Glimpses of the Reality
Another family who is adopting from Katerina’s orphanage sent us lots and lots of internet links about this specific orphanage last week. Since we’re not yet permitted to publicly post the name of her town, I’m just going to list for you the information we received, gathered from many different websites. They were all accounts written by people who had personally been there for humanitarian work of one kind or another.
Before this past week, nearly all the information we had was about general conditions in average Eastern European orphanages. We knew of course that some are better and some worse, but we weren’t sure exactly what that meant for our girl in the place she has lived from the time she was several days old. So it has been sobering to read so many eyewitness reports about the kind of care Katerina has been receiving for so many years.
Her “home” is a huge, crumbling concrete building, one of the largest orphanages in Bulgaria. It houses about 260 children, many of whom have medical special needs, and 50 to 80 of whom are very disabled. The children in the worst condition, including Katerina, are on the top floor. Many visitors to the orphanage never go to the top floor, including parents who are adopting healthy children, or charities who are there to drop off supplies or gifts. If some visitors do visit the top floor, they rarely take pictures of the most distressing cases.
Working with these children has been described in one volunteer recruitment page as “…draining, both emotionally and physically. You could be exposed to children with serious psychological and physical disabilities. You will quickly become aware of the low level of care they receive and the effect this can have on them. Working with people growing up in government care institutions can be particularly hard. People who grow up in institutions generally can’t regulate their emotions very well. There’s no doubt that our work has very positive effects on the people we support, but we cannot expect overnight miracles from seriously traumatised children. The more challenging projects however, can be the most rewarding as you will see amazing differences even in the short time you are there.”
The orphanage is staffed by a little over 20 people, more than half of whom go home at 3 pm. Volunteers have reported that it is difficult to get hold of a caregiver during the latter part of the day. Yes, that means for a large portion of each day, there are about 10 caregivers for about 260 very needy children in this orphanage. As you keep reading, you will readily see that many of the other problems are caused or exacerbated by this severe shortage of staff.
Insufficient food is available, both in quantity and quality. Staff must sometimes water down the formula in order to make it stretch around to all the children. Malnutrition is rampant. The children are always hungry long before the next mealtime, and remain unsatisfied when their meal is over. The children are routinely fed in their beds, and all the food is puree or liquid, no matter what the child’s age. If they are able to drink from a cup, the caregiver pours two cups (not US measuring cups) of puree down each child’s throat, each cup given in sixty seconds’ time. Then the caregiver moves on to the next child. If the child is unable to drink from a cup, he or she is fed one bottle made of a rubber teat stretched over the top of a glass beer bottle. The hole in the teat is too large, enabling the contents of the bottle to flow very quickly into the child, thereby saving feeding time. This often causes choking as well.
They use the very cheapest diapers, which cause the child to feel wet very quickly. Each child is only changed once or twice a day. They are more likely to get changed a second time by the granny if they have a granny, and if it is her day to come. They often get raw from diaper rash, due to lying for many hours in wet and soiled diapers. The stench in the children’s rooms is nauseating even in the winter months; in the summertime, it can be unbearable in the stifling heat.
Very little to no interaction happens between caregiver and child during a feeding or diaper change, and the task is accomplished as quickly as possible. The children stay in their beds unattended most of the time. Sometimes a child or two is placed in a playroom, but since they have not been taught how to play or interact, they sit alone, rocking back and forth. The wards are eerily quiet except for the smallest newborns, who haven’t yet learned that it is useless to cry for help.
Signs of Hope
The message that comes through loud and clear, though, is that despite all these hopeless-sounding facts, there certainly is hope! Over the past few years, several heartening changes have slowly been made.
We learned that nearly all the hopeful and positive changes that have come to Katie’s orphanage came after 2007. That year, the word got out about how bad the situation was for Bulgarian children in government-run institutions, publicized by the [graphic–take warning!] documentary, The Abandoned Children of Bulgaria.
Just for reference, Katerina turned five years old near the beginning of 2007.
The stated long-term goal of her government is to move the institutionalized children to better care situations, through adoptions, foster homes, and small homes of six to eight children each, and to close down the large institutions by 2025. Not much has yet been done toward this end, though, and many, many hearts and minds in Bulgaria will need to change toward children as well as toward people with disabilities.
Among the other links we received were a few videos showing pictures and footage from Katie’s orphanage. One was taken last summer, and another just a couple of months ago, in late spring.
As far as we’ve been able to figure out from all the information we now have, this group that made these videos were instrumental in two things: making the granny program available to the most disabled children at Katie’s orphanage, as well as to the less affected children, and also having good music piped into the rooms, or wards, where the children with the most severe physical and mental disabilities are kept. Both these ideas were suggested to the director and approved by April of 2010. The music project was carried out at some point after June of 2010.
The grannies, or babas, as they are called in Bulgaria, are village women who receive some training to hold and care for and interact with the children. Each one is paired with two children for the long term. They are paid $2 an hour, and spend four hours each day, Monday through Friday, at the orphanage–first two hours with one child, and then two hours with the other. If there is a holiday, the babas have the day off and do not visit the children.
The group of ladies who appealed for these two changes, and who have continued to raise money to provide more babas, first visited to check on the children’s progress in August, a year ago. At that point, only forty of the children had a baba, which means there were twenty babas working. So these forty children were able to be out of their beds, being held and cared for by a baba, for ten hours a week.
Then in the video that was just posted near the end of June, this same group of ladies, the ones who began the “Give a Granny” program for the most disabled children, visited the orphanage again. They wanted to again check on the progress of the disabled children who had received babas. And at that time, from what we could gather, some new babas were beginning their jobs.
This video deserves its own post! So it shall get one! But I will tell you this! I have had to exercise extreme self-discipline concerning this video, and you will soon learn why!
We won’t truly grasp the reality until we get to Katerina’s orphanage. But no matter what we find out, we can be full of hope, because our hope for the rest of the children is not in man, our hope is in the mercy of GOD.