Friday, September 14, 2007


Today I have been unable to shift images from last night’s BBC Four documentary ‘Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children’ from my head. It was one of those programmes that leaves you reeling. I remember watching a similar programme about Romanian orphanages (maybe fifteen years ago) and it filled me with fury that, years later, such brutality still goes on in Europe. (Of course it is horrific that it goes on anywhere, but Bulgaria is an EU country, which appears to mean nothing for the poor children in the hideous institution).

What struck me was that there were material objects in this place that looked reasonably clean, the walls were painted, there were TVs and cuddly toys. But what there wasn’t was any sense of care – at all. There was no affection - children were handled like objects, there was no eye contact, no laughter, no play, no warmth. Food was shovelled in to children’s mouths faster than they could chew or swallow it. A blind child stood motionless, like a statue, until someone took his hand. Deaf children were just left wandering about a boring building with nothing to do, for hours and hours. Children were left sitting on potties. And any child with mobility problems was pretty much confined to bed, where many were neglected and starved, slowly, to death. A piteously thin, bed-ridden girl with an untreated broken leg was washed and dressed by staff who turned a blind eye to her obvious agony. There were several children who were as skeletal as a child from a holocaust death camp. No clear explanation was ever given for this. The staff said things like ‘its her disease’. No-one seemed to be able to say what this disease was – maybe brittle bone disease, or maybe just the effect of a lifetime of malnutrition? There was obvious physical abuse of the children and completely inappropriate personal care – a man herded naked teenage girls to the shower.

If the behaviour shown on the film was what those people do when someone is watching, then I dread to think what goes on most of the time.

So, no surprise, I suppose, that the EU is nothing but a way for ‘economies to thrive’ while any notion of real human rights remains a distant dream for the weakest and most vulnerable.

I looked at some links from the web site of the programme and it seems that there are people working with children in Bulgaria who are promoting care of a far higher standard. But, the letter from the Bulgarian government shows a total avoidance of reality. It seems that the change needed is a deep cultural one. I have no idea, given that this is the case, what I can usefully do about this. The kids don’t need a bus load of clothes and toys, they need carers who have some concept of them as human. This applies to the ‘health professionals’ as much as to the unqualified carers.

Early in the documentary we saw a child who had his thumb permanently in his mouth. He was alone in a cot, except for when he was washed and dressed –and presumably fed, though not much by the look of him. His thumb was wrecked, gnawed terribly. Later we saw the same child – his thumb amputated.

The director of the institute gave a brief interview at the end - apparently, her 'staff let her down’. And she’d just that day bought some new umbrellas to go round the swimming pool in the summer…


Helen said...

I meant to watch this then forgot it was on. In some ways I'm glad I didn't but I know putting my head in the sand is the wrong response. In my work, I work with some of the most learning disabled, behaviourally challenging children in our region & I can't bear to think what would become of them in that sort of regime. They are amazing people to know and the challenges they present teach me something new every day. When Romania was to join the EU cleaning up their act in terms of orphanages etc was a condition of them joining. Seems that's all been forgotten now for the sake of economic opportunity. Makes me sick.

Steph said...

I feel I have to point out that not all Bulgarian Orphanages are run the same way!!

My "in laws" are Christian missionaries and work tirelessly raising funds for the orphanages they support out in Bulgaria. They have started a buisness in the UK that all profits they make go out to the Orphanages and have extended now to selling franchises of there buisness with the agreement that a percentage of the franchise profits goes back into the charities pot also!!

Brian and Chris spend 75% of their time living out in Bulgaria working in one place or another and the 25% they are in the UK is spent organizing volunteer groups to go out there and help build classrooms, spend time with the children play with them etc. I myself will be going out there very soon!!

(oh and Hi by the way, i've been reading your blog for a while. well since I got back from HESFES and google searched and it popped up)

Wobblymoo said...

I don't really watch too much tv but hopefully enough people saw that program to make a real difference to those children

Leo said...


Liza said...

just reading that brought tears to my eyes so i'm glad i didnt watch it :(