Sally Richards

Abandoned: Mogolinio Children’s Institute, Bulgaria

outside:
barren landscape
grating wail
of rusted round-a-bout

tiny wooden crosses
row upon row
white markers for graves
of former residents

inside:
metal beds,
rejected children
rocking.
Grey walls, bare floors, blank faces.
No stimulation, interaction,
love.

Iskra has never been outside,
never seen the sun:
abandoned at birth,
shunned by a draconic culture
for mild disability.

‘New girl’ Didi – all smiles,
doe-eyed teen: hopeful
in a pool of lost and unloved,
talks to Tedor –
“you are handsome, I like your eyes.
Mummy is coming for me
September 27th.”

In a bed close by
blind Vasky is moaning,
quietly protesting
while the carer brusquely
dresses the child
with matter-of-fact coldness.
Weeks later they discover
Vasky has a broken leg.

Sensory room, swimming pool, garden –
never used: no qualified staff.

Didi protests
“they are all mad!
I’m not going to go insane!”
Her eyes smile desperation.

Ivanka, head nurse, insists:
“Didi’s mother will not come!
She does not want to see the girl, ever.”
Didi’s crime? – mild autism.

the director:
‘finally available for comment’ insists
“The children are cared for
their deterioration: lack of vitamins
and disease.”

Didi neatly folds
another lovingly decorated letter,
puts it safe with the others
in her weathered bag.

Carer Snezhana feeds Iskra
from a bowl
shoveling in huge mouthfuls
of indescribable stodge.

Ivanka: obese, manly,
puts Vasky in the bath:
thin white flesh and bones;
chicken carcass, submerged remnant,
of a young woman,
just bones.

Ilia and Atanas exist in a mute world,
eyes lit with dread, noses bloodied;
the captive abused of Yanko
the laundry man.
Their eyes speak volumes
of pain.

some months later:
Vasky’s now bedridden,
thirteen years of Mogolinio
shrinking her
to foetal position …

Didi’s eyes tell her story –
she’s losing her determined grip
on reality,
her vibrant will
to be visible.
She joins the others
rocking, silently.

I cannot forget, will never forget
them.
We must remember
so that Didi can exist
outside of the cold hell
of Mogolinio.

*This poem is factually accurate and based on a BBC2 documentary filmed in sections at the institute over the course of approx. a year to 18months. The children are sent to the institute, once deserted by their parents, at varying ages, often due to the most minor & borderline conditions and disabilities. The Bulgarian government insists that their Institutes meet the required standards. Meanwhile the children continue to be kept in inhumane conditions not suited to their individual and diverse needs. They are often abused, and most become crippled and mentally ill. Many tragically die of malnutrition and neglect.

Sally Richards © 2008