Visits to Orphanages in Poland: Summer 2002

Caritas - Diecezji Koszalinsko-Kolobrzeskiej
Dom Samotnej Matki
”Dar Zycia”
ul . Wojska Polskiego 13
75-701 Koszalin
Tel: (094) 42-37-70
As members of Direct Help to Eastern Europe, my husband (Jacek) and I (Ania) volunteer our time in order to help orphanages in Poland. Part of this volunteer effort is visiting orphanages while we go on vacation to Poland where we can purchase household equipment for the homes we visit – with the funds provided by Direct Help to Eastern Europe. This summer my husband and I visited a few children’s homes in Poland. Because our vacation time was filled to the brim with family visits we had to economize and restrict ourselves to visiting only 4 homes. However despite this limited list we learned a great deal about the situation of orphanages and other similar institutions in Poland today.

The first city we stayed in for over a week was Koszalin (North, near the Baltic coast). We contacted a place, which my mother Elizabeth visited 2 years ago. This institution serves as a home for teenage girls who find themselves pregnant and with no place to go. I called the Dom Samotnej Matki “Dar Zycia” which translates to Home for Mothers “Gift of Life” and a young voice picked up the receiver on the other end. I introduced myself as a member of a small charitable organization entitled Direct Help to Eastern Europe wanting to help them purchase something that they might need right now. I suggested a few things off the top of my head such as: washer, vacuum or a stove. The voice on the other end with much certainty said “it is a refrigerator that we most desperately need” and “if it is possible we would be very grateful for one that has a freezer on the top rather than on the bottom”. I thought that the second part of this request was odd but I wrote down everything and promised the young voice that I will try my best to fulfill her wish.

Next we were looking for stores that could sell us a cheaper but new refrigerator. The wholesaler, from which my mother purchased appliances 2 years ago no longer existed. We went to a store in the center of town and after a short debate between ourselves we chose a large Polar refrigerator with a freezer on the top of the unit. The refrigerator was delivered to the Home for Mothers the next day and that same evening we went to visit them. Since we came late in the evening most of the home’s residents were sleeping.

We were welcomed by the two young lay-sisters who run the home. We saw the old refrigerator, which was to be replaced by the gleaming new one. I took a photo of the sisters and me in front of the new purchase. (photo #1) They were very happy and extremely grateful for this gift. They showed us their old refrigerator which leaks constantly mainly due to old age (over 30 years old). The sisters admitted to us that they along with the residents of the home have been PRAYING TO GOD FOR A NEW FRIDGE - and all out of the blue I call offering them money for an appliance. Then the sisters began to tell us a bit more about the home and how it functions


Most girls that come to stay at the home are unmarried and between the ages of 16-20 years old. They usually come from poor and/or abusive families that have no means to support themselves. They can stay at the home free of cost up to a year after the baby is born. Most leave within a few months once the baby is born and they find a way to support themselves. The girls are encouraged to help each other and participate in the daily tasks of the home. The sisters told us that very often the girls have been mistreated since childhood and have very low self-esteem. For example some girls have never received a gift or a kind word from their parents or family. To compensate for this the sisters try to celebrate each birthday with a small get together and a cake. All this is very often accompanied by tears of happiness of the birthday girl who begins to feel appreciated by others for the first time in her life.

The young mothers have many problems the biggest one being lack of practical life skills and work skills. Since unemployment in Poland is at an all time high right now (17%), such young girls have a very difficult task of finding a means of support for themselves and their child. The sisters help as much as they can. When a young mother leaves the home they try to provide her with the basic things she will need in her new life. However since the home has a very small budget most of the things inside the home and those given to girls come from donations. People living in the community help when they can. For example sellers from the market bring in fruits and vegetables that were not sold. Individuals donate their old appliances and clothes etc.

Near the end of our visit the sisters showed us the log book they keep of major events such as birthdays, Christmas and New Year celebrations and the like. Among these events was my own mothers visit to this Home for Mothers in the summer of 2000. My mother purchased a new stove for them. It was a pleasure to see this scrupulously maintained log of the home and many smiling faces in the photographs.

Before we left the sisters showed us Anastasia the newest member of the home (1 month old) who was the only baby not sleeping because of colic. The sisters also explained to me why the refrigerator had to have the freezer on the top. “You know there is chaos here sometimes when the children run around and play. They especially love opening and closing things repeatedly; it’s just safer to keep their little hands away from freezer doors.”


Anyone who wishes to contact the Home for Mothers can write to the following address:
(Polish language only)

Caritas - Diecezji Koszalinsko-Kolobrzeskiej
Dom Samotnej Matki
”Dar Zycia”
ul . Wojska Polskiego 13
75-701 Koszalin
Tel: (094) 342-3770

After Koszalin we went to Warsaw, the capital of Poland, where we called two more homes. Since we did not have a car in Warsaw or too much time we did not visit the homes but we purchased things for them. We called and they told us what they need the most at the time. We purchased a clothes washer for one and comforters and towels for another. We were able to get these items delivered for free to the homes and after they were delivered the directors called us and reported that everything was delivered and they thanked us for the gifts.
The clothes washer was purchased for:

Dom Dziecka
ul. Paprociowa 2
04-751 Warszawa Miedzylesie
Tel: (022) 812-0532



Comforters and towels (18 each) were purchased for the older (teens) group of children residing in:

Dom Dziecka
ul. Klasykow 52/54
03-163 Warszawa
Tel: (022) 811-1541

I took a photograph of the wholesaler where I bought the comforters and towels. I was very happy because we called many places and here we were able to buy the least expensive comforters made of 100% wool and colorful towels. When I told the director of the Children’s Home that I am buying 18 comforters (for each child in the older group) she expressed worry because that would be more money than I had told them that Direct Help to Eastern Europe could donate (which was $250 for each home) She was elated when the delivery came not only with comforters but also with new towels for each child. In fact I spent only $250 for the whole lot of these items.

 

 

 

By the end of July we were not planning on visiting any more orphanages during this vacation. I did however need to get some information on adoption because our organization keeps getting questions about adoption in Poland. So armed with some brochures and other materials about DHEE my husband and I went to visit the Catholic Adoption Home in Warsaw. After a long tram and bus ride we finally found the large old building where the Catholic Adoption Center has its office. We met Malgorzata Mendez who is the liason for international adoptions.

The Center has had many successful adoptions outside of Poland among them: USA, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, France, Canada, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Italy. International adoptions are more difficult thus they are more lengthy and require a lot more paperwork and translations of these documents. However the Catholic Adoption Center does not have fees for its services. (I thought this is wonderful and uncommon) With international adoptions the fees are usually incurred within the country or residence for the cooperating adoption centers and court and legal fees.

My husband took a photo of us during our discussion. Malgorzata is the one on the left. In the center of the photo is Beata who works for the Adoption Center as a social worker. Since I told them that Direct Help to Eastern Europe has funds at its disposal for various equipment for orphanages Beata asked if we would be able to purchase some things for the Adoption Care Center (Interwencyjna Placowka Opjekuncza) where the babies for adoption are cared for until they reach the age of 6 moths or until they find adoptive parents.(whichever occurs first) We happily agreed to this and Beata promised to go shopping with me and to take me to Otwock outside of Warsaw to the Adoption Care Center. The next day we went shopping for sleepers, diapers, baby oils and wet naps, and a great deal of laundry detergent. ($200 worth of these things)( Photo#4) Armed with countless bags of baby products we drove to Otwock and unloaded the gifts (Photo#5).

 

     

 

What I saw at the Adoption Care Center was a pleasant surprise. There were sound-proof rooms with countless colorful beds for the Center’s tiny inhabitants. The infants were clean and well cared for.

   

While we were visiting a couple of new adoptive parents were picking up their new little son (2 months old). They were so happy that I am not sure if they even remember what was going on around them. I snapped two photos of them. They said
that this adoption was a very quick occurrence. The formalities were solved in 10 days and they were overwhelmed with joy at getting to adopt little Jacob. Before they left the nurses and staff said goodbye to them and told them to keep in touch about little Jacobs progress.

   


There was also another visitor there, a young biological mother of a little boy. She was feeding her son and I could not take my eyes off her face. Her sadness was so apparent that it almost looked as if she was in some stupor. She had not yet made up her mind about what to do with the baby after already giving him up. Her situation was especially difficult since she is slightly mentally retarded and had no means of supporting herself. She lived with her mother and father in very poor conditions; with no running water or heat. (This I found out later from Beata) It was heart breaking to hear this about her life and even more heartbreaking to see her leave avoiding the eyes of everyone. Beata tried to encourage her telling her to try breastfeeding her son but she did not respond and quickly left followed by her mother.


It is such babies that come to the Adoption Care Center straight from maternity wards in that area. Very often the mothers are young and unmarried. Other times they come from low-income families where poverty, alcoholism or abuse, are facts of life. Each of the stories is sad, even heartbreaking. But in the midst of all these sad stories anyone visiting this place would see hope and love in the beauty and innocence of an infant’s sweet face.

The Adoption Care Center is a new type of institution in Poland, which replaces Baby Orphanages still existing today. This Center tries to get the babies adopted as soon as possible and before the babies reach the age of 6 months. After that age threshold, if the baby is not adopted, they are sent to a Baby Orphanage where adoptions are less frequent but always possible. Adoption from abroad is much more time consuming and can take up to 2 years. It helps to be of Polish descent and Polish speaking so that you can get through all the legal proceedings with greater ease. Anyone interested in adoption from this Center should contact:

(Preferably in Polish – as the staff does not speak good English)
Katolicki Osrodek Adopcyjno-Opjekunczy w Warszawie
ul. Grochowska 194/196
04-375 Warszawa
Tel:/Fax: (48) (22) 610-6123
For adoptions from abroad contact Malgorzata Mendez
Tel: (48) (22) 610-5149
 

Because of these visits during this summer 2002, my husband and I have had the most memorable vacation in our life. I never expected to learn so much by seeing these places, staff, mothers and children, where every day miracles happen and with Gods help will continue to happen. I sincerely hope that next year, due to our December fundraising effort in Florida, we will visit other homes and purchase some necessary items for them. The donations DHEE receives are almost entirely spent on the orphanages. (We do spend 5% of our funds on brochure printing and a small amount of office supplies while 95% goes directly to helping children) We work for DHEE as volunteers. Thus we purchase our own airline tickets and have our own accommodations in Poland.

We hope to encourage Polish-Americans who vacation in Poland to go visit many of these places by themselves and contribute individually. There is really no need for a third party to get involved in this process. All it takes is a simple phone call to an orphanage to make an appointment with the director. Once you visit the home and meet the staff you can decide if you are able to do something for that home and the possibilities are endless. We have placed a listing of addresses and telephone numbers to all the homes in Poland on our website. However since many homes are closing in favor of foster homes – you might have to call more than one to find out which is open and operating.