Thursday, May 6, 2010

The truth about Russian orphans

I've been saying it for a few years now. It was the topic of a presentation that I gave at the university last month.

Russian orphans are well cared for in the facilities here. They love their counselors and group-mates; they pursue normal childhood interests; they give performances and create amazing works of art; they grow into beautiful young men and women.

And then they are alone. In fact, they always knew they were "alone," but the orphanage helped them to forget, at least for a little while.

My friends have been passing this article around. If you haven't read it yet, you should. It gives an excellent analysis of current conditions. Let me know what your impressions are...


  1. Thanks for your comment on my cooking blog :)

    Working in a Russian orphanage is something I want to do someday. Maybe not for my whole life, but for some time. And that article was really enlightening.

    It seems as though there's no easy answer to the problem of so many children without families. And I imagine you feel helpless sometimes, unable to change the system - simply having to work with what you have.

    What really broke my heart was the part of the article where the children as, "When will a mama come for me?"

    Thank you for blogging - you're amazing!

    - Abbie

  2. I get kind of scattered because I know it needs a holistic approach: healing in birth families, getting kids adopted while they're young, working with adoptive families, working with the kids who remain in the orphanage, giving lessons in independent living, educating society, changing laws...etc.

    So the hard part is choosing a few areas for myself to focus on. Of course I feel helpless, a lot of times. Especially because the orphanages do a good job, and I think "What am I here for? Should I work on another branch of the problem?" But in order to be an advocate, I have to spend time among the kids myself.

  3. It is what I've been saying, too!

    I told that funny story about Sergei asking if I usually made his favorite meal using rat! I thought the story was uproarious because of how easy it is to mess up words in a language you didn't grow up with - but so many people couldn't imagine my attitude because they presumed that he is used to eating rat meat, if you can imagine!

    It is an uphill battle - and illustrates how well OUR media has done of painting EU orphanages as hell the same way THEIR media had attempted to paint adopted parents as villains. Crazy bits and pieces left over from the cold war, I guess.

  4. I knew you could relate. In some ways, I DO want people to be shocked at the tragedy of Russian orphans. It is terribly sad that they are orphaned, especially when their parents are alive! It isn't normal, and we should never paint it as such.

    BUT how wonderful that the kids are not out on the street. In many countries, an orphanage is a yearned-for need; food and shelter are in high demand. And here we are in Russia wishing there were less of them.

  5. I think, no, I KNOW that conditions vary from orphanage to orphanage and from caretaker to caretaker within that orphanage. I've been in so many different facilities in three different regions. I do think that some caretakers are loving and affectionate, but I do not think that is true of the majority. I have seen much bullying, especially of the younger children, by the orphanage workers. Yes, some of it is that this is a shame-based discipline style. But. Just because it is a cultural difference, doesn't mean it's okay.

    Respectfully, and from my experiences, I disagree. I do not think the children, especially the older children, are well-cared for. I do not think their basic needs for food, shelter and safety are being met. And, as for helping them grow into WHOLE people, I do not see that happening. The longer they spend in the institution, the harder their shells, the sadder their eyes and the fewer their dreams.

    Is it better than the street? Probably. Marginally. But not by much.

  6. Yes, the discipline style is definitely different. I'm not even sure how to make a fair evaluation. Kids generally goof off at my lessons because I refuse to raise my voice or make threats.

    There is no doubt about the effects of institutionalization. Kids lose a certain amount of development per amount of time spent in the orphanage. Etc. And I do see them deteriorating before my eyes.

    I would say that there are plenty of orphanages where there is good staff and where needs are being met. I think it is fair to say that as institutions, many Russian orphanages do a good job. But that does not change the fact that they are institutions and cannot replace families. There is no orphanage that could do that.


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