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New country, new home?


Moldovan orphans visit area in program designed to find them new homes in America


Vladmir Modarca was given to an orphanage as a baby because his mother and siblings could not afford to care for him.

The 11-year-old boy hasn't seen that family again, and has never been a part of a family since.

That is until just after midnight yesterday, when he walked off a plane and cautiously smiled at the cheerful Rodriguez family of Stafford County. There were lots of tears, nodding and a bit of frustration because Vladmir and the Rodriguezes don't speak the same language.

Then Vladmir, who has short cropped blond hair and blue eyes, was handed a stuffed toy and given a hug. He smiled and reached out his hand.

Vladmir was one of 28 orphans from Moldova--a former Soviet state that neighbors Romania--to arrive in Arlington yesterday.

The children, ages 5 to 16, are being hosted by Fredericksburg-area families for the next 2 weeks. They will live with the families, attend camp at the YMCA and see area sites.

Although they will return to Moldova, the ultimate goal is to eventually get the children out of what has been called "Dickens- style" orphanages and adopted into area families.

The prospects for Vladmir are good.

Debbie Rodriguez recently miscarried, and when she and her two children heard about Vladmir they instantly agreed to host him. When Rodriguez discussed adopting Vladmir with her husband, Dan, he vowed: "If that boy doesn't have a family to go back to, he's going to be our son."

That's a fate International Family Services, a nonprofit adoption organization based in California, is hoping will be the case for all 28 children.

Fifteen area families are hosting the Moldovan children. And many of those families gathered at Reagan National Airport at 10 p.m. Wednesday, waving banners written in Russian, Romanian and English.

There was a two-hour delay, but when news came that the children were heading toward the arrival area, host families leapt up out of their seats, waving gifts and snapping pictures.

The 28 children marched up, bringing nothing but the clothes on their backs. Their eyes were bulging and mouths hung open as the host families cheered.

"They're all so beautiful," sobbed Rita Robles of Fredericksburg, who is hosting some of the children. "I want them all."

The children, who have not been told about adoption prospects, will return to Moldova in 2 weeks. But International Family Services is optimistic many of those children will come back to live permanently with U.S. families.

The adoption process takes six months and costs roughly $20,000.

The organization has brought hundreds of children to the United States from overseas during the past few years in the hopes of finding homes for them. Ninety percent get adopted.

"It's a phenomenal success," said Bob Mardock, the organization's president. "Families are afraid to adopt older children.

"They're scared they'll be a problem. But when they get to see them up close, they see the children don't grow fangs. They're just children needing a family."

He said horror stories about troubled youths being adopted out of orphanages in what was formerly the Soviet Union are exaggerated. Less than 5 percent of the couples adopting through International Family Services say they would not do it again, he said.

The Rodriguezes and a few other host families have already attempted to begin the adoption process.

Debbie Rodriguez and her children got a peek at Vladmir in a video months ago and began doing odd jobs to raise extra money. They delivered directories, substitute taught and mowed lawns. So far they've raised $1,200.

They began putting together money after they heard about the program this summer. Although International Family Services has brought children to the United States since 2000, this is the first time it has conducted a program in this area.

Joyce Schaller of Stafford adopted a Russian boy from an orphanage in St. Petersburg years ago. She is the director of Virginia Family Hope, which is affiliated with International Family Services.

She said the first plan for the Fredericksburg area was to bring Russian children to the United States. That fell through, so the organization attempted to find homes for Moldovan orphans this past July.

All the families were lined up, but just before the children were to arrive July 13, the Moldovan minister of education was demoted and the travel documents were invalidated.

"You should have heard me cursing," Schaller said at the time.

Many of the host families gave up, but not David Livianu, who lives in New York but works for International Family Services in Moldova.

"He worked relentlessly," Schaller said. "All summer long."

Livianu continued to lobby for the children to come to United States. He brought several children of Moldovan officials to New York for a vacation at his own expense.

"I tried to tell them this to help the children and everyone would be happy," he said.

Livianu visited hundreds of orphanages in Moldova. He said they usually house 400 kids in each. The country has a fledgling foster-care system, he said, but it is failing because of a lack of money.

A lack of money also is the reason Moldovans don't adopt these children, Livianu said.

"People there are just as nice as people here, but the average pay there is $75 a month," he said.

Livianu's efforts eventually paid off. A few weeks ago, the organization was told the children could come to America.

International Family Services purchased the tickets, but then Schaller was faced with the task of finding homes for them. Many of the host families had dropped out so she had to solicit new ones.

"I got the last family this week," she said.

Fifteen families from the Fredericksburg area are hosting the children, as well as their legal guardians and some translators.

"It's a lot of fun," Schaller said. "What better thing can you do than give people a family."

2003 Sep 5