders. "Would America just ignore a revolt across its borders with Canada?" one asked me.

 "Well no," I respond. "But it's Canada"!

"Exactly," he said.

 Our vastly diverse group shares this view; it is inconceivable to any of us that our governments have reached a stage where they no longer talk.  We debate ways forward, we share the frustrations across our various fields. I tell everyone about FRUA and how in fairness, we need better reporting from Russia of the success of our families. If we're going to work on relationships; we need to start at the ground floor. The group agrees with me. I get commitments from several to take our FRUA materials and what they have learned and hep spread he word.  I gradually begin to realize that what I have done, what FRUA has done, is walked through the back door to Russia.

While I'm on the topic...if you haven't been to Moscow in a few years, you haven't seen Moscow. This is a European city. Those here during the economic crisis of the 90s would barely recognize it. Those here earlier this past decade would not either. Those here two years ago may not; cranes are everywhere on the drive in from the airport and throughout the city. The city skyline is glistening. The Arbat is one hundred percent built out; which I learned when I went looking for the beautiful tiled wall that shielded a view of vacant lots when my now-grown children were photographed with their small hands on hand prints imbedded in the colored tiles. I swear during my two-hour jaunt on the Arbat, at least ten street sweeping machines whizzed by...there is not a single piece of trash anywhere. 

On a Monday night, the place is buzzing. People are well-dressed, strolling, enjoying the street scene. I pass young women with baby strollers; not many, but some. My waiters are friendly and want to practice their English.  I stop for a few gifts, and discover that the Visa sign in the window does not mean that this store will take an America Visa.  They refuse and I walk out.

A fellow conference attendee forwards Johnson's List to me: which begins:

"We don't see things as they are, but as we are."

"Don't believe everything you think"

Jan Wondra
National Board of Directors


Perspective from the air

I've always liked high places; perhaps that is why I live in Colorado.

This is a long trip; the length of which is familiar to every single adoptive parent reading this who has traveled half way around the world to adopt the child of your dreams. I am on my way to Moscow to represent FRUA INC at a global meeting whose purpose is to find ways to peacefully cooperate, reducing tensions between the west and Russia. Many minds more brilliant than mine will be there; scientists, scholars, cultural attaches, former ambassadors, military leaders, human rights activists, policy folks. But not a one of them is going with the view point that I want to share with them on your behalf.

I'm going, to try to make sure that they know that FRUA, INC exist to offer hope help and community to adoptive families, and that a high percentage of our membership, and other thousands of families who come to us, have adopted children in Russia. I'm going, to tell them the real story of our families – of our challenges, yes – but also of our successes. I'm going, to share our belief that it is a basic human right to grow up in a family that loves you and protects you and gets you the help you need to reach your potential, whatever that may be. I'm going, to add the voices of our families to the conversation about what it will take to get us working together again, instead of against each other.

There is this simple truth; that when we set out to dehumanize any group of people, we divide into “them” and “us.” “Those people” and “our people.” Such words shut down conversation; divide people on opposite sides of issues, close minds, cause conflicts, start wars.

As someone who has been married a long while, I can admit that there are usually at least two sides to every conflict; neither side all right, nor all wrong. My husband would no doubt say that more often than not, I'm wrong, and he is probably right. To try to live peaceably together, let alone cooperate, all of us must resist the stark divide created when words like “good” or “bad,” “worthy” or “not worthy,” “right or wrong,” “adoptable” or “un-adoptable,” are used to describe, a government, a people, a family, or a child. “ Some say that all of us have a little graft in us. I like to think that all of us have more than a little good in us too.

For this trip, with these purposes, FRUA is not taking sides; it is standing firmly where it always does, on the promise we have been fulfilling for the past twenty years; offering hope, help, and community for adoptive families.

Jan Wondra
National board of Directors

Monday, September 1, 2014

Seasons of Change

How swiftly the seasons move, one after the other, year after year. Even if we don't notice how quickly the years go by, our children surely remind us. As each school year starts, we send our wishes with our children as they head to the next grade, the new school, the challenging course they've never taken before. For many of us adoptive parents, these years have been, by turns, joyous and difficult at best, heartbreaking at worst, as we struggle to get our children the help they need.

In FRUA, INC, we say that our long-term goal as parents is to help our children to reach their potential, whatever that may be. But for some of our FRUA families, that can feel like too big a goal; for them the goal is a more limited, often focused on just getting their kids through the school week – or the day – in one piece!

Some years ago, during a particularly tumultuous middle school year, a psychologist who we'd contacted for help gave me a piece of advice. “Don't worry so much about the grades, or having a perfect child right now,” he said about our angry, defiant, brilliant, twice-exceptional son. “Your job is to raise a whole child. By the way, no child is perfect and neither are you.”

Well of course.

The words were blunt, but effective. And we made it through those years, one day at a time.

FRUA's new fiscal year brings emphasis on education resources and awareness

This isn't just the start of the school year for so many of us, it's also the start of our FRUA fiscal year. In July we met in Washington DC for our national board annual meeting, to map our plan of action for this coming year. It's fitting that our first quarter is the July-September time frame, as I've always felt it to be a time of new beginnings. And this year we have a lot in store for you.

We have a new compliment of board members, dedicated to this organization and our mission of providing hope help and community for adoptive families. For those who may not know, the entire leadership of FRUA is volunteer: your national board members, your regional chapter leaders, and your FRUA national committees volunteers and I appreciate every single one of them. I hope you do too.

As the year proceeds you'll be hearing more about our renewed emphasis on educational programming and resources. Leading our FRUA educational efforts will be Terry Mandeville, who is moving from the board position of Outreach to that of Education Chair. Stay tuned for news of the educational topics FRUA will be coordinating with programming partners, both with the FRUA Regional Chapters and directly to FRUA members.

If you haven't given in a while, please do consider a gift to FRUA. We need funds to help us in our work on educational and resource programming, to rebuild our FRUA scholarship fund, and replenish our orphan support fund. Remember, donations are tax deductible:

Regarding our efforts at raising awareness of our FRUA mission and the success of our FRUA families....there is more news to come very soon, so stay tuned.

Jan Wondra
FRUA National Chair

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Parenting...the other 363 Days a Year

Who doesn't want to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day? Especially those of us who moved heaven and earth, traveling around the globe, to become parents. I know we surely do. But here, in this message, FRUA celebrates the other 363 days a year of parenthood. The day-after-day, challenge-after challenge, joy-following-joy, messy, sweet, exhilarating, exhausting, sometimes lonely, better-if-shared, thankful days that require patience, love and fortitude. FRUA celebrates all of you, every day, and the families we have built. We celebrate with our eyes open, always focused on our mission; to provide hope, help and community for adoptive families.

There has been a lot going on at the FRUA, INC national level. Based on the 2013 national survey, this has been a year of change, as we set out to act upon the wishes of members and those who want to belong. Here, some highlights of the changes over the past few months:

Ten FRUA regional chapters
Since earlier this year, With the involvement of the leaders of FRUA chapters, and a recommendation of a FRUA chapter leader task force, FRUA has shifted from inconsistent metro-focused chapters to ten regional chapters, covering all fifty states. The FRUA regional boards are composed of volunteer leaders spread across each region, with volunteer representatives from Parent Organized Districts(PODs) that can bring FRUA families together wherever family clusters are located.

Major contact with our children's birth country embassies
FRUA has made a concerted effort to establish a place at the table regarding national adoption policy, and in helping to keep the doors of adoption open in Eastern European and central Asian countries. Over the past two years, we have significantly stepped up our communication with the embassies of our birth countries, meeting with them, most for the first time, to share information about our family support mission of hope, help and community for adoptive families.

While the next issue of The Family Focus will include a more detailed report, I made formal calls in February and March of 2014, on the embassies of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Republic of Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Armenia. I'll continue to reach out to more of the twenty two foreign embassies of the countries from which our children have come. Last year I met twice with the Ambassador of Ukraine, and plan to meet with the embassy again this summer.

Last December, continuing our cooperation with The Institute of International Education, FRUA-Colorado hosted a group of independent media Russian journalists at my home for dinner. I remain in touch with some of these journalists, to help get factual information about our families to the Russian people,

I have received a formal invitation to attend a US-Russian Forum on Capitol Hill, June 16-18, representing FRUA. The gathering focuses on areas of cooperation in culture, business and science. Attendees will include the Dept. of State, members of the United States Congress, the Russian Embassy, University of Moscow, and the Russian Cultural center.

New, 21st century database tools
With the launch next weekend of the new FRUA Member Center, linked to, FRUA will address a major need; making it easier for members to join and renew, adding efficiency for regional chapter leaders, and preparing to create an enhanced member resource center. Stay tuned for the email announcement message on our around 5/24, and after the roll-out, follow this link  to Join or Renew .

Happy May,
Jan Wondra
Acting Chair
FRUA, INC. National Board of Directors

Friday, July 12, 2013

FRUA Awards Two 2013 Student Scholarships

For the fourth year, Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, including neighboring countries, (FRUA) is pleased to announce the distributing scholarships through its FRUA Scholarship Program. FRUA has awarded two 2013 scholarships: $1,000 for a high school senior, and $1,000 for a post-secondary student. This is the only scholarship program created specifically for students adopted from the former Soviet bloc countries.

The FRUA 2013 Scholarship for the High School Senior was awarded to Chris McAttee, the son of Eric and Sally McAttee, members of FRUA-Wisconsin. The McAttee family adopted him from Russia in 1998, when he was not quite six-years-old. Chris, an honor student, has just graduated from Pius XI High School in Milwaukee and plans to attend the University of Wisconsin, with the goal of practicing pediatric medicine.

Chris was elected Circuit Judge and State Senator at Badger Boy’s State, Wisconsin. Chris has explored his heritage for the past ten years through Dnipro, a Ukrainian Folk Dance Ensemble, which performs at the annual FRUA Yarmarka. He joined the dance group in third grade, and now is an instructor of younger students.

David, Lantz, this year’s winner of the FRUA 2013 Scholarship Award for Post-Secondary Students, is the son of Nanci Lantz of Inverness Place, Cincinnati. He was two when he came from Russia in 1994 to live in the United States. His family was active in the Ohio Chapter of FRUA, INC when there was an active chapter there. An Eagle Scout, David found a good fit with the College of Mt. Saint Joseph in Cincinnati, where he is majoring in history. He serves as a college tour guide and is active in Drama, Pep Band, peer tutoring, and as a new student orientation leader.

The FRUA National Scholarship Committee follows a rigorous review process. This year, FRUA received 22 scholarship applications; seven from young men and 16 applications from young women. 2013 Scholarship Committee Chair Mara Kamen noted that “As in previous years, the applications were high-quality and the applicants are incredibly impressive young adults!”

The twenty two applicants were adopted from across the former Soviet Union, coming from Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and Kazakhstan. Their family's memberships spread across FRUA chapters in Missouri, New England, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC / Maryland / Virginia, and Wisconsin, and we had unaffiliated membership applicants from Florida, Georgia and Ohio.

With a field of wonderful applicants, we wish that there could have been more than two winners. The fact is that we can continue this scholarship program due to the generosity of FRUA members and friends who donated to the FRUA year-end giving appeal. The number and size of the scholarships are dependent upon available funds. We noticed something this year that has not occurred before; a few applications, not included in the total above, came in from students whose families were not paid FRUA members. To be considered for the scholarships, the students must be both adopted from a former Soviet bloc country and the families of applicants must be current, paid FRUA member families. For anyone looking toward applying next year, please take note of this.

FRUA’s National Board of Directors Scholarship Committee looks not just at applicant's academic records, but at the challenges they have overcome, as well as their service to their communities. We congratulate our two scholarship winners, Chris and David, and are delighted to recognize the accomplishments and abilities of all our talented FRUA teens. Teens who did not receive a scholarship this year are invited to re-apply, for the post-secondary scholarship next year.

What our kids can accomplish with the love and support of families who get them the help they need to reach their potential, is absolutely amazing! As we adoptive families know; having a family that supports you, no matter what, can make all the difference in the world in the life of a child.

My Best Regards,
Jan Wondra
Acting Chair
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Difference a Dad Makes in a Child's Life

Happy Father's Day to all our FRUA dads!

This Father's Day, we celebrate the fact that father's are finally getting the recognition they deserve. It's not just because parental leave for men for the birth or adoption of their children is gaining traction. But because so many of these guys...these new dads.. were raised by working mother's themselves. These are dads who are parental partners, who truly“Get it!”

A man who becomes a dad by going half way around the world -- who helps move heaven and earth to adopt his children -- you know he wants to be a dad. And this dad wants to bond with his children; wants to help them reach their potential. And that involvement can make a huge difference in a child's life*:
  • Involved dads impart a sense of stability and a range of social emotions for their child. While we mothers tends to protect and nurture our babies, dads' playfulness (what can occasionally cause us to utter in frustration “I feel like I have two kids now!”) in fact, teaches children how to control his/her emotions, and socializes them to accept a range of behaviors. Because dads tend to encourage exploration of the world, their encouragement can instill confidence and positive social behavior.
  • Engaged dads can have an impact on kid's future academic success and reduces anti-social behavior. “Studies indicate that children with a positive child/father relationship have greater academic success and are much less-likely to exhibit antisocial behavior.” (Rosenberg & Wilcox, 2006).
  • Engaged dads impact both short-term and long-term behavior in children. A dad's personal life-choices can visibly influence his children's future. It's not just in how much money he makes, or his chosen career, but whether or not his actions show them, that time with them is important, that he values good grades, that he cares about helping others.
  • There is something to the old saying “Show your children love by loving their mother.” Involved dads who are in loving and committed relationship with their child, and that child's mother, give their children something else. They surround a child with stability and model what a stable relationships looks like, with benefits that impact every aspect of that child's life.
These past several months have been difficult ones for those prospective parents caught in the Russian ban on adoption by Americans, who want so desperately to be parents. You know FRUA's position  on this, or if you don't, you should.  It is our position that every child on this earth deserves to grow up in a forever family, that loves them and protects them and gets them the help they need to reach their potential, whatever that might be.  Growing up in a family is a basic human right, the best place for a child to learn the life lessons to help them succeed in life. FRUA continues to advocate, to meet with the State Dept., to meet with representatives of Russian NGO groups, to work with the media, in Russia to raise the stories of our FRUA family success, to work with the CCAI and many other adoption policy counterparts. We seek a resolution for the families caught in the ban, and the opportunity for a better life for the thousands of children being used as pawns. We've offered to tell the stories of our family's successes, to share the joy we have as parents, to the Russian government. But so far; our offers have not been accepted.

Here at FRUA we surely celebrate mothers. But throughout the month of June, and especially on Father's Day, we celebrate fathers and all you do. We celebrate the love you give our children, the strength on which we all lean, the shared joy of being parents. So today, moms, pass this along to the Dads in your life - share it with your friends and family-- and be thankful for the Fathers in your lives.

Jan Wondra
Acting Chair/Vice President
FRUA National Board of Directors

The Importance of Fathers, the Difference a Father can Make in the Healthy Development of Children, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children's Bureau Rosenberg, Jeffrey., Wilcox, W. Bradford., 2006.