Becoming Family – A Summer Miracles Story.
Kidsave’s Summer Miracles program began as a way of helping find families for older orphans with small chances of being adopted in their own countries. During its initial operations, it allowed orphans from Russia and Kazakhstan to participate in a 5-6-week summer vacation with host families across America who were interested in adoption or advocacy.
Peter and Sylvia Berens had explored international adoption for many years, finding the process to be frustrating and complicated, leaving them feeling anxious and fearful. That all changed when they learned about Kidsave. Here was a program supporting families who wanted to find out if international adoption was right for them without having to commit to a child they have yet to meet. Here was a program that was all about connection.
Browsing through Kidsave’s Summer Miracles gallery, Peter found a picture of three sisters from Kazakhstan, Zarina, age 6, Madina, age 9, and Malika, age 12. Instantly Peter said, “Those are my girls!”
Zarina, Madina, and Malika had a difficult start to life. At a young age, they were abandoned, placed into an orphanage, and separated from one another. They were only allowed to see each other a few times a year and during special events. Even before being placed in an orphanage, Malika became the mother figure for her younger sisters, and in doing so, she couldn’t just be a kid and compromised her education. “It was hard on me because I had to take care of them, stop their fights, keep them safe and make sure they behaved,” said Malika. “It was tough for a long time.”
One day, while attending a camp provided by their orphanage, they were told they had an opportunity to meet families in America who might be interested in adopting them. “We had never been in a car, other than when the police picked us up and brought us to the orphanage. So, taking a car, train, and plane ride across the world was a crazy experience for us”.
Finally arriving in the US, the sisters stepped off the plane and saw all the Summer Miracles families hugging and kissing each other. “We didn’t know what our hosts looked like,” recalls Malika “so we just kept walking through the crowd and into a clearing.” There, sitting crisscross with three little back bags were Sylvia and Peter with a camera in hand saying, “Our girls!”
“I can remember seeing our girls when we picked them up at the airport,” remembers Sylvia. “It seemed overwhelming at first, but this quickly changed as they lived in our home.”
Through Kidsave events, the family went to museums, horseback riding, beach outings, Build-A-Bear, and more. “The activities provided structure and camaraderie with other Kidsave families, and a lot of fun,” said Sylvia. “The Kidsave Volunteer Coordinator, Beth Kerling, was amazing! She was so helpful and supportive as she organized events and gave us advice as we learned how to navigate a new world with our girls.”
The events didn’t just provide support for the adults but also gave the kids a sense of belonging. “Being able to see other Kidsave kids was great because we were able to share our family with other kids and it was a nice way to be able to make friends and connect through a common language while also spending alone time with the family just the five of us, “said Zarina.
The girls always knew they were going to return to Russia but didn’t know if they were ever going to see Sylvia and Peter again. “Going back was hard because we didn’t have anything of ours. We had our own clothes and toys but returned with nothing.” Wanting to continue the connection, the girls asked Sylvia and Peter to visit them in Russia for Christmas. And on Christmas day, their wish to be reunited came true.
Dressed in princess-like dresses, the girls saw Sylvia and Peter drive up to the orphanage. All the kids excitedly screamed, “The Americans are here! The Americans are here!” Running to the window, the girls balled up in tears. From that point on, the girls knew they would all be a family again.
Soon after they were adopted and could finally be together forever. It was a lifechanging moment “just knowing that this is our house, this is our family.” said Zarina. “I remember, every night before bed, we would count our toys and our clothes. We were so overwhelmed coming to terms that all these things were for us. It’s such a big adjustment to go from having nothing, everything is shared, and you don’t own anything. Now you have a Mom and Dad, and you’re with your sisters. Sometimes I think back on my life, and I think wow, that’s my story!” said Zarina “It’s like being in a dream,” recalls Malika.
Now, 14 years on Madina, 23, has graduated college with a degree in Biochemistry and is currently pursuing a teaching degree. Zarina, now 21, is beginning senior year in college majoring in business marketing. Zarina and Madina both volunteer at Saint Joseph Academy in New York. Zarina also teaches the middle school decathlon team there. Malika, now 27, has a degree in Biochemistry. Currently, Malika teaches 2nd grade at Saint Joseph Academy through distance learning. “We have loved watching our girls grow up and blossom,” says Sylvia, “They have become leaders in their school and church community. We have shared so many adventures and experiences.”
Finding a forever family has changed the lives of the Berens family. “Having people you can rely on, a Mom and Dad we can go to, and trust, knowing they will always be our biggest fans and supporters, knowing they will never leave us, is all such a huge blessing,” says Malika. “A family guides you and loves you” says Madina. “We are blessed with opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in the orphanage.”
“Our parents have always made sure to keep us safe, and steered us away from making mistakes,” Malika remarks. “We are who we are today because of our parents. They showed us what a family is, how it feels to be loved, and taken care of.”
“Adopting through Kidsave was a dream come true for our family,” said Sylvia. “We often say this was meant to be. Our life is truly blessed because of our girls. The hosting process and the adoption guidance provided by Kidsave eliminated our adoption anxiety and fears. Kidsave was the perfect way for us to meet our girls and become a Family.”