Maksym – Ukraine

Maksym

Maksym is 16 years old and has spent most of his life trapped in Ukraine’s vast and loveless network of children’s institutions. Maksym’s mother couldn’t cope with raising her children in poverty and so, when he was three, he was sent to live in an orphanage.

Life there was especially tough for Maksym who had been born with an eye disorder. The other children teased him and he responded with his fists. The only support this lonely little boy had was his older sister, Anya, who has been sent to live in the same institution.

Soon, Maksym had a reputation as a trouble maker and so he was deliberately misdiagnosed as having a “mild mental retardation”. This gave the authorities the excuse they needed to send him to a specialist boarding school, in a remote area some 100 kilometers away. No one asked Maksym if he wanted to go; he wasn’t even allowed to say good bye to Anya.

At first Maksym was defiant – he cried, begged to see his sister; he refused to eat or speak but eventually, he was forced to come to terms with his situation and make the best of things.

After eight years Maksym was transferred to another specialist institution, in yet another part of the country. Again, no one warned him about the move, explained the reason for the decision or allowed him to say good bye to his friends.

Throughout his childhood, Maksym suffered repeated ear infections. He tried to tell the staff in the institutions about the pain but they ignored him and so he stopped complaining. As a result, he almost lost his hearing.

In all, Maksym spent 13 years surviving in a system where no one cared for him as an individual, where no one cared for him at all.

When Hope and Homes for Children began work to close the last facility where Maksym lived, we had to fight hard to guarantee him a better future. Because of his age and his false diagnosis, the authorities wanted to send him on down the line to an adult institution. Maksym was at risk of spending his entire life, trapped in the system, and we were determined not to let that happen.

Instead, we made sure that Maksym was able to move to one of our Small Family-Group Homes. These are houses we build to care for children from orphanages who cannot be reunited with their birth families or matched with foster parents. Often, this is because of their age or because they have special needs.

So today Maksym lives in an ordinary domestic house, in a residential part of town where he is part of the local community. He shares his new home with a small group of other children and adult carers. For the first time in his life, he has his own space, his own clothes and his own possessions. None of these things were allowed in the institutions.

Maksym has already had two operations to correct the problems with his eye and his ears and he is preparing for a third. His dream, to no longer feel ashamed of his face, will finally come true. Maksym has also had his false diagnosis overturned so now he can attend a mainstream school. His ambition is to design and make shoes.

Most importantly of all, we have managed to reunite Maksym with Anya. So this year, at last, he will spend Christmas in a home where he is cared for and respected as an individual, with a sister to love him.

Sena – Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sena

Seeing Sena Dedic at home with her mother, Esma, it’s very hard to believe they haven’t always been together. There’s so much love and affection between the two of them. The small house they share on the outskirts of a city in the North of Bosnia and Herzegovina is full of warmth, both physical and emotional.

But Sena spent the first four years of her life in the city’s orphanage – a huge, loveless institution where she was just one child among many. Even as a tiny baby, she had no one to care for her above all the others, to cuddle her, to comfort her or to play with her.

When Sena was born, Esma was alone and desperate. Her life had always been tough. Her father was killed in the Bosnian war and the rest of her family fled the country to escape the fighting. Esma was a refugee in her own country, a young woman with no one to support or guide her. She became pregnant at the very start of a new relationship and was frightened to tell Sena’s father. She thought he would not want her to keep the baby so she broke up with him and continued with her pregnancy alone. Fifteen days after giving birth, with nowhere to live and no income, Esma felt she had no choice but to take Sena to the orphanage and leave her there.

Just like Sena, most children who grow up in orphanages are not orphans at all. They have families who would and could care for them if they had the means to do so. That’s why, whenever possible, our partners in Bosnia and Herzegovina try to reintegrate children from institutions with their birth families and give them the support they need to stay together.

We first met Sena when we began work to close the orphanage where she lived. She was four years old by then, a withdrawn little girl who was still wearing nappies because no one had taken the time or trouble to teach her to use the toilet by herself.

Working with our partners in the local child protection department, we made contact with Esma to see if it might be possible to reunite her with her daughter. By then Esma’s situation had improved a great deal. She was in a steady relationship with a caring, hard-working man called Anto. They were living together in the small house he owned and Esma had occasional work as a cleaner.

Esma wanted very much to bring Sena home and Anto was happy to support her decision. The reintegration process took several months. We helped Sena, Esma and Anto to establish secure relationships with each other. We also enrolled Sena in a local nursery so that Esma could continue to work to provide for her daughter. Once Sena left the orphanage to join Esma and Anto, we continued to monitor the family’s progress to make sure that Sena was happy and that Esma and Anto were coping in their new role as parents.

It was only once Sena was safely home that Esma felt able to reveal that Anto was in fact Sena’s biological father.  “When Esma told me that I am Sena’s father I felt hurt because she kept that from me for a long time”, Anto says “but at the same time it was the happiest moment of my life”.  When Sena calls Anto “Babo” (daddy), it’s obvious to everyone how proud he is.

Anisija Radenkovic, Hope and Homes for Children Country Director in Bosnia and Herzegovina, remembers the first time she met Sena.

“She was very quiet and rarely smiled but since she has returned to her family, she has blossomed. To me, Sena is proof that what children need to be happy is not fortune, but love” says Anisija.

Sena is seven now and has just started school. She likes to play with her puppy and help her mother around the house and in the garden. She’s a happy, much-loved little girl with a real home and a family of her own.

 

Georgi – Bulgaria

Georgi

Katya visted her son Georgi at every opportunity when he was in an institution for babies. She had been persuaded to give him up at birth because she and her husband had no regular income and four other children to care for. They were told they would be able to take him back after a few months but, with no services to support families available to them, their situation didn’t improve and it looked likely that Georgi would remain in institutional care long term.

At twelve months old however, Georgi came back to live with his parents and four brothers thanks to a family support service run by a local NGO.

The cost of Georgi growing up with his family rather than in institutional care was some repairs to the family home, some clothes and a few essential baby items such as a bed for Georgi, a buggy and a potty.

Georgi returned visibly damaged by his time in the institution. He was a frightened, withdrawn, sad little boy having spent most of his life alone in a cot without any love, affection or sense of security. Back in his family he is beginning to recover and learning to feel secure in his family.