Friends, the newest Pleven update comes to you in the form of an email exchange.
An American couple is in the process of adopting a two-year-old boy with Down syndrome from Bulgaria. They travel to Bulgaria to meet this little boy for the first time, and to decide whether or not to accept the referral of this child and proceed to adopt him.
They had not been previously informed as to the story of the Pleven baby house where their little boy is waiting.
“Susanna, thank you for your blog and support of all who adopt. We just stumbled upon your blog last night–the night we got into Sofia. We ran into [another adoptive couple] in the hotel and we were both heading to Pleven today. Small and wonderful world.
I have not stopped crying today. No one said it would be this hard. The moment I met baby Angel we fell in love. He is going to be two this November. He is so little, like a six month old, [but] nothing compared to the tiny seventeen year old we saw out in the yard. Our little guy has a baba, which is a lovely blessing. After the first three hours we had a real challenge of faith. We realized that as well as Down syndrome he most likely is on the autistic spectrum as well. He resists eye contact, holds his body rigid. Whether this is institutional autism or something more long lasting, I don’t know. All I knew was that I was hit with a wrecking ball at this realization. It is not what I planned my future to look like. We wanted a child with Down syndrome because they are so warm and loving, and now knowing my child may struggle to connect with people his whole life it is really hard to deal with.
I bawled my eyes out, hurting so much that I would have to say no to the referral and send this little bambino back to Pleven. But we kept feeling a loving inspiring hand in our lives, saying we can do it. This is our baby, we will take him however he comes, eye contact or not.
We said yes! And let me tell you I am still bawling but now it is from joy not worry. You are so right, we (as adoptive parents) are so equipped to handle this, we are so fortunate, we have endless amounts of love for them compared to what they have now. It would be awful to say I’m not “called” to handle these double disabilities, who is? You become equipped. I have a lifetime to become an expert on Down syndrome and autism.
Thank you again for your faith. I have met two angels, Angel and you.
Did you ever see this room? Some Dutchman donated it (I think) but they keep it locked and open it just for family visits. I demanded that we play in there everyday. However it was 100 degrees in there.
By the way, my husband and I are filmmakers. We’d be happy to donate signed memorabilia for your next auction!!!!”
Jerusha, I couldn’t help bawling my own eyes out as I read your words and realized the full impact of what you said.
Oh my goodness, will we have a lot to talk about!
Katie is also affected by autism, so I understand exactly what you’re
talking about. We’ve seen enough (slow) improvement that we are guessing that at least some of it is institutional. She is just sweetness through and through, and her autism is like a nothing to us, as we love her until it hurts and can see she loves us back. Oh, your boy is a treasure!
There’s so much to say, and all I can think of right now is, “Thank
you!” for your offer of signed movie memorabilia for the auction! I’ll
forward you the email asking for donations, and I’ll soon need to put the
call out on our blog.
THANK YOU for writing and for sending a photo of your beautiful son! You are so right–with love, this child will be a true gift to you, and you to him. Bawling again…
Sending love and an invitation to talk anytime!
Just thought I’d drop a quick line about the state of Pleven orphanage right now.
The director is trying very hard. So hard today in our meeting she broke down and said she wants to quit everyday because it is so thankless and difficult, but let’s hope she stays.
Some of the things she has implemented: More diaper changes everyday. Five meals a day. Our baby ate yogurt for one, baby cereal, and vegetable soup. She is making her staff feed the babies with spoons now rather than choking them with those horrible bottles (with the cm wide opening). I heard many of the staff complain about how long it took to feed the children, but they will all get used to it.
There seemed to be a hustle of nurses and psychologists around.
The baba program seems to be a real life saver for the staff. However there are many babas that have weird notions on child development. Our baba for instance is dead set on teaching our tiny baby to walk. I kept telling her we want him to crawl for a long time and can you just sing to him and cuddle him instead. We’ll see.
We donated lots of baby food and diapers and there was a real accountability there. We asked what else we could do because we are throwing a fund raiser for the orphanage and we decided we would donate 11 air conditioning units to the building, this will make everyone more comfortable–babies, babas, and staff–it can only lead to a happier environment.
We also arranged for some local missionaries to volunteer service hours to the grounds and repair of the building. [The director] was delighted with the help and support. She is even allowing my husband to film in the rooms to document for our fundraiser what dire straits they’re in.
So there you have it. Baby steps and giant steps in a better direction. Thank you for helping bring the conditions to the awareness of many people.
Jerusha, THANK YOU for taking time to write this update, especially on the new director. I’m excited to hear what you are doing to help!!
Oh my goodness, difficult work, yes, but never thankless! That woman needs to know how many people appreciate her and what she’s doing! Does she speak English? Can you please find out her full name, and the address of the orphanage? We’ll collect thank you cards from blog readers and send a big box of them over to her. [See related note at the bottom of this post!]
I would love for her to continue to have a voice about what she needs most. Is there anything practical you know of that we could do from here? The previous director mentioned that the orphanage is not handicapped-accessible, and that it would cost too much to widen the back entrance. What can you find out while you’re there about a local carpenter doing that work and how much it would cost? I’d also love to see more than a handful of swings for 150-ish children.
Wish I could transport myself over there with all the other people who would love to volunteer to care for the children.
We’re eager to hear any more details about your fundraiser when they solidify, and see the video of the children (and I hope it will include the children)! Will it be put onto Youtube?
Thank you again, Jerusha, for writing. It’s better than gold to me to hear your update.
I’ll get her name (can’t remember) and address tomorrow and tell her there are many Americans who want to help. She was previously a doctor at the orphanage so knows each child’s medical history intimately. I believe she did put a back door ramp in. There is a new door that the babas use to get out to the yard with the strollers– the director told us it was the first thing she did.
We thought about putting in a better playground in the back as well. It needs it desperately. The director apologized for the lack of benches back there and was mortified that we had to sit on the ground (ha, I would have sat on the ground anyway). She said she had bought some things at one time and they were stolen.
Yesterday when we offered to put in air conditioning units she told us that would be great and if WE could order them. She can’t accept the money because then it’s a world of red tape and the money may never leave the ministry of health (for example, they can decide that the orphanage does not need air conditioning). So I simply told her to call a service man to come out and give us a bid. She couldn’t believe that we were serious, and fifteen minutes later he was there.
So today when I go in I’ll mention the backyard and see if we can’t get someone in to bid something—also maybe she and I can draw up a crude design. The best way to pay for something like this is to go through a third party. We will wire money to [non-profit organization] next week and they will then pay for the air conditioning units. Hopefully that all works. But I’ll keep you apprised of the process so we can then set something up for a bigger play yard.
When we were thinking about the back we were trying to figure out a comfortable ground cover for the kids to be on??? Give it a thought. Maybe it is just those rubber mats (like in the front) with their large green rug on top for the little ones to roll on. The babas all like it there because of the tall trees and it’s a little breezier. It is where they bring the little guys to roll around and crawl–so whatever gets decided back there should have space for the babies.
I’ll definitely send pictures and post a video. [The director] doesn’t want us to take pictures of the children’s faces though.
There is a particular child that pulls at our heart. His name is *****, and so beautiful. He was born with all his organs on the wrong side of his body, missing femurs, has tiny little malformed legs, super powerful arms though. But the amazing thing is, he is brilliant. Literally trapped both in Pleven and in his body. He was cracking up at my husband’s jokes.
At this juncture, Jerusha emailed me a video her husband had taken.
I watched this video with great elation, and replied to Jerusha’s email–
Jerusha, you were holding Kolina on your lap! This is the child Linda
Duncan, a friend of mine, is adopting after seeing her in this post: He Can and He Is
Here’s an entry from Linda’s blog: Pleven, Day Two
Could you please email her this video? She went to visit Kolina for the
first time last month, and would LOVE to see this video and hear anything you have to tell her about Kolina!
Thank you for doing this, Jerusha!
You can view this video on the July 27th, 2012 blog entry on Linda Duncan’s blog, Gather My Children.
Replying to Jerusha’s previous email–
This open door is just amazing, Jerusha. My mind is racing at the possibilities. So many people have been longing for more ways to help.
Watching the video and seeing the hip abduction in your little guy revives my wish to provide enough Hip Helpers or a similar knock-off (people can easily make them out of gym shorts by sewing the inseams together) for every child in Pleven who needs them to have a couple. No child will progress well toward independent mobility with excessive hip abduction going on. They make an amazing difference to Katie. As long as they aren’t way too huge or way too small, a variation in size would not hurt a thing.
I forgot to tell you Kolina is 9 1/2 years old now.
I’ll think about the ground cover. Level, firm, and smooth is best for babies learning to be mobile.
Can’t wait to see the little guy you’re describing! Can’t wait!
It’s hard to put into words how much I wish I was there where you are. I also can’t describe what it means to me to hear your descriptions and see the video.
Sorry I fell off the planet there…that is what that horrible transcontinental flight will do to you.
I will…get the name and address of the director from my social worker. She wrote it down and we forgot to get it from her before we left. No, the director doesn’t speak English. She was so sweet and grateful and tearful when we left. We are donating money to them this week so hopefully that transaction of monies between adoption agencies goes smoothly.
We are in the middle of moving house and I am slightly homeless for the next weekend. I’ll get to sending you over some of the videos when we get a chance to put them on our computer.
Thanks for your support while we were there.
I’m sorry about my lack of Internet and inability to send other photos and videos, this is what I have on my phone…
Still no word from my social worker in Sofia. She was also going to assess the situation and see where a donation of $10,000 will be best used. She questions whether air conditiong units are the best bet because who knows if they can afford to run them. So we may put it towards backyard equipment.
Friends, would you please encourage the new director of the Pleven baby house by writing her a thank you note:
Dr. Dessisslava Georgieva
And mailing it to our address, which you can get by emailing me at email@example.com.
Your note doesn’t need to be long or flowery–just a simple thank you for her willingness to take on this massive task.
It’s okay that you don’t know Bulgarian. We don’t, either! I’ll work on finding someone willing to translate for us.
If you’re willing to do this small thing, thank you so much! Let’s show this dear woman some concrete proof of how much appreciation and moral support she has!