Below, I am reposting a comment by Elizabeth Stubbins to my Sept. 17 post Bulgaria's Abandoned Children, with admiration to her work.
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.