[Disclaimer: The conditions in the Pleven orphanage are the exception in Bulgaria. The orphanages usually do their best to provide for the children and they are not like the one in Pleven. The care is good compared to other Eastern European countries, as far as care in an orphanage can be good. Not only do the Bulgarian governmental institutions not defend the personnel at the Pleven orphanage, but they are taking steps to change things. The following post, and this disclaimer, has been approved by our attorney.]
There have been three major turning-points in the past two years of our family’s journey…
Halfway through my pregnancy with Verity, the news of her Down syndrome began to open our eyes to the world of special needs.
That was the first turning point.
Four months after Verity was born, our hearts broke when we learned what was happening to thousands of Eastern European children with special needs. Vulnerable children just like Verity.
Second turning point.
Then one year ago this week…
We had officially committed to adopt Katerina just a few weeks earlier. We knew that she was in a poor orphanage, and wanted to send help.
God set up the perfect contact for us, a Bulgarian Christian missionary named Sasha Bliss.
She was allowed up to Katie’s floor, the top floor.
Yes, Sasha sent photos and videos of Katie, but unexpectedly, that’s not what made my heart squeeze in pain and cry out to the Lord.
Our tiny Katerina’s photos may as well have been stamped with the words “SAFE,” and “SAVED.” She had a family who loved her and would come for her.
But the other children…
All those small, lonely faces…nobody was coming to take them home.
O Lord…please…all these little people…please…
I called Stephanie Carpenter and could hardly choke the words out. ”The other children! How will I ever be able to turn and walk away from the other children?”
That was the third turning point.
That was the day our family began to pray in earnest, “Please show us a way to help the other children in Katerina’s orphanage!”
A fire was lit in my heart for the rest of the children with special needs, the children that Bulgarians would never adopt.
You may know some of what was discovered when our attorney and I reached the orphanage last August, and were taken to the top floor.
After that trip, and the hope that was ignited for all the other children there who had special needs, the fire in my heart burned hotter.
You may know some of what happened at the orphanage between my first trip in August and our second trip in November.
But I could not tell you the whole story, until now.
With our attorney’s permission, I’d like you to read excerpts from the story in her own words, as she recently reported it to many high governmental officials in Bulgaria.
“From the first second that we stepped our feet on the sixth floor, a long and tormenting journey began. Terrifying smell of musty air, rotting flesh, vomit, urine mixed with feces, filth, acid fumes, and who knows what else, hit us in the face. The sixth floor, also called “malformations”, is a hallway, to the left of which there are only windows (never opened!) and to the right of which are the so called “kitchenettes”, each of them having six to eight children stuffed in the small room, lying each in a separate small bed. The distance between the “cages” was literally as much as an adult could stand sideways. The sheets on which the children were lying were soaked with their urine and vomit.
The first thing the adoptive mom Susanna Musser did was to change Veronika’s diaper. The horror of what we saw was indescribable – the faint with hunger, emaciated skeleton of a nine year old child who was the size of a four to five month old baby; terrifying rash in the private parts.”
“A lot could be written about the five days spent in the baby house in Pleven.”
“But for the purposes of compact presentation, I will note that the children, regardless of their age, are fed with old beer bottles with a nipple with a huge opening; no one even tries to spoon-feed children who are three years old and older; the children are fed with liquid resembling in look, smell and taste fried flour mixed with water; the children are fed in lying position, on their backs, with the nipple thrust in their mouths and the liquid starts flowing with the speed reminding one of the speed of light.”
“The diapers are changed once or twice in twenty-four hours; the children spend all of their time lying in their cages and no one tries to move them, to play with them, to communicate with them, to teach them simple, age-appropriate skills and knowledge…
The list can go on.
After my first collision with the reality at Pleven on August 15, 2011, it became my mission, nightmare and way of life.
You may be asking yourselves what I have been doing and how I have been keeping quiet half a year already…why don’t I name the culprits. I will give you one name – [the former director]. But she is not alone. Her team is with her because the horror triumphing in this institution cannot be one woman’s doing.
During my first visit to Pleven I sent a signal to the Bulgaria Helsinki Committee. Unfortunately, the procedure for initiating a sudden check-up of the institution was slow and trying. At the end, it finished with the disciplinary firing of the director at the end of last year.
The investigation of Pleven, initiated by the Bulgaria Helsinki Committee, finished with a long report where endless shocking facts were described. Fifteen children died there in the year 2011. Even while I was typing this presentation, information reached me that one more child from Pleven has died. She was almost thirteen years old. Her diagnoses were not terminal. I do not doubt that, again, the necessary medical and human care had not been provided to this child.”
From the day we picked up Katie, the fire in my heart for the children with special needs she had left behind her burned all the hotter. Now I was living with a daily reminder of their need. Now we knew what a tremendous difference family and love and food and care could make for the others!
From the day we first heard the fabulous news that the former director had been fired, I was overjoyed that perhaps now some roadblocks would be removed, and the rest of the children with special needs could be listed for adoption! This was the roadblock we’d been praying about for months! Now there was hope!
At the same time, there was cause for serious concern for the other very malnourished children in Pleven. They were so close to receiving the care they needed! However, what if well-meaning but ignorant people began giving them more nutrition than their bodies could handle, throwing them into fatal re-feeding syndrome?
Beseeching emails were sent to Dr. Lilova. Dr. Lilova had seen Katie and would know I was not a random spamming crackpot, talking about nonsensical concepts such as teenagers the size of babies and toddlers. She responded kindly by saying that a team from the hospital would arrange a visit with the orphanage.
But did you wonder…
Why did our attorney need to write a report to many high governmental officials in Bulgaria now?
Because in the middle of January, some unspeakably shocking news came to us.
The director was still in Pleven.
She had never left.
Over the next weeks, we Pleven moms slowly pieced together what had happened.
“This person is not at all done defending her bastion. Even now she is employed at Pleven as Director of Human Resources. Her daughter is the head social worker of the whole institution. None of the personnel, directly responsible for the condition of the children, has been fired or replaced. And the director has stated that she is going to defend her rights in court and would plead for revocation of the (according to her, unlawful) disciplinary firing.“
We were back to secrecy and silence.
But underneath the surface, God continued to work.
Several Pleven adoptive parents took their first trip to see their children. None of them had children on the top floor. But even on the floors below, the atmosphere was entirely different than when our attorney and I had been there last August. Back then, we rarely saw a caregiver. It seemed as if we could walk out unnoticed with armfuls of children if we wanted to. Six months later, the atmosphere was tense and the parents were under constant surveillance.
While several parents were still there in Pleven, we received word from an unlikely source that Liliana, up on the top floor, was in dangerously poor condition. We heard that she was unresponsive, had lost the will to live, and was refusing to eat or drink.
Again emails flew to Dr. Lilova. Again Sasha Bliss was an invaluable help, this time by making direct telephone calls. ”We have heard such-and-such a report. We need your help. But be warned, because we have learned that the former director is still in power.”
Dr. Lilova arranged the hospitalization of three children with the help of the MOJ, the Child Protection Agency, and our attorney. The orphanage resisted this plan in various low and shabby ways, including an attempt to blackmail our attorney into dropping the whole idea. As you know they were not successful! The children spent more than two weeks in Tokuda Hospital, and each of them was stabilized and gained weight.
Their hospital stay would have a far-reaching effect on more than just their physical lives, however. As they were being released, one of the orphanage caregivers who accompanied them told Sasha Bliss that she would do all in her power to take better care of the children.
It was also inevitable that the children’s medical treatment by the world-class professionals at the Tokuda Hospital would force the orphanage situation to come to a head.
Again, our attorney~
“Prof. Lilova’s initiative brought a time-bomb to explosion. Since Susanna’s blog is public, I took the liberty to provide the MOJ with its link. EVERYONE at the MOJ was shocked with and appalled at what they saw and read. They took the initiative themselves to [decide to] totally remove the former director from the orphanage, to change the personnel, to bring CHANGE to this terror. They don’t have the power to do it all themselves as they have no direct authority over orphanages. It is the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the CPA who could bring to fruition the efforts of so many to bring change to the 240 children in Pleven.
So today, the MOJ called me and asked me if I would submit a document with them so that they can start the process with MOH and CPA. They also said they’d understand if I felt uncomfortable or afraid. I didn’t think twice. I am fed up with all this evil.”
All this while, more disturbing information continued to trickle in, helping to explain the poor condition of the children.
Donated toys are put into a bag and henceforth ignored in a toy closet.
The staff all know the routine to impress visitors. An insider described this routine as “making one sick.”
The donated therapy room is hardly used, but it benefited the director–as leverage to get herself a higher pension.
Sometimes the children aren’t fed on Sundays, when there is a skeleton staff.
The children’s diapers aren’t always changed every day.
One child has been kept in isolation for two years for an upper respiratory infection.
The caregivers unashamedly lift the children from the beds and carry them across the room by one arm.
They are deliberately underfeeding the children to keep them small and weak, so that they don’t need much food or attention, and can’t be transferred (along with their government stipend) to the next institution.
One way or another, more photos of other Pleven children manage to make their way out of the orphanage to the Pleven moms’ private yahoo group.
With every new little face, the fire inside me grows hotter.
I hear from families who are waiting to commit to adopt small ones from Pleven as they are made available.
The fire leaps up still hotter.
How, how can we get the message through to the right people so they will list the children for adoption?
This is the dilemma that is burning a hole in my heart.
On the one side, the families who are ready to commit to the children!
On the other side, the officials who need to list the children with the MOJ!
Our attorney has explained that they have been trying for years to get the social services to list all the kids in all the orphanages, to no avail. It looks so hopeless!
I am helpless to do anything but pray to the only One with the power to make it happen! To Him, there is no dilemma!
During the day, every day, I scheme and pray for a way, some way, to get the message through to the right people. If they thought about the children at all, they would think the children are unadoptable! They have no idea that there are families lining up in the United States to snatch them up as they become available! How can we let them know this? How can we tell them that they must give every single child with special needs in the Pleven baby house a chance at a family? They must list the children!
During the night, I dream that I am writing eloquent appeals to officials, begging them to register the children for adoption.
I dream that I am carrying the children one by one from their beds out to groups of waiting parents, pleading with them, “What about this one? Please, see his beauty, see her worth!”
I dream that I am walking through the orphanage at night, leaning down to kiss each one as he sleeps, as she sleeps, too unconscious to object.
I dream that I gaze into their faces, nuzzle their temples, smell their hair, feel the slight weight of their bodies in my arms. As if they are my own little ones.
For many weeks, I have been dreaming of the Pleven children every night.
For many weeks, I have been crying out to the Lord for them every day.
Now you need to know that the battle lines have been drawn.
Things are beginning to happen quickly.
This week, from Monday to Friday, two of my friends are visiting their five children in Pleven for the first time. Jenny is visiting Liliana, Sophia and Butler, and Shelly is visiting Tommy and Steven. Click on those links to follow their visits–both ladies are blogging. Children many of you have prayed for, who were lost and now are found!
This week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the team from the Tokuda Hospital will be at Pleven.
Next week, a friend of mine, with two other women, will make a visit to Bulgaria. You can help these ladies to help many Bulgarian orphans with special needs. During her visit, my friend will be having a vitally important meeting!
For the first time, it looks like there is a way for the message to get through to the right people.
In addition to this, the closer we get to the showdown, the more intensely the people involved are experiencing spiritual attack. The enemy seems to be doing his best to get people to give up the fight.
Praying friends, you have not been slackers. You have soldiered on beside us for so many months! You have not given in to apathy, cynicism, doubt, or discouragement. You have opened your hearts to the children, given financially, helped to spread the word, and prayed! This week, my friend Julia is gearing up for a huge giveaway to help many of the families who are adopting from Pleven.
It is obvious that this situation is beyond our ability to control. But our true and living God has it well in hand! We can have boundless and endless hope in Him!
I am coming to plead with you to cover the next two weeks in fervent, concentrated prayer.
Please pray that God would finally break down the stubborn walls remaining around the Pleven children! Pray this as if you were one of the children who has been lying in an orphanage cage for years, kept there by the self-interest of those who are being paid to take care of you!
Please pray that the enemy would have no power to harm our attorney, the children, their adoptive parents, my friend who will be meeting with key people, and anyone else who is fighting for the lives of the children!
One full year after God first broke our hearts for the rest of the children…
…the battle lines are drawn.
O Lord, may this be the final battle for the children’s lives, and may you be magnified in your victory!
At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.
“…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” ~Jesus