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Tbilisi, Georgia
January 2003

Natia is Waiting

By Agnieszka Gmys-Wiktor
 

 

Two months ago I started visiting a Tbilisi orphanage regularly.  I had wanted to do this ever since I arrived in Georgia but I was not sure how to get started.  In November I met a woman who very frequently goes to the orphanage in Saburtalo and she generously allowed me to accompany her on one of her visits there.

The orphanage is big, as it is a home for over 100 young children, ages 0-3. The children are divided into groups of 10, each of which resides in a couple of rooms. When I followed my guide to visit one of those groups (babies 0-1 year old), my first impression was that of total shock.  I was not shocked by conditions in which these children must live because they were far from bad.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the orphanage was quite clean and warm and the children were regularly diapered and fed. What I found shocking was the silence. 

I had never been to an orphanage before and I had expected that abandoned children would cry a lot, the way my little son cries whenever he thinks he does not get enough attention.  These babies, even though they were wide awake in their cribs, were not uttering any sounds. All of them entertained themselves by sucking their thumbs, playing with their toes, or simply by staring at the ceiling.  I found this resigned silence much more heartbreaking than the screams for which I would have been prepared.  I immediately realized that these tiny children have learned not to cry because they know that crying does not make any difference, as in the orphanage nobody picks the babies up just to show them a toy, read them a book, or simply to hold them. 

I am far from blaming the orphanage employees for this sad reality.  The orphanage is understaffed, so while the women who work there do their best to meet the physical needs of the babies, they simply do not have the time to focus on each individual child to show him or her affection. Yet affection these children appreciate so much! When I picked up a 10-month old Natia, she cuddled very closely to me, touching my face and pulling my hair.  When I held little Tamar, she gave me a big grin and waved her arms with excitement.  Anna even attempted to say something to me! 

Even though these enthusiastic responses to my actions felt wonderful, I am realistic enough to realize that my presence in these children’s lives (once a week, 2 -2/12 hours at a time) has hardly any impact on them simply because I do not visit them often enough.  However, what I am absolutely convinced about is that if more people were willing to find a couple of hours in their weekly schedules to go to an orphanage (and the orphanage’s director has a friendly attitude towards volunteers), it would make a difference and have an extremely positive influence on children’s emotional development.