Wednesday, April 27, 2011

March 22, Visiting the Safe House

Tuesday morning began with a visit to a safe house for women and children affected by domestic abuse. We had been told on Monday that the children in the house were there because they were either witnesses of abuse (but not recipients) or were pulled from their homes because they were being sold in to prostitution. It was fairly easy to decipher which children were which, based on ages and developmental levels.

The morning began with a music group with the ladies in the house. They ranged in ages from a young mom of an infant to a woman who had to be in her 80's (at least). We implemented a variety of experiences, including a drum circle, lyric analysis, expressing feelings through instrument playing, progressive muscle relaxation, and creating a musical rainstorm. The women were receptive to us and later told the resident psychiatrist that they enjoyed the time and would like opportunities to do it again.
Allow me to pause at this point and say that while music might be called the 'universal language,' Bulgarian is not. I am so thankful for Marge, our translator in Stara Zagora, because she made events like this possible for us. She was instrumental (no pun intended) in the success of these sessions; we couldn't have done it without her!
I enjoyed getting to interact with the ladies in the house, and hear a bit about their journeys through discussion. The older woman (the one in her 80's) was certainly the leader of the group. Unfortunately, this is surprising to us Americans because of the mindset we have of older adults. I must remind myself that other cultures still revere the elderly and adhere to their wisdom. This woman even told us that she was a believer and had a strong faith in the Lord. It always amazes me how one can set out with the intention of serving the Lord by blessing others and be so blessed in return.
Bessie and I were also able to spend a small amount of time one-on-one with the young mother and her infant son. We talked with her and did some music with the baby before he got really hungry and demanded lunch for himself.
We left the safe house to grab some lunch before the children returned from school. Our translator set up a lunch with the pastor from her church in Stara Zagora- the church who lent us their apartment to sleep in while there. He was friendly and interested in what it was we were doing. It might be interesting to know that people are attached to their cell phones in other countries as well; it's not just an American epidemic! He was a very busy and much needed man.

We returned to the house after lunch to meet with the children who had returned home from school. What a great group. There were three girls and two boys, and one boy was there with his sister. All the children had a bond with one another, and agreed that they had become their own little family while living at the safe house. We repeated some of the same experiences with the children as we did with the adults, like a drum circle, lyric analysis and making a musical rainstorm. We spent a good deal of time working with the instruments in a drum circle setting and allowed each child to conduct. They assigned instruments to each member of the group, and then played their own instrument in whatever style they wished and the group had to follow suit. This gave each child the opportunity to be in control. Understand that in the situation they come from, they often feel helpless and powerless. We discussed with each member how it felt to lead and have others do as they pleased. All of them liked it.
We spent some time speaking with the facility psychiatrist afterwards and answering questions she had. She told us a little bit about each child and how the women had a positive response to their morning music session. Everyone was happy to know that the instruments were staying at the facility and could be used when desired/needed.

Because I am fairly new to the field, I don't have a wide spectrum of experience yet regarding various populations. I had not worked with individuals affected by abuse prior to this. As you can imagine, walking in to a situation like this can be daunting. Couple this with the fact that you can't speak with them directly because of a language barrier and it becomes down right scary. Obviously I survived and was able to contribute to the work God was doing there. He's so faithful!
It broke my heart to look at the faces of young girls who were separated from their families because the people who were supposed to love them the most decided to sell them in to prostitution. Even now writing this, the righteous anger is growing. But I must remember that their Heavenly Father loves them more than anyone here ever could, and he hasn't abandoned them. In fact, he's given them a safe place to heal and grow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Visit to Orphanage "Sveti Ivan Rilski"

On Saturday morning a group of 11 of us visited the orphanage.  There were three people from Down Syndrome Education International, four from Connecting the Rainbow, Amy and I from BRIGHT, and two moms with children with Down Syndrome from Sofia.  We had been told that there were some allegations against the orphanage and that they may be stand offish.  Who wouldn't be with 11 people visiting your facility even if you didn't have any allegations.

We spent some time talking with the standing director, the orphanage psychologist, and another official person from the orphanage.  They told us about their orphanage and answered questions of what some of the needs of the children were.  This particular orphanage is both a daycare and an orphanage.  Many of the baby houses are being closed due to lack of money so many orphanages opt to also be a daycare.  We heard how many doctors were under the philosophy that it is better to terminate than to have children with disabilities.  88% of pregnancies that indicate any issues with the prenatal testing are terminated.  Their prenatal testing is not as accurate as ours so there are probably many pregnancies that are terminated that may have been typical children due to many false positives.  People don't want children with Down Syndrome but don't know anything about it and wouldn't even be able to identify a child that had it when presented with a group of children.  So many are operating on lack of knowledge and lack of acceptance of anything different.  It breaks my heart the children who are not given a chance because of a disability or the # of chromosomes.  Children are children and should be loved as that, period.

We were told that there were 100 children at the orphanage.  We were offered a tour to see the children.  However, we only saw maybe 30 and some of those were a very quick glance.  There were rooms that we were not allowed into as these were isolation rooms as the children were returning from the hospital or just new to the orphanage.  We were told we could not take pictures.

The experience of the tour will always be in my memory.  I wanted to gather all these children up and just give them hugs and tell them that someone loved them.  Almost a month later, and I can still see the children's faces in my head and feel that tap on my shoulder from those that just want some attention and love!

The first room we went to was one of the daycare rooms.  There were three girls in this room, it appeared one was receiving some type of therapy.  The other two were just sitting in chairs.  One was in a wheelchair and we were told that she was four years old.  She looked to be the size of a four year old.  Has anyone ever seen a four year old with at least four, if not, eight permanent teeth?  This child would hold our hands and smile with any bit of attention whether through talking or touch.  The other child in the other chair was definitely overwhelmed by new people and attention and would scream when anyone came near her.  However, she did calm when I sang "Itsy Bitsy Spider" very quietly and helped her do the motions.  The third little girl was a spitfire.  She was given a break from the therapy that she was receiving to interact with those of us in the room.  She thoroughly enjoyed hugs and talking with us even if we just nodded and smiled.  While we giving her hugs and talking with her, the person giving us the tour said "she can walk".  As if to say, put her down and then she took the girl to the parallel bars and had her show us how well she walked.  The orphanage worker, I believe the psychologist, told the girl, "If you walk to me I will give you a kiss."  The girl began blowing kisses and walked as quickly as she could to the adult.  However, she didn't receive the kiss that she was promised.  We continued to hug and interact with her.  At one point, one of us put her down and the girl went over to the orphanage worker and asked for a hug.  The girl was immediately put on time out, this just about killed me.

We then moved on to a group of four rooms that were all connected by half walls with windows from waist to ceiling.  The first three rooms had two or three children, many of whom were infants that were just laying around looking at the ceiling.  The fourth room had about nine small cribs lining the four walls.  This room had children who were a bit older up to four or five, I would guess.  Children with hydrocephalus, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other medical conditions.  There was a play mat where two children were out playing, one of these his family was in the final adoption stages through Reece's Rainbow.  The care provider for this room just sat in the corner with no affect.  It was evident that many of these children did not move from their crib.  There was a boy with hydrocephalus towards the entrance to the room but every time the care provider walked past him, she turned her back to him as if purposefully not to look at him as she may get what he has.  These children reached out of their cribs to get attention and were as darling as could be and were thriving on the attention with giggles and smiles.  As soon as the tour guide saw this, it was time for us to move on.

We had tried to schedule a music time with the children but this was not an option as it was visiting time for some children and then it was lunch time.  We did donate instruments to the orphanage.  After the tour, we returned to talk again with the staff and told them about our donation.  The psychologist's eyes got very big when she saw the gathering drum and other instruments.  She said that many people make donations but typically of stuffed animals.  The stuffed animals have no purpose and do not teach the children anything.  She was excited that this was something that they could utilize.  Let's pray that they do, the children need some interaction and something to brighten their days.

After we exited the orphanage and were deciding what we were going to do for the afternoon while standing outside the orphanage, we heard them playing the drum in the office where we had been.  I guess they were excited about the drum.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sunday 3/20/11 World Down Syndrome Day One Day Early

Apologies for the delays in posts and the fact that they are not in order.  We are back to the schedule of daily life and free time to blog is limited.  Posts will come as time allows.

We got the privilege to participate in a conference organized by the Association of Parents of Children with Down Syndrome.  The conference was titled "How To Develop the Hidden Potential of Children with Down Syndrome".  The motto for the conference was "One Extra Chromosome Unites Us".
 The conference was a great success.  Total attendees was over 200.  In attendance were parents with children with Down Syndrome, therapists, care providers, teachers, doctors, and orphanage workers from all over Bulgaria.  Presenters included a Developmental Pediatrician, Researcher, and Speech Therapist from Down Syndrome Education International (, parents from the US that have biological and adopted children with Down Syndrome, and BRIGHT Children International.  We presented on Music Therapy and the various ways that Music Therapy can be used to address many skills for children of all ages and abilities.  Unfortunately, due to things starting a late, a common thing in Bulgaria, and the volume of information that everyone wanted to share, our time was shortened to an hour.  We would have liked to have more time and talk more in detail about how parents can utilize music in daily activities.

This was during one of our musical examples during our presentation.  We had the parents and professionals up and moving around as well.

While the other presenters were presenting.  We spent time doing music and interactive activities with the children with Down Syndrome that had come with their parents to the conference.  The children enjoyed their time.  As usual, the favorites included the guitar, big gathering drum and the parachutes.  One of the children, who has some Autistic tendencies in addition to Down Syndrome, when first introduced to the drum would only play it by taking other people's hands but by the end of the time he was initiating playing completely on his own.  There were many children highly responsive to the music and displayed great cause and effect and sense of rhythm.

The conference was a great success.  Families were empowered with knowledge and ideas on how to assist their children in reaching their potential.  Professionals were given ideas and hear research on what is working for children with Down Syndrome.  May this be a season of change for Bulgaria.  Mindsets need to change and hearts be opened to what a child can bring to the table regardless of chromosome count, color of skin, medical condition, or special need.  I know I am blessed to be able to work and learn from these children on a daily basis.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friday. We have arrived!

After three flights for me and five flights for Bessie, we finally landed on Bulgarian soil. We collected our six fairly large, very heavy boxes of instruments to donate, and met Steve and Brigitte. Steve is an American missionary from Minnesota, and Brigitte is a mom of four, two with Downs Syndrome, from Iowa. We drove through a section of Sofia, Bulgaria that was distinctly 'communist.' Large cement apartment buildings that are dilapidated stand 15 stories tall. One building reminded me of a pez dispenser- that's how multi-colored the building was. Apartments are typically owned and not rented, so owners have the option of adding insulation to their apartment and then painting the exterior whatever color they choose.
Once Bessie and I took showers for the first time in what seemed like A VERY LONG TIME, I feel asleep, so I don't know what Bessie did.
Before we left for dinner, we began to divide the plethora of instruments so as to create gift bags for the conference attendees.

Dinner was at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant called "Vecelo Selo" (that's transliterated) meaning happy village. The food was delicious and plentiful! The entertainment was entertaining (see video on previous blog post). I enjoyed the evening immensely, but Valentina (my favorite Bulgarian) suggested that we leave the restaurant before 10pm because that's when the entertainment starts dancing on the tables.

Bessie and I packed 60 gift bags when we returned to the hotel and went to bed well past 1:00 AM.

The Top Ten Things I Learned in Bulgaria

10. Europe does not change their clocks at the same time as the USA, so it was only a 6 hour difference from EST and not 7... whoops...

9. Sunny Beach is not actually a sunny beach.

8. What a cockroach looks like- GROSS

7. Yes is no and no is yes. Bulgarians bobble their head from side to side when agreeing or saying yes, and nod their heads firmly when communicating 'no.' Very confusing...

6. If that's not bad enough, a B is a V, a P is an R, an X is an H, and an H is an N.

5. When at a traditional Bulgarian Restaurant, leave by 10pm, unless you want people to dance on your table.

4. The music played in public places is all American pop music, which was great for me, except when you're singing in the taxi and the cab driver turns down the radio, you are listening to "La Bumba" in an Irish Pub, or you hear Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" in March.

3. I am a very good driver. For those of you who would like to refute that statement, bite your tongue. I will take you Bulgaria and we'll see if you survive to change your mind.

2. If someone offers you a beverage- take it. If you don't (I don't know who would do such a thing) you might possibly end up with three beverages in front of you instead of zero. JUST TAKE THE DRINK.

and 1. Gathering drums are a hit with kids no matter where you are in the world :)