Providence in Pleven

August 10th, 2012


Friends, the newest Pleven update comes to you in the form of an email exchange.

The background–

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.

Much love,

Jerusha Hess

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 Hess


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.

Take care!



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.

With thanks,


Hi Susanna,

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  

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!


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36 Responses to “Providence in Pleven”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Hello Susanna,
    Do you know the name of the new director?
    Thank you, Elizabeth

  2. Christine says:

    This is the best blog post I’ve read today!! So happy to hear good news!

    I also look forward to hearing about more ways to donate.

    Thank you!

  3. Becki says:

    God is so amazing! I AM SO THRILLED TO read not only Jerusha’s life saving journey but that there is progress and hope in P! 

  4. Susanna says:

    Yes, Elizabeth, I just now received that. I will also add it to the post. Thank you for asking!

    Dr. Dessisslava Georgieva

  5. Lydia says:

    Susanna,  Do you think it’s ok for those of us who are still in the adoption process to send a note? 

  6. Janet says:

    Susanna:  Please pass along my blog address to this family.  I also adopted a little one who was tiny from neglect and unexpectedly realized she was on the autism spectrum the moment I met her.  I too was challenged and shocked.  Nothing would change how much I love my little peanut!

  7. Susanna says:

    Lydia, I think it would be fine as long as you aren’t giving gifts, but to be safe, check with your social worker at your placing agency. :)

  8. Susanna says:

    Janet, thank you so much! I’ll do that!

  9. Kim says:

    NO WAY!!!!  What great news!!!!    God is doing such a great work there it blows my mind. Is that the Napoleon Dynamite Jerusha Hess?  Super cool.  :)  I love how God calls all types of people from all walks of life to this journey. 

  10. Susanna says:

    Kim, yes it is!

  11. Christina Schye says:

    Susanna, People can use google translate to do their notes!  Just pick Bulgarian to translate and print it! Viola!  I LOVE this post!!  I LOVE the heart of Jerusha and her husband!  I LOVE your heart!! Bless you all!

  12. Holly F. says:

    Amazing!!  Having the Hess family involved in Pleven’s story is wonderful!  They are a well known talented couple who have a great platform!  Do they have a blog also?

  13. Holly F. says:

    Forgot to add that Angel is precious and it was great to see Kolina in the video.

  14. Susanna says:

    Christina, I thought of that, but when it works in reverse, the results are often comical! But if someone wants to bring a smile to her face, that might be the best way to do it! :):):)

  15. Lisa Matthews says:

    Susanna… this post has made me cry.  I’m so thankful to this woman… and for the new director.  I will be writing a note to her as soon as possible.  Do you think that Google translate would help? 
    I would also like to ask if you would share my information and email address with Jerusha.  I have so much to share with her about the JOYS of having an autistic child.  So many people focus on the challenges (It’s like Down syndrome in that way), but they don’t see the beauty and love and wonder that is in children with autism. 
    Am I glad that Deacon has autism?  No.  I love him for who he is, though… autism and all!  He’s my sweet, wonderful boy.  
    Autism, like Down syndrome, isn’t a “dead end”… it isn’t a tragedy.  It’s just a different path through life!  Not better or worse… just different.      

  16. Beth says:

    That post was so beautiful! All three of you (including the new director are amazing women)!

  17. Katie says:

    I’m speechless.  (Although you know that has never stopped me before).  After 6 gut wrenching weeks, the past 18 hours have been some of the best of my life.  An amazing opportunity came through for me last night which will open the door for me to do so much more for orphans.  I woke up this morning to find the little Bulgarian boy who has my heart on the angel tree voting on Reece’s Rainbow.  Then… I read this.  Hallelujah for all the positive change being put into place!  It surely will be a long road – it is a long road even for the children who come home into families with a great understanding of child development – but any help for these precious babes is something to be celebrated!  The change in feeding, even, is huge enough to put a complete idiot grin on my face.  

    A thank you card for the new director will be in the mail to you by the end of the day today.  It’s funny, I was writing out thank you cards to family members who have helped us raise funds for our own custody matter just last week, and found that I had one extra card… very simple, just says ‘thank you’ with room to write.  It now has a home.  I will keep it simple to make translation easy (which you know is going to be hard for me because I never stop talking), but I want her to know truly how many people are being blessed by the changes she is implementing… and know that perhaps it is not thankless after all.  Bless you for sharing :) 

  18. Gloria says:

    Im an international frm Msia. I currently work with international students ministry in Ohio. i know of a bulgarian student who would be willing to translate. he studied and lived in the US. he came to know Christ here. he’s back in bulgaria but he will be happy to translate. there’s also another dear friend of mine who is bulgarian living in Chicago tht would be happy to help. Thank u Susanna. Jerusha you’re a blessing. Both your rewards will be great in heaven

  19. Katrina says:

    My ‘thank you’ is signed and sealed, now it just has to be delivered.  It’s nothing special but I hope she understands just how many people really do give THANKS for even the smallest changes.  I’ve never commented before but I read all about your beautiful family and have been committed for a short while now to helping in any way I can.  My sister and I joined RODS racing and hope to one day host a 5k for one of the RR orphans.  God bless all of you!

  20. Amy says:

    This does my heart SO MUCH good.  I can’t even describe the joy I’m feeling right now.  We probably won’t be travelling to Pleven until December for our first visit, but will gladly take some Hip Helpers with us if they’re still needed at that point!  

  21. Jennifer says:

    WE MET THIS FAMILY!  We knew instantly that this was them!  She is right about the 5 meals a day (I forgot this but they were doing it with my son too) And I never saw those bottles (even though I DID see children still being fed in cribs).

    Many of the babas take the children outside in the back because the front play area is so inadequate.  Right now they use a colorful rug it seems.

    We also made a large donation of diapers/wipes/baby food and were SHOCKED by how much paperwork we had to fill out.  It seems like it’s either a lot of paperwork or none at all.  (I kept our receipt to put in our son’s lifebook)

    I did talk to her about our daughter’s autism also…we were concerned after the first day we saw them because they did not seem to be aware of Pleven the way we were.  We prayed fervently that they would accept their referral and obviously they did.  They have an amazing little boy, too. 

    Please encourage your readers to pray for the new director.  Pray, pray, pray, PRAY!  And pray some more!  I know you and I exchanged emails about the conditions, and about her…but what she says is right.  She is trying to do good.  She is OVERWHELMED.  Totally.  She is taking on such a task.

    Also pray for the staff and the pyschologist there, who I met several times and does speak English.  I did not get the impression that the director spoke any English but others do. I’m glad you posted this!         

  22. Susan says:

    Oh, my, when the blessings begin to fall, they come down in showers and blizzards and…well, I can’t think of more analogies, but this is such absolutely wonderful news in so many different ways that it’s going to take a while to absorb it all.

    Yes, I will send a thank you card as soon as I can find one (got ten people coming for lunch tomorrow and a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner atm).  I’d love to send a thank you to Jerusha, too – please let her know how much her good news and her caring and commitment mean to me (and no doubt, to the rest of your readers and everyone concerned about the children of Pleven).

    And…thank YOU, Susanna, for connecting all these pieces!

    Susan in Ky
    Cousin to 2 from EE    

  23. Alexandra says:

    AMAZING news!!  We adopted our girls from EE (different country though) and every time I hear a story about the little ones still waiting for their families (especially the little ones in baby houses that aren’t as good for them) it weighs so much on my heart.  It is so good to finally hear that we are finally seeing change!!  Praying for the new P director tonight; she’s got a huge task ahead of her, but with God’s love she will make such a difference to so many lives!!!

  24. Susanna this is news to make an anxious mother smile, Thank You! Until 3 boys are in Tom’s and Gabriel’s arms, I will pray that the improvements will continue.For our 3 and the others. And the thought of air conditioners! Oh my! Praise God! Remember last year when Moses was sick with fever in August. Air conditioning could have done wonders.
    Tom saw Angel when he was there in April. He fell in love with him too. :o) 
    Sending all our love with (((HUGS))) and prayers   

  25. A Friend says:

    Jerusha Hess! Ahaha, I LOVED Napoleon Dynamite! I know her films! This is amazing, and touching. I love that someone who may have an even bigger voice to help spread this story has been led directly by God to this place. Only God! I pray that she will use her connections and influence to continue to help this place and these precious children! This is amazing.
    I hope they CAN get a/c in there! It’s been so hot here in the states, and as I’ve read blogs I see it’s been quite hot there too, and I know how miserable you can be with no a/c, little access to food and water at your leisure and all the other things these babies have to deal with. A/C would also help the attitudes of all the care givers!! *praying hard*

  26. Deanna says:

    What wonderful news!
    It is so amazing to stand back and watch God work…

  27. Wonderful news to read this morning!!!  The Lord is working and providing for those precious little ones.  Praise the Lord!!  SO neat to see the Lord working and oh how i wish I could go there and help in some way.  Will keep praying and it is so encouraging to see the Lord at work.  He is watching over the tiny helpless children.

  28. Tammy says:

    WOW!!!  That is completely awesome.  God is working. 

  29. Cindy says:

    This is amazing, the people and resources God brings and how you all get connected.  May His name be praised through it all!

  30. Holly Fedele says:

    I’m mailing my thank you card and note tomorrow.  I’m going to include a translation from a website.  It might not be completely accurate but close enough to get the thought across.  :)

  31. Amanda R. says:

    Susanna, I meant to comment last week about how I will so miss your more frequent blog entries but completely understand and respect your desire and need to put your family first.  You mentioned the “fruits of your labor” from you blog in that post and I thought that was so humble and true.  Only He could bring such incredible change through your blog and your amazing story. It’s reached far more than I’m sure you ever imagined and helped so many little precious children. THANK YOU for your gifted passionate honest words and for sharing your story with us.  That’s what I wanted to say last week. But reading this entry, oh my!!! To think of the impact your blog had on this one mom’s life and at just the right timing- His timing is PERFECT! Such wonderful updates from Jerusha.  Positive changes truly being made. Praise God! My quick little 2 sentence thank you note to Dr. Georgrieva is in the mail.  If she is indeed on the verge of quiting any day, perhaps you can mail them staggered in several shifts so that she gets some ASAP. I hate to think of another day going by with her feeling discouraged and unappreciated.

  32. Sarah says:

    Jerusha Hess! I loved Napoleon Dynamite! So excited that her family is adopting a child with Down Syndrome!

  33. Pam says:

    I have read your blog off and on for some time now. I haven’t read in awhile, but this post struck a cord with me. The family who is adopting the 2 year old boy with DS…who they also think has autism….I’d like to throw out the attachment disorder possibility there. I have a son that we adopted with special needs who some would consider him to be on the spectrum but instead it’s attachment related behaviors that he has. It will be VITAL to the child’s well-being to have him evaluated by someone who can tell the difference. Someone who has experience with both autism disorders and attachment disorders. Treatments for the two are VASTLY differently. Not trying to disagree or be negative, just trying to help people understand that the two can present the same way.

  34. Galit says:

    Any news about Tommy?  I’m trying to make a comprehensive list of the kids who have been saved from Pleven since you brought it to our attention, as well as those who are still waiting (and available).  Am I missing any?

  35. Phyllis says:

    Just a quick note: I’m sure the Lord will lead about what to do with donations, but my personal inclination would also be to advise against AC. I wouldn’t think that they would run it because of the cost, and also cold air is considered to be very bad for children in all the eastern European cultures that I’ve experienced. (I have no personal experience with Bulgaria, but lots in other countries around nearby.)

  36. Amy Rainey says:

    Praise God!!  It is so wonderful to hear that changes are taking place…that the children are receiving real food and more diapers.  How wonderful!!

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