I have been insanely busy and unable to post at all for the last couple of weeks…This can be fatal to a blog, as the people who read it assume you have given up. I am still here, still alive.
I continue to think about access to information about children; how scattered it is, how little we know, how many wild statements are made by so many, but based on so little information.
I first learned about Kate Blewett when I saw the mid 1990s documentary The Dying Rooms–based on work done by Kate and others who risked a lot to go to China and actually film children in orphanages. They had heard that the death rates were high, and wanted to know the truth. They did not wait for the Chinese government to filter the information–they simply went.
Kate Blewett discovering infant girls covered over in blankets, utterly neglected, was an intensely moving and unforgettable sight.
She has gone on to do similar work in other countries, most recently in Bulgaria, where she filmed, for BBC 4, a documentary on the treatment of disabled children in a Bulgarian institution. Reaction was immediate–the Bulgarian government did not want it thought that Bulgaria–now a member of the EU!– could possibly treat children in this way.
I just noticed this article, in which Kate is following up with children who were moved out of those terrible conditions to better care situations. See
To witness such human deterioration and to know the only way to truly effect change was to carry on filming and bring the documentary film to a wider audience – was an incredibly difficult process.
However the impact my film had has been extraordinary. Viewers wrote to me by the thousands, donating money, and forming petitions demanding change from their MPs and MEPs.
Some gave up their jobs and went to Bulgaria to help, taking supplies, food, clothing and medical aid.
The Bulgarian government put Unicef in charge of finding new placements for all the children of Mogilino, with the plan that the institute will shut once every child has been re-housed.
Slavka Kukova, co-ordinator of the Protection of the Institutionalised Children’s Human Rights Program, says that the film meant that disabled children’s “rights and problems are now on the agenda for the Bulgaria media”.
”A slow process of raising awareness about the potential reform of the children care system has now started,” she adds.
This year I returned to Bulgaria to find out exactly what has happened to some of the key characters from the original film. Once again I was shocked by what I found.
I witnessed the miraculous improvements that can happen in badly-damaged children when decent care is finally given to them.
Milen now lives in a glorious home with seven other young people and good carers. He is a new person – happy, outgoing and communicative through sign language.
He works every day putting handles onto bags and is paid for the amount he completes. He attends a day-care centre where he creates art and plays games with the other young people.
Vasky has been moved to an institute for the blind, which though large has excellent care and she has been transformed into a happy, active, smiling young lady.
She eats well and demands two courses at meal times, giggling cheekily with her carer as she asks if she can go out in her car with her.
A report from Unicef also recognised that the children from Mogilino have made great improvements since leaving the home.
“Their cognitive development has changed at all levels (perception, attention, memory, and thinking)… they have become part of particular groups and spend more time playing.”
I feel overwhelmed with the dramatic changes in the lives of these young people. I feel the film lifted the lid on a desperate situation that had been hidden away.
I look forward to the day this year when Mogilino is finally shut.
The problems were not all about poverty or money, but rather about having a good level of genuine care that transformed a miserable existence into a fulfilling one.
Bulgaria does have good carers and decent homes but what it now needs to do is to get rid of its large, isolated institutes that are warehouses to a further 8,000 disabled children, and to create small group homes.
“There can be no more remodelling or restructuring of institutions. There needs to be a well-organised campaign that seeks to close down all institutions and set up proper alternative care services,” says Mark O’Sullivan of the Bulgarian-based Cedar Foundation.
“The government needs to carry on what it is doing well but it also needs to radically overhaul the parts of its system which are not working,” he adds.
This story about the effect of Blewett’s work ties in with my thoughts on the fury of the Turkish government towards Sarah Ferguson and that government’s unseemly attempt to blame her for violating the “privacy” rights of institutionalized children. Talk about a disproportion of concern–what is more significant–to bring attention to such inexcusable neglect, or maintain “privacy rights”?