Everyday Life in the Bishkek Baby House

December 3, 2005 | 27 comments
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For my last post, I wanted to write about the baby house (orphanage) I visit often. I’m not trying to make any kind of point here; I’m just giving a brief glimpse into the lives of a few little ones far away from most of you.

There are around 100-120 children in the government baby house, the only one in Bishkek. Many of the children were abandoned, but some have mothers who often visit, and others’ mothers formally gave up their parental rights.

The baby house is on the southeast edge of Bishkek where there are individual houses instead of apartment buildings. There is beautiful landscaping along with a playground. The building is very clean, and while not particularly nice, is perfectly adequate. It never smells very fresh inside, but it’s more a sour milk smell than a dirty smell. Each group of babies has a sleeping room filled with rows of cribs, a playing/eating room with tables for feeding the babies and two large playpens, and the toilet room.

The children are technically divided by age (but more realistically by ability) into groups of 10-12; there are three groups of babies. Children usually leave the baby house when they turn four. There are far more boys than girls in my group, but the social worker said last year there were more girls than boys. There are usually three women assigned to each group, although I’ve seen four when a group has its full 12 babies. At night one nurse is with the babies to feed them and change them.

The babies come and go. Altinai turned one and moved on to the older group, Shairah was adopted, and Misha’s mother was able to take him home. A few have joined the group too; Janad, Murad, Violeta, and Islam have all come in the last few weeks.

Belek’s mother visits often, at least once a week. She comes to the door and the women bundle Belek up in a big coat and hat. They go outside where his mother spends about an hour with him. She often brings crackers for him. Once I had Diana (one of the babies, pronounced dee-AH-nah) outside and Belek’s mother gave Diana a cracker. It was clearly the first time she’d ever eaten something with her own hands even though she almost one.

I always visit in the afternoon around two. The babies are just waking up from a nap and ready to eat. The older children get frantic while they are sitting in their chairs waiting for their food. Most of the babies are quick and easy to feed, except Diana, who is into everything. The older babies usually have a mixture of mashed potatoes, ground meat, and scrambled eggs. We attempt to give them apple juice, but they only have cups and it’s nearly impossible to get a 7-month-old to drink juice out of a cup. The younger babies have milk with various things mashed up inside. The bottles are difficult to use because they get clogged with the bits of meat or grain.

After they eat, the older babies are tied onto the toilets (you might call them potty chairs) for a while. While this might sound appalling, it’s nowhere near as bad as it sounds. They are tied on so they can’t crawl away or fall off their chair. The point is to train them to go at a certain time to make orphanage life run a little more smoothly. By the time they’re two, they’ll be so well trained that if they are adopted, they will still need to go to the bathroom at certain times of the day without fail (a little tricky when you consider the different time zones). It’s not something I’d promote anyone doing, but I understand why it’s done in the baby house.

The timing seems to be rather arbitrary, but after being taken off the toilets, the older babies are put into a very large playpen where they crawl and walk and play. This is one of my favorite times because they are looking for attention and it’s fun to go around and play with each one. Belek will stubbornly walk around and around the edge do matter how many times he falls, Diana will crawl over anyone in her path, Vova rolls all around, Arsin lies quietly and smiles, Violeta does anything she can to move around, and Isin is oblivious to everything. The babies pay more attention to each other than babies usually do. One day Arsin and Vova ended up in the same corner and laughed and laughed with each other.

The younger babies are laid down in a different playpen after they eat. They roll around sometimes and play. It’s fun when all five are lined up- Janad, Askar, Jamal, Bolod, and Islam. I can get them all laughing and can touch two of them at the same time. I’ll sometimes take one or two outside if I can get them bundled up enough. The nurses are very strict about the babies wearing plenty of clothes, even when it was 95 degrees outside.

This is basically their day. They eat, sleep, and are left alone to play. They have never been rocked to sleep, given a bath, read to, or eaten a cracker. The nurses will sing to them and sometimes pick up one that is especially fussy, but they usually aren’t touched except when they are eating or being transferred from one place to another. I’ll often rub their heads and faces when they are sad. Just touching them seems to calm them more than anything. Some other volunteers do baby massage with another group of babies, but I don’t think anyone does with my group.

Each baby has all the basics- except someone, anyone, to think she is the most important child in the world. Certainly they are loved. The nurses take good care of them; some are excellent. But I don’t think it’s enough. I wish there were more I could do for them, but I think the little I am able to do helps.

27 Responses to Everyday Life in the Bishkek Baby House

  1. maria on December 3, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    Erica,

    I’m crying as I read this. It brought back all the memories of the summer I spent at a baby orphanage in Romania. The kids used to love it when I would sing primary songs with them–especially the ones with fun body movements and hand gestures. They also really loved the tune of “I am a Child of God,” but I usually couldn’t make it past the “with parents kind and dear” line.

    Oh, my heart just aches for them, and for all your babies. God bless you for all that you are doing. And may angels always accompany you to the baby house.

  2. Wilfried on December 3, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you, Erica, for sharing this with us. I admire your way of describing it all. Factual, but much left to interpretation and imagination. At the same time, I appreciate you also point out positive things. From our complacent and “advanced” West we have a tendency to consider those places as basically horrible, but I think there is also appreciation to be given for what is being done in spite of limitations and circumstances. Also, again, thank you so much for your wonderful posts that gave Times and Seasons a truly international perspective.

  3. Bookslinger on December 3, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    It’s been a long time since I’ve visited an orphanage. The only time was on Christmas day 1984.

    But I have often had very similar feelings when visiting nursing homes. So many virtually helpless people, and so much good that needed doing, but so few people to do it. It’s so overwhelming that the fear of drowning in it has caused me (or been my lame excuse) to do less than what I could.

  4. Julie M. Smith on December 4, 2005 at 12:14 am

    What would have to happen for an American to adopt one of these babies and please don’t tell my husband that I asked this question?

  5. Erica Merrell on December 4, 2005 at 12:16 am

    Thank you, Maria and Wilfried. I enjoyed your story, Bookslinger. Thanks for linking to it.

  6. Erica Merrell on December 4, 2005 at 1:00 am

    Julie, it is possible to adopt from here, but it can be a little harder than some other countries because there isn’t a lot of experience here with international adoption. The State Department website has no information about adopting from Kyrgyzstan.

    The adoptions that I am aware of are by missionaries or volunteers living in Bishkek. They have gone through a local social worker. It may well be possible for a family who doesn’t live here to go through her instead of an agency. She speaks English well and wants to get these children into good homes. There are few agencies working here, but I don’t know much about them. Frank Foundation (www.frankadopt.org) is probably the best bet if you really want an agency, but I’d highly recommend checking carefully into them and talking to parents who have worked with them, whether they adopted or not. Find out how many adoptions they have actually completely from Kyrgyzstan and check into their required fees. Kyrgyzstan shouldn’t cost as much as Kazakhstan.

    An agency should take you through the whole process, but if you did it on your own, you’d need to complete a home study in the US and complete the required INS paperwork. You would probably need to make two trips to Kyrgyzstan, one to choose the child you want to adopt and get the process started, and another to pick them up and go to court and to the embassy in Kazakhstan, the nearest US embassy that processes adoptions.

    If someone were truly interested in more information, I can ask the local social worker.

  7. Wilfried on December 4, 2005 at 1:29 am

    I understand that adoption from those countries has become increasingly difficult, not to speak of the financial gain some instances try to make of it, even the official ones. To make things worse, I heard anti-Mormon propaganda is spreading horror stories of what happens to children adopted in those households in the Mormon West. I have no experience in this field, but it seems http://lds.adoption.com/ offers adequate information and help. They have an international section.

  8. Chance on December 4, 2005 at 1:39 am

    I heard a mother on the news the other night who had recently adopted a teenager from Haiti who had lost both of his legs, but had the blessing of receiving two prostheses by the hand of her husband who had been visiting on a doctors abroad type mission (which of course lead to the adoption). At the conclusion of this interview, this women (who my wife guesses is LDS. We live in MN, so my money says they are Lutheran) said that their family is now complete with the arrival of this member.

    As a father, I understand this woman. Even though (and I am in no way bragging) we have adopted a nephew, had two of our own, and are in the process of adopting a 2nd nephew, I can tell you that my family still does not feel complete. I look forward to the day that we can add more of these little ones to our family as we look for that point of completion.

    My heart goes to the them because of your story. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Erica Merrell on December 4, 2005 at 4:08 am

    Thanks for your comments, Chance. I do think adoption is a good way to create a family, and one that is too often overlooked except in cases of infertility.

    There are some major obstacles to international adoption from FSR’s like Wilfried points out. Kazakhstan has allowed international adoptions for a long time, but it has recently become more difficult as judges in different areas apply laws differently and as the media has become increasingly negative.

    The financial gain is a big problem. KZ requires a $15,000 fee (in addition to other fees) that is in large part supposed to go to the orphanages, but I have no confidence that any money in Central Asia actually gets to its intended destination. Many parents end up bribing various government officials to be able to complete their adoptions.

    There’s also the good old bait-and-switch, where an agency shows you a picture of a charming baby and then when you get there, that baby doesn’t actually exist or isn’t adoptable. You can either choose a different child (which is actually what you’re supposed to do in KZ; referrals are illegal there) or go home. A careful couple should be able to avoid corrupt agencies though by doing plenty of research and using an agency with an excellent reputation. That’s my concern about agencies in KG since there is no agency with enough experience here to have an excellent reputation in Kyrgyzstan. Maybe they are great in Russia or Kazakhstan, but in-country experience is necessary.

    Kyrgyzstan really is a little harder to adopt from because it is almost impossible to find out what the laws actually are and there is very little precedent to be able to predict what might happen here. However, the fees aren’t as unreasonable as those in KZ, although I still wouldn’t bet that they’d be used for what they were supposed to be used for (for example, you’re supposed to pay $1,000 per year that the child was in the orphanage and that is supposed to go back into the system).

    The best thing though is that I feel that the baby house administrators want these children adopted. The government isn’t putting up a lot of obstacles right now. The biggest problem really is that there international adoption isn’t very common here. General international adoption information is helpful, but country-specific information is vital, and it’s hard to find here.

  10. Jim F. on December 4, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    Erica, thank you very, very much for this look into a part of the world few of us hear about much less visit. Your posts have been excellent.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on December 4, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    In a district I served in towards the end of my mission in Korea, we spent time visiting an orphanage/home for mentally handicapped children; some of them had spent their entire lives in the facility. We couldn’t do much–play with them, talk with them; one sister had a childlike, severely damaged older boy latch onto her hand, and she just held it back for hours. Still, the staff seemed so grateful for us. It was one of the few things I did on my mission that I look back on as a true, unprideful, unambiguous, Christian good.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Erica, and prompting some good but bittersweet memories of my own.

  12. Karen on December 6, 2005 at 6:44 am

    Erica, I’ve been thinking about your post so much over the last couple of days–I just can’t get those babies out of my mind. I don’t really have much to add, but thought you should know how thought provoking this post (and all your posts) have been.

    Karen

  13. Bryce I on December 6, 2005 at 11:23 am

    Once Erica’s guestblogging stint is over, be sure to head over to her blog for more posts like this one.

  14. Julie M. Smith on December 6, 2005 at 10:33 pm

    Bryce, you should have warned everyone that she has some seriously cute pictures of babies posted there.

  15. Kim on December 30, 2005 at 12:43 am

    My husband and I are considering adoption in Kyrgyzstan. Any comments about agencies in the U.S. that are allowed to handle this type of adoption.

  16. annegb on December 30, 2005 at 11:21 am

    Julie is right, you guys. Brace yourselves. Amira, wonderful post. I am smiling and crying. And feeling so helpless.

  17. Future Mom on January 4, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Hi, my husband and I are considering adopting from Kyrgyzstan, and in my research on the web, I stumbled upon these postings! I am happy to have found these postings, because there is little information on Kyrg adoption. My husband and I are currently in a holding pattern for adopting from Kazakhstan, we started the process 10 months ago, and are in a holding pattern because of the new Kaz regulations. So that is why we are considering switching to Kyrg. Like Kim, I would like information about adopting from Kyrg. Also, I am new to these types of postings on a website. Who is Erica, and is she in Kyrg trying to adopt right now? How do I get to see the photos that everyone is talking about? Forgive me for my confusion! Thank you.

  18. Future Mom on January 4, 2006 at 12:55 am

    Hi, I am so happy to read all of your postings – I stumbled upon them while using google to look into adopting from Kyrg! My husband and I have been trying to adopt from Kaz for 10 months now – our dossier was actually at the Kaz embassy in D.C. but then it was sent back because of the new regulations. It has become very difficult with Kaz now, so we are considering switching to Kyrg. Like Kim, I would like more info if anyone has it. Also, forgive me, but I am confused about what this website is that you are all posting messages on (Times and Seasons – Comments on Everyday Life in the Bishkek Baby House)? Erica, are you in Kyrg right now? How do I get to view the photos that everyone is talking about? Thank you!

  19. Russell Arben Fox on January 4, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Future Mom–sorry your comment got buried; I hope those with the right information will be able to get in touch with you. Erica does live in Kyrgyzstan, and she blogs regularly here. She isn’t planning on adopting a child in Kyrgyzstan so far as I know, but has volunteered regularly there over the past several months. She has a lot of information on her website.

  20. Future Mom on January 4, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Thanks, Russell! I’m sorry for posting 2 messages, everybody – I had thought that my first one didn’t get posted! What is the url for Erica’s website?

  21. Julie M. Smith on January 4, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    Future mom:

    http://amiralace.blogspot.com/

    Good luck!

  22. Erica Merrell on January 4, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    Kim and Future Mom (and anyone else),

    I just saw your posts. You can find my email address at my website that Russell and Julie both linked to. There is very little information about adopting here and you will run into problems because the laws are not well known. The families we have known who have adopted have had a difficult time and they didn’t go through US agencies. I don’t know all the ins and outs since we haven’t adopted yet, but feel free to email me with any questions you might have and I’ll try to answer them or see if I can find out the answers.

  23. Julie M. Smith on January 5, 2006 at 12:32 am

    yet? (grin)

  24. Rebecca on January 12, 2006 at 11:15 am

    I have always been interested in adoption and doing volunteer work in orphanages. For that reason, I review the precious.org/child-page on the net. They show a photo listing of many different agencies adoptable children from various countries. Last week, there was a photo of a child from Kyrgystan. He is deaf and if he’s not adopted, they will soon send him to an orphanage for older children with all kinds of physical and mental disabilties. He certainly won’t have much of a future if they do this. As I read through the postings today, I noted that it was against the country regulations to post photos of their adoptable children. I was going to see if I could help find this boy a home in the states, but now I wonder if the agency is legitimate. Perhaps they are a good agency and decided to post his listing because his situation is so unique? What is your take on this?

  25. Cate on February 9, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    I have adopted two boys from KAZ. and have just heard about a Kyrgystan program run by ChristianWorldAdoptions. http://www.cwa.org I know nothing about them as I used a different agency but they may have some good info.

    Cate

  26. Sarah Mechler on March 1, 2006 at 8:30 am

    Hi! We are missionaries too, living in Mongolia. But we used to live in Kazakstan and have visited Kyrgyzstan twice! I am really interested–is it Erika? in a response, on this or in private, to what you mentioned in 6. You see, we speak Kazakh–so similar to Kyrgyz, fairly fluently (have studied for 7 years and live among K.’s in the west here). We want to adopt again, and would love it to be Kyrgyzstan but we need to get in touch with the M.’s or volunteers in Bishkek that have done it. We feel we don’t need an agency, as long as that’s Ok with the government. But this social worker that speaks English..she’d be a gold mine. Could you please pass on any info. of contacts you have who’ve adopted who live in Bishkek, or the name and email of the social worker? We’d be SOOO grateful! Feel free to pass on our email too. Thanks for all the volunteer work at baby houses you do..we did a lot, too north of you. Sincerely, Sarah Mechler, [edited] or the above email address

  27. Erica Merrell on March 1, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Sarah, I’m the same person (Amira) that you emailed earlier about adopting from Kyrgyzstan. I hope you got my email then. I talked to the social worker and she can’t help with more adoptions. In fact, one that she has helped with isn’t going well despite her best efforts. Even though KG is starting to be talked about in adoption circles, the fact remains that fewer than 10 children have been adopted from here to the US in the last 2 years. The adoption laws were just changed too.

    I’ve written more about adopting from Kyrgyzstan here: http://amiralace.blogspot.com/2006/01/adopting-from-kyrgyzstan.html

    This includes information on the two agencies currently certified in Kyrgyzstan.

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