Today we visited toddler orphans. One of our little favorites is one of the oldest in the facility, we'll call her Olivia. As far as we know Olivia does not have "Orphan Status" and cannot be adopted, but we're not sure. We heard she and her little sister were being pursued for adoption and then we heard that their mother was about to take them back.
You read that correctly. In Ukraine, as many as 92% of institutionalized children have one or both parents. The children find themselves in the orphanage system because the parents can't or won't take care of their children. Most of the time children end up in an orphanage (either surrendered voluntarily by their parents or taken by the police or social services) because of extreme poverty or abuse or neglect.
Olivia and her sister are 5 and 3 years old and have spent most of their lives in this orphanage. The mother is Roma, that is, a gypsy. Roma people make up about 10% of the population here in Western Ukraine but account for a much higher percentage of institutionalized children in our region. The girls are both beautiful.
All that is background, here's the story. Today our friend Julie joined us as we played outside with some of the children. Julie is a foster mother who recently took a brother and sister (George and Ally) from this orphanage and she brought George with her to play outside with his old friends. When it was time to go back inside, Julie and George started going the other way- towards the gate to go home, while we escorted the other children back to their "cell" inside the orphanage. Olivia didn't understand so we tried to explain to her that George was going home with his mother. At that point, Olivia wanted to know why she couldn't go home with Julie too. We tried to explain that someday her mother will come back for her and taker her home like Julie was taking George home.
That's when Olivia told us she didn't want to go home with her mother. She told us her mother visited last week and that she is a "Smelly Roma" and she didn't want to go home with her, she wanted to go home with Julie.
Where do you think a five-year-old girl learns that her mother is a "Smelly Roma"?