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In our modern society intellectually challenged people raise contempt, misunderstanding or at best compassion. As a matter of fact no one even tries to understand them. This social cliche “mentally retarded” condemns many good and open to communication children to a life-long isolated existence. The very appearance of severely disabled people can make us uneasy, or even shock us. Many mentally disabled people have defects in appearance, unstable emotional control and poorly developed motor skills and control. There is no wonder that many of us prefer keeping away from severely disabled people rather than helping them, those people who need a special attention and care.
There are currently 109 intellectually challenged boys of various ages living in the Zaporizhzhia orphanage for the boys with special needs. The oldest dweller of the orphanage is 27 years old. The boys can stay at school until they are 35 years old. Then they are transferred to psychiatric institutions for adults. According to the teachers only 35 boys are visited by their parents. The visits are rare. The only important people for the other 74 boys are their group mates, school teachers, and nurses. By the way, this orphanage is situated in the town district called Velykiy Lug (in Zaporizhzhia) on Donetskaya Street 18. One can get there by the road leading to the village of Vladimirskoye. The building of the orphanage is not far from the “Velikiy Lug” resort.
I will never forget my first visit to the orphanage that took place on August 9th last year. That day thanks to the orphanage staff und the support of the Happy Child charity foundation I took sixteen boys on an excursion to the museums of a National Historical Reserve Khortitsa. On our way many boys for the first time in their lives saw our famous Dniproges dam through the windows of the bus. It was also their first visit to our legendary Khortitsa Island even though it takes only thirty minutes to get there from the orphanage. For many of the 18 -25 year old boys it was the first time ever they visited the museums of the island and admired some sightseeing places of our city.
There was another situation that is engraved on my heart. Last summer our charity foundation decided to entertain a younger group of the boys and took them to the Children’s Railway Station. This recreation center includes a botanical garden, aquarium, terrarium and the zoo. It is a perfect holiday place for children and adults of our city. We’re glad to say that the Children’s Railway Station as well as many museums of Zaporizhzhia always welcome our charity excursions.
When we arrived at the railway center one of the boys felt nauseous and vomited. One could clearly see that this boy was really frightened. He immediately took off his T-shirt and desperately started to clean the remains of his “morning breakfast”. No, he was not afraid of being punished by his teachers. The boy, like many other young residents of the orphanage, was aware of the fact that children with poor health condition would not be taken on excursions but would always stay at the orphanage, within four terribly boring walls.
These eternal life priorities. Someone strives for success by entering the best state university, someone dreams of earning his first million and there is someone beating his brains out on how to get rid of sleepless nights and debts…There is also someone who dreams of having a mom and a dad. Someone who dreams of communicating with good people. Someone who is happy to present you a smile and joy. There is someone who dreams of leaving the orphanage for a rare trip around his native region.
These socially eager boys are always open to communication with people around. One should not exclude that this innocent naivety may lead to using these boys in someone else’s financial interests. This is a matter of everyone’s concern. Intellectually challenged people in comparison with other people really need some physiological support of someone close. This means they quickly like and trust a new friend who is a stranger. The huge amount of physiological work of the orphanage staff is very impressive. One can easily feel a family atmosphere around the pupils.
The behavior of these boys is like a mirror reflection. If you are gloomy and frowning they will treat you in the same way. But if you smile at them you will get back a sunny smile.
There is a wrong belief that mentally disabled people do not understand anything, are aggressive and socially dangerous. Such rooted stereotypes many of us still have deprive most of these “sunny children” of their carefree childhood and consign many adults to a life-long isolated existence.
I’d like to summarize my thoughts with the saying of Laozi. This great wise man one said “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Don’t avert your eyes from people you meet on your way. Don’t be afraid of making these steps towards someone who differs from you a lot. And be happy, be truly happy about what you have in your life today and here.
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Zaporozhye orphanage (children s home) for boys with mental retardness Publications made by Happy Child, Ukraine Articles about children with special needs