|The 'social home.'|
The institution pictured here is in Bulgaria and houses about 70 children ages 7 to 17. The playground is is comprised of blacktop and dirt, the windows have fencing, and the furniture is in bad condition. Those in charge do their best with what they have, but large facilities like this one cannot give the one-on-one attention that young children need to feel secure and loved.
|The view of the 'garden' from a bedroom window.|
Most of the children in this home are Roma, many have disabilities. In general, most Eastern and Southern European countries have made tremendous improvements in these institutions since 1989, but they are still 'institutions,' not homes, and the children living in them are not fully integrated into the community. They are instead stigmatized and sometimes they internalize a sense of rejection. One teenager on the cusp of leaving said, "I am Roma, Roma is bad."
(For more on our volunteer trip read Everybody Helps.)
Those of us from America often lack knowledge of and experience with the racially contentious milieu in which Roma live. However, 'Roma integration' is a priority for members of the European Union. In addition to the EU monies, integration programs receive assistance from private donors and NGOs in the US, Holland and the UK among others. Efforts have mixed success, just as does with integration of minorities in any country, be it the US or Iraq.
Georgette Mulheir and her organization, Lumos, work "to transform an outdated and harmful system into one which supports and protects children and enables them to have a positive future." Here is a ten minute TEDtalk by Ms. Mulheir on the perils of the social and emotional development of institutionalized children.