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 othersâ€™ 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 itâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Mishaâ€™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.
Belekâ€™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 Belekâ€™s mother gave Diana a cracker. It was clearly the first time sheâ€™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 itâ€™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, itâ€™s nowhere near as bad as it sounds. They are tied on so they canâ€™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 theyâ€™re two, theyâ€™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). Itâ€™s not something Iâ€™d promote anyone doing, but I understand why itâ€™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 itâ€™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. Itâ€™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. Iâ€™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 arenâ€™t touched except when they are eating or being transferred from one place to another. Iâ€™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 donâ€™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 donâ€™t think itâ€™s enough. I wish there were more I could do for them, but I think the little I am able to do helps.