06 October 2005

The Future of Disabled Orhpans

Originally posted on Conversation

I visit an orphanage here in Bishkek twice a week to help feed the babies and take them outside for a few minutes. It's actually a baby house, designed for children ages 0-4 years. When a baby is 6 weeks old, she leaves the maternity house for the baby house. The women who take care of the babies do a good job and the children are generally well-cared for, although many people are shocked by some things the first time they go to an orphanage.

Most of the children in the baby house aren't actually orphans, but are children with mental or physical problems, or who were abandoned or left to the care of the state. The picture here is of a little boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Although he looks like a happy little 5-month-old, he is actually 15 months. A 15-month-old child is usually walking, talking, and a delight to be around. This little boy is a delight to be around, but just learned to roll over in the last few weeks. He was so sick a few months ago that a doctor said that he would die.

An American woman living in Bishkek started to work with him about 6 months ago. She came as often as she could to work with him, help him exercise, feed him better food, and just give him the extra attention he required to survive.

He still needs a tremendous amount of care, and pretty much the only way he can get that care is to be adopted by a family with tremendous financial and emotional resources to provide the treatment and support he needs. There really are few families here in Kyrgyzstan that can do that, and international adoption has been almost completed off limits for the last years, although some adoptions appear to be going forward now.

It's frustrating to see this very sick little boy and know there's really nothing that can be done to help. Even if he could get to the US for a year on a humanitarian visa, FAS isn't curable. He'd come back a year later better than he was, but in no way ready for life as an "invalid," as disabled people are called here.

Some of the employees at the orphanage are concerned with all the extra treatment he is getting, and it's not hard to see why. There are 3 groups of 12 babies there, with one nurse for every three babies. There isn't a lot of time for extra attention. I'm sure they were concerned that the American woman wouldn't continue coming and leave them with an attention-starved baby on the mend (relatively speaking). That hasn't happened, but really, what kind of future does this sweet little boy have? What can any disabled child without a family expect in Kyrgyzstan?

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