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Plus one. Minus one. A very simple equation… (about orphanage system in former Soviet states)

April 24, 2007, 5:10 2948 Author: Ayka Koshkina (translated from Russian by Marina Frantseva for www.deti.zp.ua) eva.ru, Russia ”Let’s say there is N number of children that are without their parents. And then one of them is leaving to live with his family. It means, there is N minus one that’s left”. And when you, choking on your tears and adrenaline, talk about the injustice of the system which just should not exist simply because it’s inconceivable, you are told that there is no way to defeat the system instantaneously

A funny little guy Leshka wearing a baseball cap backwards is running along the grassy schoolyard, squeezing tightly a dandelion in his fist, all covered with its fluffy little puffs. The sun is blinding my eyes, and shimmering boyish laughter is chiming like a bell, shattering right into the blue summer sky. You would think there is nothing unusual about this, if this little school yard, that looks just like any other old kindergarten yard did not belong to the orphanage house. And our handsome little fellow Leshka has been very recently listed as “Aleksei. October 2000. Brothers and sisters: older sister. Form of family distribution: adoption”.

Yet, even in the orphanage, the boys are still the boys, and our gorgeous little Aleshen’ka is running along the sunny frontyard of the orphanage house, laughing as a silver bell, and squinting from the white umbrellas of the dandelion flying into his face. And I’m covering my face from the sun, thinking: “fly, our little birdie, fly home out of this cage, fly to your mom and dad. We will be waiting with you, counting the days, getting angry at these indolent people, decreeing your fate. The difference is that we, big adults, live at our homes, with our loved ones, while you, tiny little boy, are in the orphanage house, and the time is working against you. The day when you finally get out of the orphanage, the gates of the fence, - a nice sturdy fence, purchased by the sponsors, - will shut after the car taking you home has left the orphanage. And at once tens of telephones in various cities will start squealing, vibrating, playing with their little horns the tiny little text-message: “Lesha B. has left”. That’s what happened when we have learned that the agreement to take you home has been signed. That’s what will happen when you hopefully finally fly away.

Minus one. How long did it take me to understand the magic of this simple equation?

We are rushing along a huge supermarket, my husband is in a hurry, there is lots of carts, lots of people; Friday night all Moscow and its suburban population is going nuts. I’m pulling over the children’s department.

- Why do you need one more pair of jeans? Our wardrobe is full of the child’s clothes as it is!

- This is not for him. This is for them…

- You went completely mad with all these activities, - my husband is growling, but is proceeding obediently to the stationary department where he counts 30 albums and collects 60 erasers. The people from the line-up and from the cash register are throwing suspicious looks at our cart, whispering, and then finally, with their polite smiles are trying to make fun of me:

- Why do you need it in industrial quantities? Are you opening a retail store?

- No, it’s just for the orphanage that we are sponsoring. So what?

The one who has asked the question looks somewhat conflicted, you can tell that he is uncomfortable, and in a couple of minutes he is off to another line up, while I… I’m standing there thinking that, actually, against the common notion, helping is simple. Say each person who goes through this cash registry would buy only 1 eraser at the price of 1 kopeek, or an album, or a notebook, we would have enough stationary for our little ones to start the school year. This is so simple – to make one extra purchase. Plus one.

It’s simple to sponsor some 'abstract' children. Fifteen pairs of mittens for 4-6 year olds, 20 pairs of little socks for 2-3 year olds, 3 packs of diapers, 2 packs of underwear size 86. Plus one. My consciousness is tranquilized, appeased by the thought “I’m helping the orphanage”.

I’m beginning to feel lousy when they suddenly acquire faces. “fifteen pairs of mittens” are looking at you with their brown, blue and gray eyes, “the little socks” are smiling at you with their toothless mouths, the “diapers” have cute little dimples and blonde curls, the destinations of your parcels have faces of “ethnic minorities” and tough black spirals of hair, or little Slavic potato-shaped noses and straight blonde hair sticking out in all possible ways. They also have names, and their destinies… And then, watching short, sweet and just a touch phony TV report you get a chance to take a pick at “your children”… You get to see that Sveta and Vika are wearing recently purchased pretty summer sandals, that Marisha’s bands have finally been tamed with a hair clip so that now she can see the world, and that Sashka, at last, is wearing his new velvet pants that are already too short for him.

And then you understand that in the phrase “first inspection trip” the word “first” is important because that means there would be second, and third ones. And you understand, that it’s not right to help the “orphanage houses”, because children’s houses should not be the orphanages. Because Sashka, and Leshka, and a little flirt Svetochka must have daddy, and mommy, and their little cheesecakes, and toys, - their own toys, and the park, and the trips to the sea, and everything that a respectable child may need. And then somebody is trying to explain to you a simple-minded formula. ”Let’s say there is N number of children that are without their parents. And then one of them is leaving to live with his family. It means, there is N minus one that’s left”. And when you, choking on your tears and adrenaline, talk about the injustice of the system which just should not exist simply because it’s inconceivable, you are told that there is no way to defeat the system instantaneously. On the other hand, the water eventually chisels the stone, so we’ll be chiseling and chiseling and chiseling… And every “minus one” is just another drop on this stone’s forehead.

A funny little guy Leshka wearing a baseball cap backwards is running along the grassy schoolyard, squeezing tightly a dandelion in his little fist. The sun is blinding my eyes, and shimmering boyish laughter is chiming like a bell, shattering right into the blue summer sky. And who cares that this frontyard, that resembles the kindergarten’s frontyard only so closely, belongs to the Orphanage House. Soon Leshka will be playing in another frontyard, together with his little sister who he has not seen for so long, and his mama, just as the one from our childhood, would be calling him out of the window “Leshaaa… time to go home!”

A cute, tiny little colleague of mine from the 7th floor is sheepishly placing a package from the supermarket onto my office desk. It contains notebooks, colored paper, paints and plasticin.

- This is for the children. When are you planning to go there?

Late evening. Young and unknown lady is getting through my e-mail.

- Olga, why don’t you understand, it’s impossible! This is a viscous system, and we should change it immediately!

- We should, of course. But we can’t change it by crying. Let me tell you about one very simple equation…

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