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Back to work

Today I returned to one of my regular orphanages for the first time since the school year began. I arrived fairly late, intending to mostly visit with people and decide on a schedule that would be convenient for them.

Before going, I had spoken on the phone with Galya, one of the counselors. I am amazed at how the situation has changed, compared with a year ago. We had not crossed paths before and she didn’t seem interested in cooperating. She would hurry around chasing her kids and shouting bossily. I usually received a raised eyebrow…until the day when it turned out that she had thought I was just a Russian girl who happened to know English, and not an American who came regularly to teach. Not that a Russian expert in English should be worse received! :)

After that she began to take care to make sure her kids were ready when I arrived. She observed how I interacted with them and led lessons, and she seemed to soften. Later she approached me for private lessons, and I agreed to tutor her. I’m always happy to spend time encouraging other people who work with orphans, and English lessons offer a chance to do just that. We met a few times weekly all spring and half of the summer. I think you could even say that we became “friends,” a term not used loosely.

As I rode the metro to the orphanage, I received several missed calls from Galya. I was finally able to call her when I was riding up the escalator. “Come straight to my group when you arrive,” she said. “The children are waiting.” Waiting? That was more than I expected.

When I entered the orphanage, the dog FINALLY did not bark, after 3 years, and the security guard remembered me too, so I didn’t have any “What do you want?” questions to answer. I went to Galya’s group. She gave me a big hug, catching me by surprise. “What is she, your friend now?” one of the girls retorted.

I hadn’t prepared any lessons, but I helped the kids with their English homework for school. One boy seemed to be a little slow, but it was still an improvement that he agreed to sit with me. Last year he had run away whenever I approached. We finished the homework with prompting, and I could see that he could write and memorize words, but had trouble with comprehension and conversation. I wasn’t sure what he was doing writing complete sentences if he couldn’t even manage a “hello,” but perhaps he is simply storing all the information to use when he is ready.

After homework, Galya offered me a cup of tea, and then I was called suddenly to the phone to help a girl talk to her American host parents. I sat nearby chatting with the supervisor on duty, periodically intervening on the girl’s behalf. The supervisor shared that many of the kids have been adopted by members of the same community in the U.S., so they are able to see each other at church and keep in touch. She seemed positive about that. While we were still sitting in the front entranceway, the younger group returned from their outdoor-time on roller-skates. Seeing me, one girl flew through the doorway and straight towards me, but was quickly directed back out the door, still on wheels.

On a nearby couch, the shy boy from earlier was visiting with a relative. She had evidently given him a toy, which he was inspecting. "It's his birthday tomorrow," said the supervisor. A birthday, and his family relations were reduced to a chat in the public hallway. "Is that his mother?" I asked. "No, aunt." Several of the social workers we've spoken with concerning foster care have recommended that we make it a priority to track down living relatives first and help them to renew relationships with the children. Sometimes the family has broken up because of certain circumstances that couldn't be avoided, and they just need a little encouragement to get back together. For example, a childless relative may feel inadequate to raise a cousin's child, but with a little help from a social worker would feel more confident. This would be a great way to help at some point in the future, but for now of course we do want to start with a more narrow focus and do quality work before expanding.

I went back to say goodbye to Galya. She was helping the kids with homework. “Guess what, you’ll be studying English with Leeza this year,” she said bossily (or not?) to the other of the boys who had always run away from me. “I know,” he said in a whisper.

Perhaps this year, no one will be afraid of me. :)


  1. It must be so exciting to see people's attitudes toward you change over a year and to see that trust gained in a child. What great encouragement! And who could ever be afraid of you? :) I love reading your thoughts and all about your life, but I miss you! I really want to see you next time you're back in this country!

    PS. Isabel turned 2 yesterday! I'm feeling proud, and a bit sad at how fast it has all gone.


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