01 August 2007

to Riabovo again (long)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the remains of our spring clothing drive to a local children's home. The back of my car will filled with clothes and a few toys that were too small/too young for the children in the children's home at Lopukhinka. On the way we stopped to deliver some requested items (including diapers, toothpaste and lice shampoo) for a children's shelter at Tosna. (Caterpillar has a large plant in that small city as does...that company that makes soap and detergents that starts with H...Henkel, I think...). The shelter is where children wait for a place in a Children's Home. They wait in the hospitals for a place at the shelter.

While the shelter was in "the nicest building of any of the orphanages", I found it a little sad. The children were all on the couch watching television, and looked like they'd been there awhile. They needed to have their hair brushed...or maybe it was just bedhead from watching too much television in one position. I wanted to badly to open a window! It was just a little stale and stuffy in there.

You should have seen the amount of candy some of these little boys stashed in their pockets! (Valentina cannot visit children without bringing them candy.) Then, Natasha, one of the older girls, doled it out fairly to the rest--remembering those who were currently out of the room.

V. says that she thinks children adopted from shelters--before they've been placed in children's homes--may be among the most successful placements.

After we left, we went on to my favourite children's home in Riabovo. This is the children's home I visited at Christmas. They are a small facility in a less-than-perfect building. They are scheduled to be combined with another nearby home into a large facility when it is finished. (Riabovo's director says she will strive to place all of "her" children in special schools, with foster families, etc. rather than put them in the new, large home. For that I am very grateful.)

Walking in, we noticed all the bright, new paintwork. The children have just gotten back from their first-ever summer trip. They went to the Black Sea. While they were gone, their teachers were busy painting and cleaning and sprucing up. (Teachers in Russia are expected to spend a month of the summer holiday cleaning, painting and doing repairs.) The place looked great! And, even nicer than the fresh paintwork was the warm welcome we received from the caregivers and even the cook. They were go glad to see us!

I was flattered to be remembered by both the staff and the children. In the older children's room, I was confronted again with my lack of Russian. Children don't slow down when they speak to you! They just rattle on...often with mispronunciations and a language all their own. I was able to stay for a bit and all of the children showed off their English (Thank you very much. My name is.... Yes. No.) I played a silly game with Sveta where she said, "Yes." and I'd say, "Da." She'd say, "No," and I'd reply, "Nyet." Appropriate nodding and head shaking accompanied this. We played this for probably...ten minutes! She never varied. And if I answered incorrectly (in an attempt to make it a little more entertaining) she simply continued with her yes-no-yes-no. What struck me, though, was how much she wanted to talk to me. If this was all we could say to each other, so be it. That's what we'd say.

One boy wanted me to translate something from English into Russian for him. I didn't even understand that much at the time, because I didn't understand that was he was saying was English. I feel like I failed him and wanted to go back as soon as I understood what it was he wanted. By that time we were in the car on the way home.

The older children had a family of three gypsy children (Sveta of the yes-no was one of them--and SO cute!) whose parents are in a nearby prison. They'll return to their family when the sentence is ended. One little boy had been "rescued" from a psychiatric hospital. He was being heavily medicated, primarily, it seems, for impulsive behaviour. The director found him there and fought to have him placed in her home. Otherwise, he would have been hospitalized for life. He is a doll--and told us all about seeing sharks in the Black Sea. I think the director might be considering adopting him. None of these children are adoptable. They all have relatives who occasionally or regularly visit them.

In the younger children's room I noticed the biggest change in children. Whereas before this was a room of primarily under 3's, now it was almost indistinguishable from the older children's room. There was one child left from my first visit. One child had been adopted by a family in Italy. (The 76 year old caretaker, who is quite spry and very much a character, was thrilled to show us his photographs and letter. He's even called her on the telephone.) When I asked about the rest, it seems that they've been mostly returned to their families as:

a. a result of the new family capital law
b. on a trial basis to see if the parents are now capable of caring for them

This is what I was told, though it was a guess by Valentina. I can't say if it's a trend country-wide. I think it could also have to do with the forecasted move to a larger facility.

Most of the children at Riabova are so different from the rest of the children I've visited in children's homes. They are happy and very communicative. They are warm, friendly and very unlike institutionalized children. I credit their caretakers and the director of the home. And, I do think that the small size of this home helps.

The one exception to the happy children was a little three-year-old girl (bed number eight) who hadn't been there very long. She still looked a little sad. Although, we were there during their "nap time", so she could have been tired. She and little G, who was still there from my first visit, were the only under 5's I saw.

For those of you who have looked at the schedules you've been given of your children's daily routine, not a single child was napping during this naptime. They were all on their beds, but it wasn't remotely quiet. They were mostly lying down, but there was lots of chat going on. Now, this may be atypical, but it was true. And, no one minded us coming in and interrupting them to hand out toys and candy. The biggest, best doll was immediately given to new little bed-number-eight.

I left Riabovo happy and hopeful. These children are not adoptable. But, they are well-cared for and loved. I like going there. Once again, while I was there I was ready to just stay. I wanted to stay and be a part of this home, to care for these children, to live with them and love them. I know it's not possible, but it is the *flash* I have when I'm there. (One note: I'm happy doing most things, am very enthusiastic, and am prone to seeing myself contentedly living out new adventures--historical interpreter, farmer's wife, dvetsky dom caretaker, astronaut...or even living in a historical setting, so this flash is not really atypical.)

Just wanted to share this glimpse with the curious among you. It was a great day. I look forward to returning!


votemom said...

is the little.girl.in.bed.number.eight available for adoption?

what a beautiful and horrible experience - all at the same time. you leave different than you arrive, that's for sure.

it makes me feel physically sick that the hospitals, shelters, and homes are FULL, and yet so many people are BEGGING and PLEADING to be a family to a child.

Lisa said...

Thanks for the glimpse into the daily workings of the orphanage. I wish that I could spend some time doing that.

There is a missionary family (American) in Perm that works with the orphanage where I went on trip 1A... I emailed them to see if I could volunteer with them during trip 2 but they never answered me. I thought that was really odd, but I guess they weren't interested or it's too hard to arrange or who knows?

Anonymous said...

You made a their day a special one, and that is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

You are trully a good person and the children you come across on your travels are blessed by the experience!!! It aches me to think of children wishing, wanting, waiting...for a home...a family... even just someone to talk to. Prayers for all of them!

Rachael said...

what a wonderful experience; i could almost imagine myself there with your descriptive storytelling; i've often thought of returning to an orphanage for volunteer/mission work.

Debi said...

Kate...I loved this entry...what a life you lead..one I can only observe from afar though I wish I could do like you do...

6blessings said...

Sounds like a wonderful day. You and I must be alike. I get those "flashes" often too. I could very easily see myself and would love to be able to work in an orphanage. Sounds like that would be a good fit for you too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this glimpse into the life of these children......I am not sure I could emotionally do what you do....you are strong, incredible, sensitive and kind woman.

Blessings to you in all you do, Kate.