There are some children, however, who even
with greatest desire to study can’t do it really well.
These children have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); their symptoms
include mental disabilities and short attention spans. It’s
hard to tell by just looking at those children that they have
FAS; they are otherwise perfectly normal people; but for some
of them, the doors of universities are closed forever. They
don’t have a luxury of choice; even if they want to,
some of them just can’t study.
One of them…
As a child he had no father. Jenya Davidson is a 17-year-old
boy, who was adopted 13 years ago, from Russia. Now he seems
like an ordinary teenager, someone you could meet everyday on
the streets of Honolulu. He doesn’t remember life in the
orphanage; he doesn’t remember much of anything about growing
Jenya was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a typical disease
for children in Russian orphanages. Since there are few public
health and educational programs for pregnant women in Russia,
young mothers don’t know about the damaging effect of alcohol
consumption during pregnancy. As a result they frequently give
birth to children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Jenya is a victim
of this disease. Looking like a normal boy, he nonetheless has
all indicators for it: thin upper lip, short height, an extra
toe–yes, he had a sixth toe on his left foot when he was
three: it has been removed, and also poor memory. All are indicators
that he is a victim of FAS.
“ You can love any child”
Thirteen years ago an American woman decided it was time for
her to have a child. She didn’t need to adopt; she did
it believing that she could love any child, no matter whether
this child has her blood or not.
Gigi Davidson picked Jenya from the picture. “He had this
impish look on his face,” Davidson said. After a few seconds
of silence she smiled, “he’s just like this picture.”
During the first years, Davidson didn’t even know that
her son had FAS. “He was very huggable child,” Davidson
said. “He could turn on the charm from the beginning.” He
wore his cowboy boots and hat to Epiphany Elementary School everyday,
an adorable boy who was loved by everyone.
Soon after the children started to learn how to read, however,
it became clear that Jenya had special needs. He was forced to
change schools. Overall he attended nine schools in 10 years.
I hated school. Everyone hated it. I wasn’t an exception,” Jenya
But everyone didn’t have the same disease he has,” his
mother explained. Those children didn’t want to study because
they thought there were better things for them to do; he could
study because FAS wasn’t preventing him from even putting
words on the paper, Davidson said.
It wasn’t Jenya, however, who had the hardest time admitting
that. His mom was the one who had to accept it first. Jenya doesn’t
even remember himself until he turned 13.
Trouble is the first word he uses to describe this period of
his life. Trouble with his mom, trouble with his friends, trouble
with drugs, trouble with the school. Last summer he dropped out
of Roosevelt, his ninth and last try to do well at school, and
went to Hawaiian Youth Challenge, the five-month alternative
high school program for troubled children.
It was the last resort,” his mother said.
At that point military [service] sounded like a good option for
him,” said Oleg Valiev, Jenya’s best friend. “Military
recruiting personnel have done a great job of persuading some
teenagers who struggle with school to join the army or the reserve,” he
Valiev, an HPU alumnus, initially had a hard time understanding
Jenya’s difficulties with school; after spending more time
with Jenya, however, Valiev was able to see the struggle and
accept the reality of Jenya’s condition.
Starting a new life
Jenya returned home two months ago. Out of 152 students, only
96 were able to graduate from Hawai‘i Youth Challenge,
and Jenya was one of them.
Jenya is starting to discovering himself. He found a job as a
group leader in an after-school program at a YMCA. “I love
my job. Spending time with the children is my favorite thing
to do,” Jenya said.
In a couple of years he sees himself as a police officer working
for a Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT), program
that keeps Hawaiian children off the streets, which also means,
as Jenya knows more than anybody else, out of trouble.
FAS didn’t destroy Jenya’s future. He might not be
able to graduate from HPU or any other university, but he now
knows who he is, and he still remembers where he came from and
appreciates every day this life gives him.
I think about it every night. Without my mom adopting me, I would
definitely have ended up on the streets,” Jenya said.
Facts about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a set of birth defects
triggered by alcohol use during pregnancy.
Although a link had
long been suspected, FAS wasn’t formally
recognized until 1973.
Four main types of birth defects are linked to drinking,
· Mental retardation: Alcohol is the leading cause of mental
retardation in the United States today.
· Impaired Growth: Babies born to drinking mothers are physically
smaller than the babies of nondrinkers. Most never “catch
up” as they grow older.
· Facial malformations: FAS babies often have a smaller-than-normal
head size, misshapen eyes, and a flattened nose and
· Organ defects: Alcohol can disrupt organ formation and growth,
causing defects in the heart, kidneys, muscles, joints,
and sex organs.
FAS symptoms occur most often in children born to women
who average five or more drinks a day, but even a
drink or two
several times a week can cause problems. Alcohol,
when consumed by a pregnant woman, stays in a baby’s
body longer and in higher (and more harmful) concentrations.
The full set of FAS defects is seen most often in the children
of mothers who report heavy drinking throughout their pregnancy.
In fact, research shows that 45 percent of such women bear
It’s important to know that there simply isn’t
a “safe” level of alcohol use during pregnancy.
That’s why all alcohol containers sold in the
United States and Canada today carry explicit messages
against any use during pregnancy.