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Each day – every day for nearly 16 years – Tania Williams awoke in the orphanage in Ukraine. Sixteen – the dreaded age that orphans in this Eastern European country “age out” to the streets, often thrown into a life of prostitution, drugs and crime. For Tania, it was a time of fear and anxiety, faced with no family and no physical or emotional support.
But this year, inside a tidy brick home in south Shelbyville, Tania is waking up to a mother and father, brothers and sisters – eight siblings, to be exact – and a life of volleyball practices, swimming and American Idol nights.
Today, instead of dreading her future, she spends her spare time learning English. She wakes in her own bedroom – she even has her first closet – instead of worrying if she will end up in an abandoned house or dark alleyway.
“We went into this process thinking all about how much we would be giving her by adopting her,” Roger Williams said of the Ukranian daughter he brought home in January. “It wasn’t until we got her here and she became an integrated part of our family that we began to understand how much she is giving us. She really is a dream come true.”
Williams and his wife, Becky, first learned about Tania last year, after their future daughter visited Louisville for a Ukrainian hosting program, an opportunity for Ukrainian children to experience life in a family setting in America.
The Williamses did not meet Tania during her visit, but another family did.
“They began the process to adopt her,” Roger Williams said. “But after a few months they hit a snag on the Ukrainian end of things that they couldn't overcome.”
But another adopted girl named Madison, who had known Tania from the orphanage, asked her grandmother to send an E-mail to several people about Tania’s crisis, explaining that she was about to turn the not-so-sweet 16.
“Upon aging out, most Ukrainian orphans enter a cycle of self-destruction and crime,” Roger Williams said. “More than ten percent of their stories end in suicide within the first year. Of those that survive, the lifecycle perpetuates itself. Orphans living a life of crime, prostitution, sex-trafficking, alcoholism and drug addiction merely creates more orphans.”
The E-mailed plea to help Tania found its way to a home-school listserv. The Williams children are home-schooled. And Tori, their second-oldest child, saw the E-mail.
In the Williams’ eyes, God meant for Tori to see that note about Tania. “She asked us if we would adopt her,” Roger Williams said.
The family did not hesitate and delved into what would become a year of adoption paperwork, home studies, fundraisers and appointments. They created a “Save Tania” Web site and a Facebook page to help raise money to cover adoption and travel fees and have held everything from garage sales to live auctions. Roger Williams even decided to sell “Christine,” his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, to raise additional money.
The Williams were, in fact, determined to “save Tania,” who since birth had lived in Simferopol, the capital city of the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. While living in this area called “Crimea,” Tania never had met her father. Her mother, who lost parental rights because of neglect, died from complications from alcohol and drug abuse when Tania was about 9 years old.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Ukraine is now the fifth most popular international source of adoptions by U.S. families, after China, Ethiopia, Russia and South Korea. In 2011, nearly 400 Ukrainian orphans were adopted by U.S. families.
Roger and Becky Williams met Tania in Ukraine on Nov. 21. By March, back in the United States, Tania took the Oath of Allegiance, the final step to becoming a U.S. citizen.
But the Williams’ Ukrainian adoption journey was far from over.
While in Ukraine, they had met 14-year-old Alorna, one of Tania’s best friends in the orphanage. “Alorna is such a sweet girl that she stole our hearts, and we were devastated to leave her behind,” Becky Williams said.
Said Roger Williams: “As we got to know Alorna, we could understand why Tania liked her so much. She is sort of the Ying to Tania’s Yang. While Tania is reserved, Alorna is bold and assertive. While Tania is a sporty tomboy, Alorna is a girly girl.”
And now, if all goes as planned, Alorna will become their 10th child, the second adopted child, joining their biological children: Ali, 19, who is away at college; 17-year-old Tori; Julia, 13; Jett, 11; Olivia, 9; Dash, 7; Chase, 5; and Cruze, 3.
“They all are crazy about Tania,” Roger Williams said. “The little boys are the most attached to her; in fact, she spends so much time with Cruze that he sometimes answers us in Russian. Tania just talks to him like ‘normal,’ and apparently he is picking it up.”
The Williamses say they are hoping to bring Alorna home by late summer. “Since we recently adopted Tania, many of the necessary documents and requirements will apply for Alorna if we work quickly,” Roger Williams said.
Alorna also was born in Crimea, but her mother moved to Russia when Alorna was very young. Like Tania, she did not know her father. Alorna was taken away from her mother for neglect at an early age but was able to visit her from time to time. Alorna was about 12 when her mother died, and Alorna immediately was deported back to Crimea.
The deportation turned out to be an unknown blessing at the time. Today, dozens of already-approved adoptions to U.S. families have been halted in Russia.
“Basically, what was such a horrible situation for Alorna being deported after her mother's death has been the thing that has made it possible for us to get her,” Roger Williams said. “If she were still in Russia, she would be stuck.”
The Williamses say they hope Alorna’s adoption goes a little smoother during their upcoming trip to Eastern Europe. “There were so many delays in Ukraine,” Roger Williams said. “It seemed they were making things up as they went along or that this was the first time anyone had ever adopted.”
Becky Williams visited on two separate occasions, one at the beginning of the journey and again near the end for the actual court process.
Roger Williams said, “I had the added complication of being there through the whole process – nine weeks away from family, church, USA. It was even worse because it was winter and during all of the holidays, which was tough on me mentally, but also created more delays as workers basically went into ‘holiday mode’ and not much got done.”
Each day, though, he would pick up Tania – and Alorna – from the orphanage. They went dining out, ice skating, bowling. They went to movies. They took day trips to places such as the Black Sea. When the teenagers returned to the orphanage each night, their future father attended various Bible studies and worship services.
Building a bond
Now in Shelbyville, Tania passes the time playing volleyball, soccer and basketball at the Family Activity Center and ping pong in the basement of the family home. She listens to popular American music and enjoys watching television shows that she can understand even though they are in English. “You don't have to fully understand English to enjoy shows like America's Funniest Home Videos and Wipeout,” Roger Williams said.
Tania also video chats with friends back at the orphanage, including Alorna.
“Basically, living in the orphanage is a society within itself,” Roger Williams said. “The girls become mother, father, sister and brother to each other and have a strong bond that, thanks to technology, Tania has been able to bring with her.”
Tania, like her siblings, is being homeschooled. She studies English about four hours a day and has had two tutors visit the house. In Ukraine, the Williamses also have hired an English tutor to work three days a week with Alorna.
“We call Alorna every Sunday, and her English is improving greatly,” Roger Williams said. “We also get to see her on Skype about once a week.”
While he and his wife were in Ukraine, Roger Williams sensed that Tania was hesitant to learn English. “She always seemed guarded; in fact, our facilitator in Ukraine called her the ‘Ice Girl,’” he said.
Despite constant reassurances, Tania had heard of American parents getting frustrated with their adopted kids and sending them back to Ukraine. “I told her that was not an option with us – no matter what,” Roger Williams said, “but it was virtually impossible to assure her.”
Although they admittedly still are in the “honeymoon phase,” Roger Williams called his adopted daughter a “literally perfect child.”
“She has never once rebelled, disagreed, threw a fit, complained or acted ungrateful,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the day for her to become ‘normal’ by acting like a typical teenager, which is sort of sad in a way, but it will let us know she has changed from ‘visitor’ status to truly part of the family.”
And now, they hope for the same for Alorna.
“We want to give her a forever family, a mama to cry to, a sister to giggle with, and an opportunity for a future where she can become anything she wants,” Becky Williams said. “Alorna is full of love, and I’m sure she will give as much to our family as we will give her.”