Oasis of Love
Children with disabilities are a special category in our society. When it comes to children, it is difficult to assume that a small and unprotected human being has to suffer, sometimes a lifetime. The Church teaches us that every child is a gift from God, and the suffering and the sick in a particular way manifest God’s love. It’s easy to say, but hard to believe. Until you really see it at Caritas Ruse Day Center for Disabled Children “Mercy”.
Here are different children, both young and elder. Diagnosis is also varied: child cerebral palsy, epilepsy, various mental and physical disorders. The youngsters visit the center as a kindergarten, they get food and bedtime. Elder ones come here when they are not at school.
I’m going to the kids. The nine-year-old Maria* has just woke up and one of the center employees is approaching her. She congratulates her with a smile. During this time, another woman changed the diaper of little Vasko, who is 4 years old, but has difficulty in moving. Then comes Martin. Dressed up, he sits in a chair beside the twins Peter and Andrey, who draw together with the other children. I am struck by the love they show in caring for the children, the same way I care for my own child at home. It is not by accident that Maria’s mother, Nina Milkova, excitedly shares with me that for her the center is “a small oasis where her child feels great and visit with a great desire.” “She has just found her place,” says the mother.
Maria is 9 years old, suffers from epilepsy and lags behind in her development. She goes to school with her mother, who attends classes in order for her child to visit them. The Charity Center is also a great help for the parents of children with disabilities because it enables them to be preserved as personalities and to find some time for themselves. I do not know if anyone who has not experienced it could understand how much these people have suffered and how much courage and strength they need to continue to take care of their children. The center master, Teodora Gerganova, also describes the parent-child relationship as a special one. “If a child suffers from cerebral palsy and has undergone ten operations for several years, parents are constantly afraid of something happening to them, and they do not feel it how they allow everything”. So she thinks that when children attend the center, specialists manage to teach them some rules that are harder to learn at home, and help them to socialize to some extent.
It turns out that working with parents is just as important. Some of them find it difficult to recognize the child’s real abilities, especially at school, and try to compensate for mental retardation. Teodora Gerganova says that “it is not easy to confront the parent’s suffering and to support it, to maintain self-control and find the right words in the given situation.” Maria’s mother confirms it: “The parents of such children are very sensitive.” Another mother, Galina Angelova, added that “in “Mercy” we have a special relationship to both children and mothers, they are all here as a family.” Her children are twins: Peter and Andrey, 3 years old. They have cerebral palsy and epilepsy. “The first week I enrolled them, I was sitting outside in the car so I could pick them up if they do not feel well,” she recalls. Now, however, she feels calm for her children.
The atmosphere is cool, people are smiling. Maria’s mother appreciates that in their work with children the specialists take into account their workload and take into account the parent’s opinion. A therapist, a speech therapist and a psychologist work with the small visitors of “Mercy”. The children participate in art and music therapy, exhibit pot ware and drawings they make at exhibitions. They visit various cultural events. “There is no place in the city where we have not led them to visit,” explains the center master – cinemas, theaters, operas, museums, playgrounds.”
Unfortunately, however, they do not have many friends. “Children who have particular behavior are not accepted with open hearts by other children,” says the twins’ mother. She hopes that the visits to the center will help Peter and Andrey to catch up for their problems.
Maria’s mother also used other social services, both municipal and private. According to her, the difference in them and in the center is in the special attention to children. She says the center has its shortcomings, but would not disclosing them. When she talks about what a child does in “Mercy”, however, she does not stop smiling. “Yesterday, Mimi performed a piece of a song, happily clapping her hands,” she says. “She’s so small, but it’s important to us because I know she was happy,” she adds.
While I am listening to their stories, my eyes are filled with tears. I keep my lips tight so as not to give away, but I immediately ask Teodora Gerganova from where she finds strength for her work with children. She tells me she’s getting used to it. And she understands how important health is. “Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make changes with such children, slowly and with a lot of effort,” she says. “But when it happens, you receive enormous joy and satisfaction. Now I feel as if they were my children,” adds Teodora. “Working with them is my mission that is part of the Caritas mission.”
Meanwhile, most children are already taken by their parents. Little Martin, smiling, holds his mother’s hand while the kinesitherapist tells him “bye-bye”. He is pleased. Tomorrow he will come again.
* Children’s names have been changed.