By Le Ann Dakake, director of New Horizons for Children, a hosting program for Russian orphans –
In the fall of 1986 a baby boy, Valera Pavlov, was born to a young married couple in the small village of Chubaksari, Russia. He was the 2nd child born of their 3 children and everyone was quite happy! However, in the height of the Soviet Union rule, the family did what they could do survive and lived day to day making money to buy food and maintain a place to live.
Communism was a part of their everyday life, and while it promised equality and provisions among all, not everyone actually received the care and support that was broadcast to the world in government’s propaganda. A couple of years later, the couple gave birth to a daughter as well, bringing the family to 5.
Soon after the arrival of Valera’s sister, while trying to survive and provide for his growing family, the father was forced to take on odd jobs working on other’s farms to make ends meet
In 1991, Valera’s father took him, at about the age of 5, to tag along for a day’s work on a farm to chop wood. This had become a normal part of Valera’s life as mom was now at home with his toddler sister. On these days, Valera would entertain himself while his dad plowed fields, watered farm animals, sheered sheep, butchered hogs, milked cows, did simple repairs or like today; he chopped wood for the coming winter.
At the end of the day, if the work was satisfactory, the family might invite them to have leftover dinner portions. On this particular day, the father’s work seemed satisfactory, so he and Valera were given some food to eat. After dinner, as is customary, the woman who owned the farm handed the boy’s father a glass of wine.
However, this day’s glass of wine was very unlike any previously offered to his dad. Apparently, the family didn’t have the money to pay for the day’s wages and some alternative was sought to get out of doing so.
Not quite understanding what he saw, Valera would later remember something: the woman took a thermometer, broke it, and poured some liquid from it into the glass of wine. She then handed it to his dad.
Soon after eating, Valera and his dad began their journey down the dirt farm road towards their home. But unlike other days, his father stumbled and rolled off the road and into a ditch. Valera, thinking his dad was playing a game with him, rolled down the hill as well, thinking there would be some fun on the way home as had happened on days before.
However, after some time passed, and it became dark and started to get cold, Valera realized his dad was not playing any games. He lay down to sleep next to his dad, but later realized his dad would never wake up again.
He had witnessed the poisoning and murder of his father and it was a day that changed the rest of life as he knew it.
This began the demise of a family; something that no one would have expected or desired for a child of his age to endure.
His mother, stricken with grief over the loss of her husband and the economical destruction of her family, soon lost her home and turned to vodka as a self prescribed medication. Without any spiritual, financial, emotional or social support systems, she soon began a life of living on the streets with her 2 small children now 6 and 4.
Valera’s role quickly changed from being a happy child to the new head of family. This all occurred during the initial years of the break up of the Soviet Union. Food was scarce, jobs were few and there was no extended family or government system in place to assist them. The political outlook was chaotic and dysfunctional at best.
The small family lived wherever they found shelter, never staying in one place longer than a few days. Valera now became the one to gather food, and provide for his sister and mom. He learned how to jump fences and steal whatever fruits and vegetables he could get from others who had small gardens. He realized that if he could snatch a bottle or two of nail polish from a flea market vendor, he could return the next day and sell it to another vender for some coins.
Making things even more unbearable, his mom became pregnant again and soon had another son. For the first year or so, it was Valera who had to stay up at night and care for his baby brother as mom had turned to prostitution to earn money for her drinking habit. However, the baby’s father eventually came and took the baby which provided some needed relief for the short term.
Valera never had any stable home so he was not able to attend school. But, about 4 years later, around the age of 9 or 10, they happened upon an older couple who had a mentally ill son who offered a place for them to stay in their barn. In exchange for assistance to care for their farm animals, work the fields etc they were offered a place to sleep and access to food to eat.
Because Valera had remembered learning and watching from his dad’s work on farms he was able to drive the tractor, slaughter the hogs and chickens and milk the cows. The woman taught him how to sow crops and eventually harvest them. So, for about 2 weeks, Valera and his family lived in the barn and life was drastically better.
However, his mom, who now suffered from an alcohol addiction, was unable to stay in one place very long. One day, mom announced she was tired of the farm and she was moving…again.
Fed up with a life of uncertainty and constantly seeking shelter while having to steal to eat, Valera finally rebelled! Mom gave him an ultimatum…go with her and his sister or stay on his own. So, Valera made a decision that no child should ever have to make. When mom announced her departure, he hid in the barn and refused to go with them.
That was the last time he ever saw his mom and younger sister.
For about 3 years, Valera stayed and worked the farm and lived in the barn in exchange for food and “home”. The woman offered that if he managed his daily chores, he could also attend school. So, Valera got up about 4am, did his morning chores and went to school, starting the first grade at the age of 10. After school, he would come home and do afternoon and evening chores and study by candlelight until he fell asleep.
This went on until about the age of 12. One day, the family’s grown mentally ill son, chased him and attempted to kill him with a pitchfork. Fortunately, this attempt was not successful and Valera escaped. However, first hand experience of living with this crazy boy and knowing how successful he had been in killing a horse in the same way, Valera knew his life was in danger.
The next day, he confided in a school teacher and he was immediately removed from the home.
At first a foster family was located and Valera was moved in with them. However, because the town was rather small, there was talk and constant fear that the crazy boy would come to harm Valera and his foster family. So, it was soon decided that it would be safer for everyone to move Valera to a larger city where he was first taken to a hospital for a full medical evaluation and eventually moved into an orphanage in the city of Ulyanovsk Russia.
This was in the summer of 2000, and Valera was now 12 years old.
A few weeks later, Valera would meet Americans for the first time in his new home at the orphanage.
Little did he know or could he even contemplate, that he was meeting his new parents! Life as he knew it, would, once again, change forever.
However, this time God was answering prayers of a couple who were in the midst of adopting their infant son, and happened to stay in Valera’s orphanage during the process.
On the night before their departure, Valera would receive a gift that he would never forget and to this day, continue to share the importance of, with others. The couple came to say goodbye to Valera who had played with their family during the week’s stay in the orphanage.
He also gave them a gift from his personal stash of treasured items: a small metal “Matchbox” style car with a few broken pieces, but one of a few items he could actually call “his own”.
This American mom, reached for Valera and wrapped her arms around him…he was so small and slight and boney! She could have wrapped her arms around him twice!
At first, Valera didn’t know what to make of this: his first hug.
But, quickly, he felt warmth, love and something he had never known before: safety and a sense of belonging. He felt chosen and important!
Ten months later, the couple returned to his orphanage, but not to adopt a baby. This time, they came for Valera, their new son who was now 13 years old.
So, who is this boy and why is Valera’s story so important today?
As a famous radio announcer Paul Harvey, once coined, “And now, for the Rest of the Story”…
That was 10 years ago. Now at the age of 24, you’ve possibly heard about Valera. However, his name has been changed and he is known as Taylor Dakake.
You see, Taylor was adopted by my husband and me in June, 2000, and finally came home to his “forever family”. We enrolled him as a scrawny 74 pound, 7th grader in a Christian school with only 4 years of formal education behind him.
Seeing his resilience factors such as his exceptional abilities in sports and art combined with the ability to laugh at himself with a keen sense of humor, he had the tools to succeed. He excelled in soccer and was asked to join the Varsity team as an 8th grader, while playing on a YMCA Select Traveling team during the same season!
He was voted by his peers to be their Homecoming Prince as an 8th grader. The end of his first year in school, he received numerous awards for “Outstanding Achievement” in Bible, Mathematics, Art and Physical Education along with “Outstanding Christian Character” in Soccer. He also received awards for “Most Improved” in English, History and Science.
However, the most noted award that he received that year was the Principal’s Choice Award. This was given to a select child from the school’s population whom the principal saw as overcoming a Life Obstacle and Excelling. This was the “Eagle Award” and Taylor proudly received it before a group of tearful teachers and students, and of course, both of his parents.
Above all, he accepted Christ that year as his Lord and Savior at a chapel gathering: He received Eternal Life.
It didn’t bother anyone that he graduated High School at the age of 19 while being named Valedictorian of his graduating class who had to give the commencement speech in a language he had only learned over the past 6 years.
He was also named to the All Region and All State Varsity Soccer teams and was offered college scholarships in both soccer and academic achievement. Now, Taylor is a junior at Kennesaw State University and is studying International Business. He recently bought his first home after working full time for the past 3 years at Discount Tires.
He had the ability, but no opportunity to succeed in Russia as an orphan. In America, he had the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands, along with 2 parents who love him dearly and has succeeded.
Yes, we missed most of his childhood and the time we had together at home felt way too short. But, that comes from selfish desire and not a necessity in loving and parenting a child.
People ask me every day, why consider a teenager for hosting or possibly adoption? My answer is simple and one that comes straight from my heart: “Why not?” The children we are spotlighting on this “Children to Pray For” email are those who our interview team has met over the years and we have fallen in love with them.
We see the hope that remains in their eyes and the smile in their heart with a desire to come on the hosting program. They are boys and girls who probably have similar histories to Taylor’s. But, without someone to step into their life at this late hour, their future will be nothing like the story you read above. They have literally no hope.
While I visited our daughter, Valerie, who still lives in Saint Petersburg Russia in January, she received news about a few of her friends she grew up with in the same orphanage where Taylor lived before being adopted. Two of them had died: one by suicide and one in an accident. Two others had babies recently: both were placed into an orphanage as they had no job and no home.
She, however, is now engaged to an intelligent and loving Russian Christian man. They are both employed; have places to live and she finished high school in Saint Petersburg with our help and accountability for her success. She also attended the local university for 2 years learning English which gave her an exceptional ability to communicate with our family and others.
While she aged out and we were not able to adopt her, she did come to live with our family for a year during the 10th grade where she also became a Christian while learning “family” and how to make better decisions other than her friends did. We recently completed the adoption of her younger 16 year old sister, Ashlee whom we met during the adoption of Taylor 10 years ago.
God works miracles in these children’s lives, but He uses us and needs us to hear and practice His Commands: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unspoiled from the world.” James 1:27; “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” Ephesians 1:5.
Contact New Horizons if you’re interested in hosting a Russian orphan.