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Christian tries to bring hope to desperate youth.

MOSCOW -- A year ago John David Varoli was content teaching English at the Czech Technical University in Prague. The 1990 Cornell University graduate held a degree in American diplomatic history and Russian studies and had already had a well-paying public relations post at SWIFT, an international financial telecommunications firm in Brussels.

But that was before he saw a British television documentary on Moscow's orphanages last May. So moved was Varoli at the sight of Russia's parentless children that he immediately quit his teaching post and moved to Moscow, determined to see for himself life in the country he had read so much about.

Varoli never made it to the orphanages. In fact, he barely made it out of the railway station before he was struck by the number of homeless and begging children, often accompanied by begging women with infants.

With his classroom Russian, Varoli asked the youngsters about their homes, parents and schools and soon learned that they had none of these. Many whom he met in or near the station were the offspring of alcoholic parents. Most had been abused and many abandoned by their parents. Some nights their fathers would come to the station and take what little their children had begged that day.

Most of the children lived on one meal a day. Most were dirty despite their mothers' efforts to get them to wash in the station's lavatories. All suffered body lice, many had tuberculosis.

Girls as young as 8 solicited customers for their sisters, who had become prostitutes in early adolescence in order to buy food. Many boys, Varoli learned, had tried crime or joined gangs. Others told of siblings who had been kidnapped or sold into slavery.

Varoli, 25, decided he could not view this situation like some tourist or visiting sociologist and then return to a job in Europe or to his family's comfortable home in Emerson, N.J. "I'm a Christian and Christians have a duty to care for those who are down and out," he said.

He lists as models Mother Teresa and Edmond Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers Order at his New Jersey high school, Bergen Catholic. "I feel called to this by my faith," Varoli said.

While he has not come to Moscow to convert anyone, he does enjoy reading The Children's Bible to the youngsters and praying with them. "I hope that there may still be time to mold the small children in a proper Christian way," he said. Among the teenagers, "the scars are already deep and the behavior very deviant."

Since he arrived here Varoli reckons he has helped some 40 youngsters -- a handful of Moscow's estimated 20,000-30,000 street kids. In 10 months he has moved seven times, usually from one one-room flat to another, cramped with youths he has found living on benches or the floor at Paveletsky Station.

Before he left Moscow for five weeks last November to raise funds in the United States and Canada for the children, Varoli had three mothers and their seven offspring, ages 4 to 15, living with him. "If I had a choice between a million dollars and a good helper, I'd choose the helper," he said. "It's so hard to leave these children."

Varoli has visited different children's foundations and charities in the city, only to discover that there is much corruption, no programs for the homeless and no foster care system. Adoption is virtually impossible in Russia because of the bureaucracy, he added.

"These types of orphans are dispensable. They are seen as genetically inferior, categorized as 'subhuman' and treated like animals," he said. Some orphans are descendants of World War II orphans.

Varoli lives off the savings he acquired from his Belgian job. Until recently, he has managed on $30 per month. But British, Swedish and U.S. television crews have reported on his work, giving him a certain notoriety that has in turn caused prospective landlords to raise his rent.

Varoli's dream is to find housing for as many homeless moms and children as possible and to start a "top notch" school for them in Paveletsky Station or in an Orthodox church nearby. To aid his dream he helped to set up a nonprofit foundation, Off the Streets, when he was home last year. Already he has hired a teacher who is instructing some of the children a few hours each week.

Although all the street children are illiterate, they are quickly learning to read and write. "Their teacher finds them 'incredible,'" Varoli said. "They really want to learn."

While it is not unusual for the young to be idealistic, adventuresome and full of wanderlust, Varoli's father, John, an aerospace engineer, said he had had doubts about his son's life in Moscow. But "when I saw the CNN piece, I realized I had this kid all wrong. I now back him all the way."

Son John believes that President Boris Yeltsin, whom he has yet to meet, supports him too. "The Yeltsin government is thankful for people like me," he said. Now Varoli wants to find "the right people" to get things done. It may take a while, but "I'll stay until these kids are taken care of," he said.
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Title Annotation:Moscow, Russia; John Varoli
Author:Lefevere, Patricia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jun 18, 1993
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