Saturday, 10 August 2013

'Hope for the Little Ones', a Bulgarian orphanage

Fellow EVS Sarah (middle) and Oles (left) spending time with the infants.

It is the second time in my life I get to hold babies. Once again, I am surprised at how solid and strong a body of a six month old is. When he is interested in something all his body shifts towards the point of attention; when he, lying in my lap, starts to move his arms and legs simultaneously, I fear I may not be strong enough to save him from flying off.

Earlier on I read an article claiming how important it was to all newborns to be touched. According to the text, babies who were not touched grew and developed slower than those who got regular contact. An American NGO was described, members of which go to hospitals on their free time to touch and massage abandoned babies.

Now, spending time with the infants at the 'Hope for the Little Ones' orphanage in Sofia, I indeed notice how much they want to be held and played with. Some start to cry as soon as we put them back to the buggies or disappear out of their sight.  

The youngest one, two month old Maria, has got a hypnotising gaze. She barely makes any sound but with her stare alone makes me freeze next to her bed. She looks fragile, otherworldly; looking at her, I think that people who have just arrived to this world and people about to depart share something in common: a very powerful gaze. Without doing anything extra they can get all the attention; they radiate the most intense nonverbal communication.

There are currently seven infants at the 'Hope for the Little Ones' house. Most of them were abandoned by their parents or taken away by social workers. Mother of one of the girls comes to visit every now and again; another boy is about to be adopted. Quite a few come from Roma families.

The house is for infants of up to three years old. They can stay at the house for up to a year. According to Bulgarian law, foreigners can adopt only those children who have been refused by at least three Bulgarian families.

The numbers of infants at the 'Hope for the Little Ones' are deliberately kept low - this way it is ensured the environment is as homely as possible, rather than that of an institution. Half of the funding comes from the government, the other half from private donations.

There are some full time staff working, as well as incoming volunteers. There can never be too much attention (or touch), so volunteers are welcome to visit, as well as are certain donations (a list of things needed usually is announced at the foundation's website). We brought some books donated by Sofia City Library.

I was expecting a gloomier place when I was coming to visit; in return I discovered a cosy two-storeyed house with a small garden surrounded by trees. There are lots of toys; the pastel green interior is that of a children's room. If all goes well, the foundation is going to open a second orphanage, also in Sofia, in September 2013. The current house has been open since 2010.

Although no institution can be a replacement of one's real family, at least these kids can spend part of their infantry in a safe oasis - for up to a year.  

With Dani (left), the director of the orphanage, in one of the children's rooms.
A visit from a doctor: check up, vaccinations, gymnastics.

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