Monday, September 17, 2007

Bulgaria's abandoned children

A documentary of this title, by Kate Blewett, was aired by BBC4 Channel on Sept. 13. It featured one of our numerous infamous institutions for disabled children. Bulgaria has more institutionalised mentally and physically disabled children than anywhere else in Europe (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/bulgarias-children.shtml). They are either abandoned because of their disabilities or become disabled as a result of institutionalization. I wanted to write a serious post about this, but I simply cannot, so I put together citations of strong words said by concerned people.
Gererd O'Donovan wrote in Telegraph, "Kate Blewett’s Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children (BBC4) contained another 90 minutes of undiluted horror. Anyone familiar with the Romanian orphanage scandals of the early Nineties will have stared in shocked disbelief that nearly 20 years on precisely the same pattern of appalling cruelty and neglect is being repeated in another former Communist state. The chief difference is that Bulgaria is already a member of the European Union... It is no exaggeration to say that most domestic animals are treated better than these unfortunate boys and girls, who get little treatment and no education or stimulation, and are condemned to rock silently and slowly waste away in body and mind. At times it was impossible to believe the cynicism of the staff. At others, it was impossible not to turn away from the pain and suffering on display. Nothing on television this year has brought me closer to tears" (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2007/09/14/nosplit/bvtv14last.xml).
The "social care home" shown is located in the small village of Mogilino. Our authorities prefer to hide such institutions in far-away corners, so that to be as invisible as possible and also, as sometimes is openly said, to provide jobs for local people (!). The BBC team mentioned that the home is "the main employer" in the village. As an autistic American commented, "The jobs for local people is a big issue to politicians when the institution is in a small community, and, thus, a major employer in the area... The employment of people who don't live in institutions ranks higher than the human rights and dignity of those inside them, at least in many politician's minds."
Personally shocked by what she saw, Kate Blewett sent a letter to the Bulgarian ambassador. You can read it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/bulgaria-prod-letter.shtml. It says, "...We observed severe physical neglect. In one case a child's leg was broken, and carers seemed oblivious to the great distress they were causing the child by manhandling it with a broken leg. In other cases children became visibly thinner and weaker over the months of filming. Three children died during the period of filming (i.e. 3 children out of 75 died over a 9-month period - M.M.). The Director of the Institute said she chose the children's diets and that they were adequate. Yet the nurse said the children were suffering from malnutrition as a result of inadequate diets... As well as observing the physical abuse of children by workers, we were also made aware of allegations of sexual abuse...".
Ambassador Matev in his reply (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/bulgaria-embassy-letter.shtml) paints such a rosy picture as if he is describing a different planet. The end of his letter will tell you all you need to know about the arrogance of Bulgaria's ruling oligarchy: "Not a single Institution has received a bad or unsatisfactory assessment for the health services they provide... It is my sincere hope that the position of the Bulgarian government will be reflected in your documentary."
I haven't seen the film but here are random quotes from people who have, commenting the same Telegraph article:
"Unbelievable! Is Europe still in the dark ages. How dare a member state be guilty of such grotesque abuse! The unremitting physical pain some of these children were obviously in was unimaginable, the circumstances of their environment would not be permitted in the worst prisons in the world, some international outcry would have limited such atrocities. I would hope this documentary is broadcast again and again, and Again!! gut wrenching as it is, so that the public becomes aware of the disgraceful attitudes and ignorance of a country that has been allowed to join the EU."
"There are a lot of places with similar conditions all over Bulgaria. I hope EU will do something - because our goverment is blind for this problem. In every home for physically and mentally disabled persons in Bulgaria you can see the same situation. Posted by Man from Bg." (Note that he hasn't written his name. There is a growing tendency for Bulgarians who criticize to remain anonymous - M.M.)
"That director needs to be jailed! how can people get away with such atrocity? Lame excuses such as 'its just their disease,' and 'i've done everything i'm supposed to do' just doesn't cut, it's absolute evil and self-interest. Some of those images were as terrible as those we've seen at concentration camps. Those poor babies, something must be done! What can we do?"
"Since watching Bulgaria's unwanted children last night my heart has ached, the worst thing was that the people running the home think that they are doing a fantastic job! I saw how they force fed them so fast these poor children barely had time to swallow, then how the big boy (Milan) was beaten by the male care worker, the poor boy worked so hard to please and you could see his terror trying to get his chores done perfectly."
"I'm sure there was a lot more abuse physical and sexual. God, blokes were showering young vunerable women, and children were being battered and starved to death. God knows to what extent things were really bad, because they were putting on a good show for the cameras."
"I saw the prgramme two days ago. I couldn't believe my eyes. It just looked like Auschwitz. They were naked, emaciated and led to the showers. Moreover, the fact that the 'carers' were fat made me sick. The people running these 'care homes' must be brought befiore a tribunal for crimes against humanity."
"I have visited several of these orphanages over the last decade, and know that the story at Mogilino is common elsewhere. The responsibility for perpetuation of the problem lies with the central and local governments, and the orphanage directors, many of whom don't know how to change the situation, and some of whom don't want to."
"People who are thinking about going on holiday to Bulgaria should cancel holidays in protest and write to the government and explain that the apalling conditions in this care home along with the whole social care system must be addressed with extreme urgency. As Bulgaria has a thriving tourist economy and enjoy profits, the Bulgarian Government must realise that people will not enjoy their holiday if they know that children with special needs are left in cruel concentration camps."
"Take Action Now! why don't we all "BOYCOTT BULGARIA"? Just refuse to holiday, or buy property there, and then you will see Bulgaria 's Goverment get themselves together and spring to action. At the moment they DON'T CARE."
"Stop Saying "If only there was something I can do ...". There is! WRITE TO YOU Mep TODAY AND DEMAND THAT THIS IS ADDRESSED IMMEDIATELY .. I have already done so via e-mail ... it costs nothing and if enough people do it they could act ... they are definitely the people who can make a change ... if you do have money DONATE IT TO THE CHARITIES LINKED ABOVE." (There are links to charities both at the Telegraph page and at the BBC page - M.M.)
"Please Please Help these People, the young and the old who are being abused and tortured. We all need to send out a strong message to Bulgaria whose Goverment does not care,and is rotten and corrupt. 1.Do Not Holiday there, 2.Do not buy Property there 3.Write a letter (a short one will do) if possible to the Bulgarian Goverment. Tell them you, and all your mates are Boycotting them unless all the instituitions for the vunerable are greatly improved and monitored by the E.U . including money, food and clothes from charities, because that too is stolen, from the vunerable."
"Shame - and indeed guilt - on us if we do nothing."
UPDATE: The film is available online. A commenter kindly sent me the link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9176914173325307126. I don't know whether the copy is legal, but even if it isn't, I think this case is worth some copyright violation. Go and watch the video, if your nerves are strong enough to endure.

34 comments:

Casdok said...

This is so sad.
Its great that you are bringing these issues up.

Anonymous said...

i have been haunted by the images of the suffering of these poor children and i will do all i can to make as many people as possible aware of what is going on

Maya M said...

Thank you! My hope is that something will be done, now that the situation is made known in Britain. Bulgarian citizens (not excluding myself) are generally too immersed in their own problems and self-pity to care about those who need most, and even if they do care, it is a tradition for Bulgarian authorities to ignore arrogantly any demand by Bulgarian citizens. It will be different if "Europe" insists. Nothing good ever comes to this country except from outside, or under foreign pressure.

Anonymous said...

As you haven't seen the film, it might help you to know that Ambassador Matev was given only 5 days to pass on and respond to various detailed allegations put to him by the film-makers two weeks before transmission. They did not ask him the most obvious question, which is why all the government promises since 1999 to close down this geographically isolated institution have come to nothing. The position of the BG government and medical profession was not featured in the film at all.

At the end there was a voice over saying that the BG govt had ignored the specific complaints (the ones submitted without supporting dates and times to the Ambassador with a request he reply within 5 working days!) and parts of a general description of Bg govt policy were read out. This was obviously the best the Ambassador could come up with in the time available.

The film was 90 minutes of quasi-pornographic horror designed to shock, and in that it has succeeded. That was probably a worthy aim, but 30 minutes of that would have been enough to produce the desired effect, the rest of the time could have been used constructively. Well meaning people are now sending this institution loads of stuff that is probably not needed - football kit seems to be high on the list.

Maybe you can help us with the following, Maya:-

If Amnesty and Helsinki investigations back in 2002(when the death rate was much higher) could not bring about change, what can? Is this a problem of the people's psyche, rather than government's? In the UK, long before democracy, we had Commissions of Enquiry that investigated social abuses and recommended changes. Is there nothing similar in BG?

You have got medical connections so can't you tell us what it would take to get these children into smaller, more accessible units with skilled help? Can't the Ministry of Health override the municipality, or have they got too much respect for the laws, the same laws that say (apparently) that a Home like this is not allowed to administer medical treatment without parental consent, which is impossible to obtain?

When, if ever, will Bulgarian parents be stigmatised if they assign parental rights to the State? Should that be allowed? I thought it was abolished in 2003 with the new Children's Act. Since people no longer read books can BG TV/radio help in changing attitudes? I know the BG Red Cross helps, and the Church does some work, but why is the Church/the Muslim community content to see children buried under pigsties or in wasteland?

I suspected this film was going to reveal a largely "minority" issue. You won't be aware that less than 10% of the inmates were featured in any detail. Judging by the names the kids featured were principally Bulgarian but, hopefully, the makers did not use the kids' real names - their privacy and dignity was already violated to an alarming degree. So their real names could have been anything. At a guess, 50% of those featured looked a bit Roma, but I'm no expert. In relation to that community is there any alternative to institutionalisation? Do Muslim Bulgarians care for their own disabled to a greater extent than the other communities?

In its 90 minute running time and in the follow up questions to the Ambassador in London (why him for God's sake?) none of these questions were even considered.

If you can contribute a post from your own knowledge (like the water shortage one from some time ago) I, for one, would be most interested to read it.

By the way, I fully accept that we have a great problem in the UK with abuse of abandoned parents. Often their carers have little knowledge of English. I speak not from a position of moral superiority but genuine interest.

Elizabeth Stubbins said...

I'm so glad that Bulgarian bloggers are covering this issue. In 2006, I conducted a human rights monitoring mission to the social care homes at Dzhurkovo, Petrovo and the Sofia Home for Children With Mental Disabilities, and posted my findings at: http://warehousesofneglect.civiblog.org/blog

I still remember spending the first evening with my team (a translator, a Bulgarian lawyer, and a guy from Sofia who was helping coordinate the mission). The only man in the mission sat and cried after we visited Dzhurkovo - he was Bulgarian and had never seen an institution, not wanting to believe that conditions were as bad as they are.

I have posted ideas as to how people can help, and I would be very grateful if you could include my site in your blogroll, and re-post the five points below:

1. The Bulgarian charity Karin Dom (www.karindom.com) is the first Bulgarian organisation to work specifically for the rehabilitation and social integration of children with disabilities. They accept both donations and volunteers. If you are unable to give money yourself, then sponsored activities or local events might raise sufficient funds for a donation.

2. Other non-governmental organizations work to end mass institutionalization of people with mental disabilities throughout Eastern Europe and the CIS, and worldwide. Donating money to these organizations, and spreading awareness of their work may be helpful in the long-term. Three such organizations are: the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (www.mdac.info), the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (www.bghelsinki.org) and Mental Disability Rights International (www.mdri.org). MDRI has not engaged recently in advocacy or research concerning Bulgaria.

3. Spreading awareness and writing letters to your MEP may be a good way to help. The European Parliament Disability Intergroup is the EU forum to discuss issues relating to the treatment of people with disabilities. A Google search revealed that the Lib Dem MEP Liz Lynne is strongly involved with the Intergroup, and she may well be interested in receiving a letter from you, even if she is not your MEP. Liz Lynne MEP's website is at: http://www.lizlynne.org.uk/pages/disability.html

4. Donating clothing, shoes etc. to the social care homes may not result in the change that is urgently needed. When I visited Dzhurkovo in June 2006, I saw bags and bags of donated clothing lying unsorted and undistributed in a downstairs storeroom, while the young adult residents of the home wore dirty clothing and mismatched socks (no shoes). The only soft toys I saw at Dzhurkovo (also donated by people in Western Europe) were in the Director's reception room, out of reach of the teenage residents.

There are allegations by some Bulgarian NGOs that donated goods are "distributed" by the workers at social care homes into the villages, taken perhaps as "perks" of their jobs, rather than reaching the institutionalised children for whom the donations are intended. I did not see any direct evidence of this while in Bulgaria, but Bulgarian-based experts have assured me that corruption is a real danger.

5. My first priority for activism and reform in Bulgaria is skills-based, not political. I would love to see a team of European and US/Commonwealth experts in paediatrics, child development, child psychiatry and psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and special education travel to Bulgaria to each of the country's many social care homes, and to train workers in best practices for child welfare.

If this were to happen, the visits by experts must be accompanied by policy change and an honest and thorough approach to deinstitutionalization - dismantling the institutions and implementing community-based care alternatives that respect the right to health, the right to education, and the right of all disabled persons to live lives of dignity, self-reliance and community integration.

It would be helpful if volunteers could coordinate such a network of experts - by raising awareness in your workplace, among your friends and family, and in any community groups of which you are part. Online recruiting would be very helpful.

Thank you,
Elizabeth Stubbins

Maya M said...

Thank you and sorry for answering so late, but your comments were too serious to be answered hastily and had to wait till I had the proper time.
Ms. Stubbins, you have my admirations for what you are doing for the most unfortunate children of Bulgaria. I have just reposted your comment in my latest publication at http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2007/09/how-to-help-institutionalized-disabled.html. I'll create very soon a Disability section of my blogroll and will include your blog there.
Anonymous, you ask good questions and although I am not "deep inside" these issues, I'll try to answer as well as I can.
You may be right that the BBC film was too horrific - I don't know. But if the 9 months of filming when 3 children died are typical, this means annual mortality rate of about 5%. I cannot think of anything I could see on screen that could terrify me more than this simple figure. Note that the children in the "care home" had no life-threatening diseases. Autism, mental retardation, blindness don't kill. Starvation does.
It is the most usual behaviour for Bulgarian governments to break their promises. Only some kind of force can make a Bulgarian government keep its word.
I realize that our Ambassador is likely not the author of that letter, or even if he is, the guidelines have been dictated from above. Therefore, I wrote about "the ruling oligarchy". But if you put your name under a text, you inevitably get the blame for it. I recognize the style of the letter. Every time a group of citizens or foreign activists present a problem to the Bulgarian government, a reply of this type follows. In resume, it says that the outrageous facts presented are not true and the government has other information, namely, that everything is close to perfect. This attitude is arrogant when applied to Bulgarian citizens and pathologically stupid when applied to people from normal countries who are not conditioned to tolerate such nonsense.
You ask what could help - frankly, I don't know. In Romania, as far as I know, it was pressure form Europe that helped. Romanian governments were told that they will stay outside EU until they fix their institutions. It is a pity that the same approach wasn't applied to Bulgaria. Now, it's too late and I don't know what mechanisms EU has to coerce a member state. My personal opinion is that EU isn't a very useful formation.
About your question whether carelessness towards those who suffer is "a problem of the people's psyche, rather than government's" - it is both, I think. The lack of religiosity and the emigrant mentality of Bulgarians surely contribute. But because it is easier to change government than people's psyche, I'd prefer to think of it as a problem of government. I have no information about Bulgarian activists working to improve the fate of these children, they surely exist but are not very influential and have little support by society and media.
"What it would take to get these children into smaller, more accessible units with skilled help?" - political will. And of course it will require money, but Bulgaria isn't such a poor country. I have no specific knowledge, but I don't think there is a law banning care homes from administering medical care to inmates without parental consent. Bulgarian officials often refer to nonexistent laws to justify their absurd actions or inactions.
Most Bulgarian communities (Gypsies are an exception) do stigmatize their members if they abandon a child. However, I think that everybody should be free to renounce their parental rights. It seems to me a very bad idea to force people who don't want a child (disabled or not) to care for him. To be honest to these parents, it can be very exhausting to raise a disabled child without any support from society, when a school headmaster continuing her work after becoming a wheelchair user is national prime time news. Years ago, I knew a man who wanted to abandon his disabled child but was not allowed. He was overwhelmed, became an alcoholic and died in his 40s.
I don't think that Bulgarian religious institutions have any moral authority and do real charity, though I may be wrong about some local priests.
I don't know whether Bulgarian Muslims and ethnic Turks are less likely to abandon a disabled child. I am not surprised that Gypsy children were overrepresented in the home, I mentioned that this subpopulation seems to put no stigma on child abandonement (they may have a stigma on family planning or abortion, I don't know).
The problem with the Gypsy children is gigantic. I think that when approaching such a problem, it is best to begin with its less difficult parts, in this case, the non-disabled children. I meet them every day where I live. Neglect will make them practically disabled by the time they turn 18, as are today's adult Gypsies. There are encouraging signs that some Bulgarians are overcoming their prejudice and adopting abandoned Gypsy children. I intend to post soon about this. It will be more difficult to integrate Gypsy children raised in their original families - as far as I know, no country so far has had much success in this respect. Foster care of any abandoned child seems a good solution, but Bulgarian government, as always, wants people to do a job for no money and so nobody wants to be a foster parent.
Bulgarian and pan-European buraucracy must be forced to remove the artificial restrictions to trans-national adoptions. Possibly some international charities could organize their own institutions in Bulgaria. And of course parents who keep their disabled children should be provided support and services. But legislators must be careful not to make it advantageous for anybody to have a disabled child. I have seen in the streets of Sofia many begging "mothers" with disabled children whose disabilities don't seem to be of natural origin.

Anonymous said...

"Bulgaria's Abandoned Children" can be seen here - http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9176914173325307126

Maya M said...

Thanks! I'll post this link as an update.

Didi said...

Hi Maya,
I came across your web site while looking for more information about children in institutions in Bulgaria after watching the BBC documentary. As a Bulgarian living in the U.S. for the past 10 years and a mother of three, I am horrified by the sight of these children and cannot believe this is happening in my country. I completely understand the problems engrained in Bulgarian culture and agree with you on how difficult it is to change things but nevertheless I believe that we must start from somewhere. Elizabeth Stubbins - your input is very important as I am desperately looking for ways to do something to bring about change for these children although I am so far away.

Anonymous said...

No one could fail to be apalled by the documentary. I have a holday home in Bulgaria and visit our local orphanage with my own children each time we are in Bulgaria. The home is for children aged 3 to 7. Though not 'as bad' the care standards are very poor, the children are neglected, malnourished and the vast majority of the staff have no training nor natural ability to meet the physical or emotional needs of the children in their 'care'. The system needs to be adressed.

Anonymous said...

i visit bulgaria at least once a year with "bulgarianchild.org" to deliver shoes and clothes. the organization has an on-going relationship with many of the orphanages, providing funds for heating, appliances and food, etc. the organization has also provided 'grandmothers' who are trained to provide loving care and mobility to orphans who would otherwise never get outside the walls of the orphanage. the organization has also provided skills-training for handicapped men at a home for handicapped men in haircutting, woodmaking, sewing, etc. my understanding was that when bulgaria joined the EU they were told they had too many orphanages so they closed some - put some of the older teens on the street and sent others to other homes, only to create over-crowded conditions. the problem is political but also cultural. the directors and workers somehow must be taught (by watching those who come to volunteer?)that these children are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. it can't continue to just be a means of getting a paycheck or just doing a job. i am coming to bulgaria this week (oct 25) and will be traveling all over the country visiting these orphanages. one such place has children i know by name and i always look for them, hoping they have survived! jan in texas

Maya M said...

Thank you for your comments and my admirations for your work! Jan, I am going right now to post a link to Bulgarianchild.org

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of 2 Roma children that I adopted from Bulgarian orphanages 10 years ago. My daughter was 7 years old. When we were in Bulgaria visiting our daughter we found out that she had a twin. Further investigation let us to find out that the twin was still alive but was "severely affected." We asked for a medical evaluation and we were denied our request. We asked to visit her and we were told we would not be permitted to visit. We offered donations and they refused them. I was told by our facilitator that these places were horrible places. For 10 years I have been haunted by the thoughts of my daughters twin living in conditions that I would even let my pets live in. Never having a family, never having access to medical help or services that may have changed her life. Every time I look at my daughter I wonder, what happened to this girl named Sofka. She would be 17 now.

My daughter doesn't know she has a twin. By the time we adopted her she had been so severely neglected physically and emotionally that the effects were lasting. She continues to struggle with post traumatic stress disorder from beatings and other events that she can't even verbalize. She is developmentally delayed. BUT she is getting the help she needs, she has enough to eat, she is living the life that her sister was never given the chance to live.

Maybe someday we will find out what happened to this girl.

Maya M said...

Anonymous, the story you told made my heart ache. I'll now repost your comment, to be visible to all my readers. I'll translate it and post in my other blog, which is in Bulgarian. I'll also try to recruit some other Bulgarian bloggers to do the same. Of course, the chance that somebody who knows Sofka's fate will come across our writings is near zero. However, wonders happen... If something appears, I'll report it in a new post and also as a new comment here.

Maya M said...

To Anon - the adoptive mother of Sofka's sister:
Some concerned mothers, who have started a special blog about the Mogilino "care home", said that current Bulgarian legislature encourages reunification of siblings in adoptive families, which could mean some hope for you, if Sofka is still alive. They suggested that you should turn to the State Agency for Child Protection (Darzhavna agentsia za zakrila na deteto) with the information you have for your adopted daughter. The Agency's site is at www.stopech.sacp.government.bg/ but isn't very functional - I cannot even open it now. I guess that your facilitator could start the procedure.
Do you know in which orphanage Sofka was when you attempted to contact her 10 years ago?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this up! I'm glad to see your concern for the future of your people.

Now this may come across as a bit rude, but as a Cherokee woman in the US, I don't understand why Bulgaria allows this sort of thing to happen. We have what's called "gadugi," for which there's no English translation, but the closest I know is "a volunteer spirit." For thousands of years, we never neglected our own. Why is that fine in your culture? I don't get that. In mine, nobody would ever say "Why should we take care of them? We have our own problems!" whereas in much of Eastern Europe, that's fine. The idea is completely alien to me, and if you can figure it out (not sure you can either) I would love an explanation.

I did hear that it may have something to do with the recent Communist past, but still.

Anonymous said...

My heart is bleeding for these beautiful children.I watched the documentary on mogilino social "care Home" this evening and i've never seen anything so horrifying.I would like to see bulgaria put under serious pressure from EU to address these issues.I plan to make as many of my freinds and family aware of these issues.

Elina said...

For the first time in my life I feel ashamed to call myself Bulgarian. The ignorance and the indifference of all the people involved in taking care of those innocent children and our government policies and actions are appalling, disturbing and disgraceful. How do these people sleep at night knowing they have left these beautiful children in the state they are after all these national and international funding and charities? Where are all the money gone that are supposed to help these already punished enough by their parents who abandoned them children? Our Government should be deeply shaken and disturbed that conditions of this kind exist in the 21st century and humans are treated worse than animals. I was so upset and distressed after seeing the documentary I couldn't sleep or stop crying throughout the programme. No human being deserves to be treated in this inexcusable way especially innocent children. I hope this documentary is a wakeup call to our government who now can clearly see the big picture. I hope in their hearts they find the little humanity that is left and do something about it to help those special children. I would also like to help as much as possible as I am a parent and a human being above all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Maya,

I don't think that that film focuses on the problem of those unfortunate children. The main motivation of the director seems to be more political, as she says that all the Bulgarians do not deserve the membership in the EU. However, it's good to raise that concern and the government should realise that it should act.

Anonymous said...

i just think that milan is such a nice guy and always smiling evem tho he was bein beaten..its shocking

Maya M said...

I don't think Ms. Blewett and her team were driven by anti-Bulgarian sentiments, and even if such sentiments grew in their hearts during their work, this was natural and justified. I don't think that accusing whistleblowers in political anti-Bulgarian agenda is an appropriate reaction to their shocking accusations.
Anonymous-Cherokee: Former Communist countries are not unique in their outrageous treatment of abandoned children, esp. the disabled ones. This is the rule. Remember that in the USA, a person regarded as a moral authority (playwright Arthur Miller) abandoned his disabled son one or two weeks after his birth. Do you know about the recent documentary "Where's Molly"? In Britain, there are the heart-breaking testimonials of disabled institution survivors Anne McDonald and Alison Laster. Recently, US and Iraqi troops stormed an orphanage in Iraq and found a picture very similar to the one in Mogilino. Kate Blewett's previous documentary "Dying Rooms" was about China. The problem is universal. I am not pointing this in order to justify my people, just to show that the causes aren't local and the solutions aren't easy.

Lisa said...

I too watched in horror at the conditions those poor children suffered. I have since tried to think of ways to help but, as a single parent on student loans I feel limited to what extent I could help. I shall let you know if anything proceeds. Thankyou for raising awareness to this sad situation.

Maya M said...

Thank you, Lisa!
To the adoptive mother of Sofka's sister: See my new post at
http://mayas-corner.blogspot.com/2008/01/venis-suggestion-about-sofka.html

Anonymous said...

I am the woman that posted about Sofka, my daughter's (Penka)twin sister. In February I received the following information:

Hello Ms Baeck!

We find out where Sofka is. She is in the "Home for Children with Mental Disabilities" in village Krushari. (phone: 05771/22-84 ; 05771/22-83)

If we can do something else for you, don`t hesitate to contact us.


Department "Child protection" - Varna
(OZD - Varna)

I have not heard any more on Sofka's condition and what we can do for her. What can I do to find this out? I do not speak Bulgarian so I do not know if calling would be a good option.

Thanks,

Maya M said...

I am very glad about this news!
I have just called the orphanage on the phone. Unfortunately, as you guessed, they said none of the employees had good enough English to speak on the phone.
They told me they have two girls named Sofka. One is over 18, the other younger, though they couldn't tell from memory the exact age; and I didn't know the family name and exact birth date. One of the girls is Sofka Asenova Hristova, the other is Sofka Zhelyazkova Zheleva. One is bedridden, the other uses a wheelchair.
They said that they could accept donations for the girl (once it is known exactly which one), the address is:

DDMUI
ul. Georgi Dimitrov No. 46
s. Krushari
obl. Dobrich
BG-9410

Please feel free to contact me also by e-mail:
mayamarkov at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

She is Sofka Zhelyazkova Zheleva born on July 13, 1990. She will be 18 in July.

I will email you separately.

THANK YOU!!!

Maureen Baeck

Anonymous said...

was sofka ever re-united with her sister?

Maya M said...

No, not yet at least, but with a little luck, her sister may soon visit her.

Maureen Baeck said...

Hi this is Maureen, Penka's mom. Sofka is Penka's sister.

I heard yesterday that a documentary was made by French journalists who went into an orphanage and filmed without the orphanage's knowledge. Apparently they went in to the orphanage offering donations and wanted to see what the needs of the orphanage were and filmed with hidden camera's. I have heard that this has cause quite a situation in Bulgaria and the result is that we may not be allowed to visit.

Does anyone have any information on this? I was planning to go over in July but if I can't get in to see Sofka I may not go.

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I am the adoptive mother of Penka who's twin sister Sofka is in Krushari.

Our journey to find Sofka and be united with her is over. We just returned from Bulgaria yesterday. It was a life changing experience and I want to share with all of you that Sophie is doing much better than we anticipated. In fact Sofka now WALKS!!! We got to spend a few hours with her and she appeared to be in pretty good health though very small. We observed that she seems to have the capability to learn and may not be as cognitively impaired as we had feared. So doesn't speak BUT she definately understands her surroundings and given that she has just recently learned to walk I feel that she may be capable of much more.

The director of this institution has only been in his position for 6 months and I will tell you that he appeared to be a very sincere man who wants to help these kids. We specifically asked him what his needs are since it is our intention to provide as much support as we can. He cited that his most urgent need was a physical therapist. He said that it is hard to attract that kind of skill set to this village. The pay is not too great. We promised to do what we could to help him find someone and if we need to we would suppliment what they could pay. We are also going to provide Sofka with a walker to aid in her progress with walking. When she is done with it they will give it to another child. He indicated to me that a Dutch group has provided their caregivers with so training and the woman who works with Sofka works one-on-one with her. She was very attached to this woman. It was obvious that this method was working since she has just recently started to walk.

We were able to interact with many of the other kids there. They were very friendly and they all appeared to be healthy. My 13 yo son was with us and they LOVED hanging with him! He loved meeting them to and wants to come back next year and spend more time with them (I suggested he do Karaoki with them). The care givers I met were all very nice and they all wanted to see pictures of Penka, Sofka's sister.

In what I felt was a real show of trust the director asked us if we were interested in seeing the area where the really severe, bedridden kids were. We did, even my son went in to the newer building. It was not easy but there was no foul smell and the areas were clean. The kids were thin and he said that he had added another meal (4 meals)to see if that would help them gain weight. He also cited that he only has 3 caregivers in this area for 40 kids but he is looking to triple that in the very near future.

We are now setting up a means to send financial support to Krushari. My son is taking on fund raising as his Bar Mitzvah project.

Next summer we will return with Penka. She is very excited to meet her sister and when she saw the pictures of her she said "Mom we are so cute arent we?"

As I said, it was life changing for me to go there. I feel that they are doing what they can to help these kids. Anyone who can go there and offer the skill sets that they need should contact me at mbaeck@verizondotnet.

Thank you Maya for all of your help. Write soon and I will send you pics.

Nicky, mother of 3 said...

I watched Bulgaria's Abandoned Children last night, although I had to turn it off before the end of the programme because I just found it too upsetting and disturbing, like everyone commenting here.

I feel so helpless in this situation to be able to "do" anything, but this has got to stop. It is absolutely disgusting how these children are treated. I am appalled at the abuse there, the starving, the beatings and sexual abuse, I just am lost for words.

What can we do about this? What happens next?

It is also lovely to hear of Sofka and her adopted twin, and it brings feelings of hope to know there are many other people who feel the same and are trying to do something about it.

Maya M said...

Thank you, Nicky. The lives of children form Mogilino have changed to better because of the movie. They were given access to enough food, therapy, and finally were brought out of the "care home". As for the other institutions of this type, there is, for now, little change, but at least Bulgarian society was wakened up and the problems are discussed.

Anonymous said...

I am so haunted by this. The mistreatment of these children is sickening. Although making the care of these institutionalise children is necessary, I think more programmes and support is needed for families in Bulgaria with special-needs children. And better healthcare and education (including fetal alcohol syndrome) needs to be provided. Mothers often abandon children because they feel that they cannot provide adequate care. These children could have had a good life with their families, with outside help and support... And the government wouldn't have such full institutions. It could be a win-win situation.

Jackie said...

I am not sure how long ago this horrifying documentary was made but I watched it only a few nights ago (on 7 January 2012) and I just cannot get what I saw out of my mind. I live in Australia and feel so far away and helpless. Seeing all those neglected children who have never known what it feels like to have loving arms to hold them and someone to love them. Near the end of the documentary there was a scene where a little blind child responded so lovingly when Kate(?) gently touched his hand. He struggled out of his seat and held out both hands to her and went over and lay down on her lap with her arms around him. I wonder how those "carers" and the Director get to sleep at night. Do they have children of their own? How can they be so indifferent to what is happening? And I wonder how the children are really treated when there are no cameras filming them.