This is where it gets a little comical.
Oh, if only you could be a fly on the wall of that Isolation building. We are seeing success, although I’m fairly confident from the outside it only looks like chaos, and not even the organized kind!
We attempt to place the boys around the table, as many as will fit. There are 15 boys in the room total. Three of the fifteen communicate with words, and only a handful can walk with any kind of stability.
Now that’s not to say they're immobile! Not hardly!
There are boys everywhere. Coming and going, crawling and walking and flopping and falling. It’s a beehive of activity. Sergei who forgot his accordion wheels Slavik up and down the hall in a wheelchair, the other Sergei sits in between Valera and Vladik, engaging the boys who sit at the table, Nina keeps Andrey (who is obsessed with water) from breaking the water faucet by continually rinsing his hands, and Christina and I begin the time.
We begin by greeting each boy by name with a simple song. We are attempting to give the boys a self-identity and try to be intentional about using their names- not just addressing them as a group.
After that we like to wash their hands, but the caregivers tell us all the towels are dirty. I make a mental note to bring our own handwashing supplies next time. Several of the boys like water and washing hands is a great sensory experience for all of them.
Next we hand out bananas. We’ve pretty much got it down which boys can safely feed themselves and which ones we need to hand feed. In about two minutes flat the bananas are gone. A couple boys scream for more, so we try to distract them with music.
Christina turns up our one more upbeat song and we work with the boys to try to teach them to clap. Misha loves music and the minute the song starts he begins to sing, in his way, as loudly as he can.
Oh man, I love it when Misha sings.
Misha is blind and when he sings he rocks back and forth back and forth, totally enthralled in the music.
You need to see it. I guarantee it will make you smile.
Some boys clap, Boris shrinks away from my touch when I try to help him bring his hands together. He’s content to just sway, not a fan of touch.
When the song ends we attempt our first ever game! The boys have no concept of play, let alone interactive play. We know our game goal is lofty, but we decide to give it a go. Let’s call it more of an “exercise” and less of a “game”. We start the music and help the boys pass the ball to each other around the table. When the music stops we ask “Who has the ball?” and clap and cheer, by name, for the person who has the ball.
Misha doesn’t understand the concept and throws the ball as hard as he can, wherever he can, when he gets the ball. Valera passes it for a few turns, then decides it’s more fun to throw it at other people’s heads.
Bogdan is new here, and fairly aggressive. He’s not at all interested in letting that ball out of his hands once it’s passed to him. I gently pry it out of hands as he gives me the evil eye, but after several turns he begins to throw the ball- at other people. Okay, not a pass, but also not a death grip. We'll take it! The game is messy and has little resemblance to the original concept, but some of the boys enjoy it, so we call it a success. I have high hopes for more of the boys being able to actively participate next week. It’s good for developing coordination, following directions, interacting with each other, and forming of an individual identity.
I think each of us volunteers got at least one ball straight to the face.
Nice aim, boys.
After the game we bring out the toys. There is a box of toys for the boys and this is the only time I’m aware of that they all get to play with them. I could be wrong. There are some plastic blocks, some duplos and a couple of balls. I make a mental note that we really need to improve the state of the toys. Most of the balls have bites chewed out of them and only 4 of the boys can really do anything with the blocks and duplos. The others just throw them, or hoard them, or don’t interact with them at all. I’m thinking we need to invest in some nice wooden baby toys. Baby toys are the way to go- toys of discovery, toys that will meet some of their sensory needs and can be chewed till their hearts content.
For the rest of the time we try to help the boys interact with the toys, we have face to face time with the boys who can accept it.
We keep Andrey from the sink.
We reach out to the boys who stay in the hall, attempting to help them move them to a place where they are more interested in personal interaction: touch, eye contact, soft words.
Vladik #2 coughs and sputters; he can’t manage his secretions well, and we wipe his chin, try to help him sit up straight in his wheelchair. We have yet to connect with him at all.
Bogdan starts trying to flip over the tables. Last time we were here he tried that from the very beginning of the time, but this time he did fine for about 70% of the time. Improvement!
Vitya fell earlier that day, before we arrived, and has been tied to his bed for safety. He really wants to be in the room with us, so we promise the caregivers we won’t let him out of our sight if they’ll allow him out of bed. Vitya goes straight for the basin of communal drink that the boys share and tries to get a drink. I spend the rest of the time steering him away, as the caregivers always instruct us not to give him anything. I haven’t yet discovered why…it’s on my to-do list.
Danil, the youngest and newest arrival to the institution, clings to Christina. He always needs to be close to someone.
Valera takes approximately 1,000 pictures with Christina’s Iphone. It’s noisy and messy and challenging and wonderful.
Before we know it our time is up. The kitchen staff delivers big pots of borscht and porridge, which the caregivers mix together to feed the boys. We help move the boys out of the room to the hall where they wait to eat in shifts. Bogdan refuses to come out of the room and tries again and again to overturn the tables. I think he’s had a bit too much stimulation- he’s done.
We walk around to each one, kissing their heads and saying goodbye. I hold Seryozha’s face in my hands and tell him I love him. I like to think he understands. I hope his spirit understands, at least. I take one last look at the ones who remained in bed, rocking back and forth, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. I wonder what holds them so captive and how God plans to free them.
Then we’re out, back in the fresh air and sunshine, like we’ve passed through the wardrobe and are in a completely different world.
I think about our boys often throughout the week.
While I’m at the park with my kids I wonder what they’re doing. I grieve over what I know they’re probably doing- nothing. I think about how we can make our Friday times more effective.
I dream of the day when we can spend more time with them. I pray for God to cover them and protect them. Then I wonder how many are like them, hidden away in other villages in Ukraine.
May God have His way and make His name great in the lives of the Fatherless of Ukraine.
And may we be obedient when He asks us to respond to them.
You can read about an amazing time we had with the boys since I wrote this post on our family blog here. Thank you so much for sharing our love and joy.