Saturday, March 1, 2008

"Take Me Home"

Here are billboards from an advertising campaign that I've seen in Moscow since October. "Take Me Home," they say. Since in America most people know people who were adopted or who have adopted, my "American" reaction to the sign was positive. "Great," I thought. "Anything that can help to put a more positive spin on adoption among Russians would be helpful."

Russians don't tend to adopt. There's a real stigma about caring for a child that isn't your "real" child, and a real wariness of "tainted" kids. You just don't encounter children with handicaps in everyday life; kids with disabilities or difficulties tend to be abandoned at birth and hidden away in orphanages. Parents whose biological children have difficulties find it hard enough to raise them; you don't find parents willing to risk adopting a baby who could end up having fetal alcohol syndrome or other problems.

That's why Russian orphanages are spilling over with children, and why it's a travesty that the government makes it so hard for eager and loving foreign parents to adopt these kids.

In any case, back to the billboard. My reaction to those pleading eyes was not the reaction had by most Russians I've asked. Their overwhelming response was, "Creepy!" The billboard glows white at night and the eyes do seem detached--but "creepy"?? The campaign seems to have backfired (according to my albeit flawed poll), instead reinforcing the "otherness" of orphans and the desire to separate oneself from them.

The billboard also says, "50% of homeless children have run away from unfortunate families." Again, this information doesn't do anything to inspire adoption among the Russians I asked. If the children ran away from families with problems, then the kids are likely troubled--and why risk adding such a struggling child to one's family?

At the exact same time that this "adoption campaign" was unveiled, posters sprouted up all over Moscow extolling families with multiple children--there's a picture of mom with her triplets (who, incidentally, is actually one child reproduced in Photoshop--they couldn't find a pretty mom of multiples and it was cheaper this way--I read that somewhere and now I can't remember the source) in most metro stations. There are also all kinds advertisements for services for pregnant women and families with small children. The overwhelming message is, "Procreate! We'll help with vitamins and cheaper diapers!" Last month everyone in Moscow received a thick booklet in the mail that was filled with incentives to have children--information about early childhood programs, prenatal care, etc.

Yes, the birth rate has plunged in Russia and it is of national concern. One region of the country, Ulanovsk, went as far as to give everyone the day off from work on September 12th--so that they can stay home and procreate, aiming for a big batch of babies born around "Victory Day" in May--the main national holiday. People whose babies are actually born on the holiday receive all kinds of prizes.

I wish that this focus on families, however, did a better job of embracing children in general--and not only those that the leaders would like parents to biologically produce.


Christine said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. You have all of the inside info living in Russia. It is sad how they view adoption. Very sad.

THose eyse are far from creepy.

Annie said...

I was really interested in the many ways in which the government seems to be promoting adoption. It is sad how the Russians vew adoption, but they are not alone. I've had some very odd comments from a few people here in the USA. I also happened on a television program when I was in Moscow, focused on adopting older children and featuring a sweet little boy of about ten.

I wonder if Putin has any immigration promotions on? I am always daydreaming about moving there. Wouldn't he just love to have five back at once?

Tina in CT said...

I second what Christine wrote.

Katya said...

I'm with the Russians (& Christine and Tina)-- that photo IS creepy!

Anonymous said...

The photo is very creepy and disturbing. I wander what was the goal of such add.

Tina in CT said...

I agreed with the first part of Christine's comment but did not find the eyes creepy but very gut wrenching.

Rob said...

I noticed those billboards when we were in Moscow last month and had wondered what they were about. I found the "floating" eyes to be a little creepy too.

It is a bit bizarre that the birth rate has plunged to the point that the Russian officials are taking action, yet the orphanages and hospitals seem to be bulging at the seams.

I'm a little baffled by the stigma that you mentioned - but this is certainly not the first time I've heard of this. But for us, our little Russian couldn't have been any more a match for us if he were our biological child rather than adoptive. Matching Russian orphans with American parents is part of the magic of the agency directors and/or the MoE staff.

nates5bs said...

We were just in Russia last week visiting the little girl we are adopting. We saw this ad and wondered what it said. Thanks!

I found your blog because we hand-carried our new Moscow Starbucks mugs all the way home and in our driveway (in California) a family member dropped them--they are now in pieces. My husband was so bummed that I was doing an internet search to see if we could replace them without going all the way back (not sure if we'll have time on trip 2).

I am enjoying your blog. Your American insight into the Russian culture is very helpful. I'm sure you have answered this before so if you just direct me to the particular post that answers the big question, "How did you end up moving to Russia?" it would be great.


nates5bs said...

That would be so great if you were willing to bring some mugs over & send them to us. Let me see if we get a chance when we are back in Moscow at the end of the month, but at least now I have an option! Like I said, my husband was so bummed. He kept muttering, "In our driveway...did it have to happen in our driveway of all places? They made it all the way to our driveway..."

We stayed 2 extra days in Moscow & felt that the city was very intimidating (especially when you don't speak the language). It would be so great to meet someone who knows the city and is willing to speak English! We still can't figure out how the Russian people always knew to speak English to us without us ever muttering a word. Once we get travel dates maybe we can see if something works out.

I'll keep reading...

Teresa Kelleher said...

Hi ~ I tried to submit a comment, but I don't think it went through. Your info and comments about adoption in Russia and the billboards and ads encouraging adoption of Russians by Russians are very interesting. I would like to include that info in a current book project BY, FOR, and ABOUT adoptees. I hope you'll be in touch. Thanks. Teresa Kelleher Please be in touch. Thanks! Teresa