Inside a Moldavian orphanage…

I’ve only visited one of the orphanages around Moldova since I arrived here, and they were on Summer break, so the children were with family or relatives for the summer.  You see, the orphanages, as I conceived of them before coming to Moldova, are actually boarding schools.  But they’re for children who have failed to thrive in traditional school settings.  Of course, there are exceptions, and these boarding schools and their affiliates are the places where children are placed when they don’t have any family.  But the majority of children do have family.  It’s just that those families can’t actually raise the children in a health fashion.

But I could go on about all of that later.  That’s all going into my final report.  What is not going in is the particular reasons that reform absolutely has to take place.

So I was going out for drinks a couple weeks ago at Carlsburg pub, and there was one woman there, a friend of a friend…

With smoke curling around her curly brown her, this slender bespectacled young woman said to me, as she sipped her coffee, “Yeah, I worked for a few years in a schola internat” (These are the boarding schools).  At this point, I had to put down my drink and lean in.

“Oh yeah?”  I said.

“Yeah…”

“This one time, a Scandanavian man came into the orphanage, very well dressed and with a suitcase.  He was interested in obtaining pictures of the children.  The less clothes the children were wearing in these pictures, the more money the people running the orphanage would get, with payments up to $50 a week per child.”

Now, I don’t know how involved this friend was in this operation, but she said that it continued for some time.  Then other people started contacting the workers at the orphanage.

“There was a wealthy American who came to Moldova and was doing this same thing.  He was never indicted, but his translator was.  But he wasn’t found guilty of any crime.”

And what about the day-to-day life of the children?

“Well”, she said, “they are taught to ask for their material necessities, and then they are provided.  But rarely are children encouraged to be self-sufficient, and there isn’t enough time for staff to work with children to develop independent skills of the children.”

“The only adult-child interactions that they know are harsh.  The workers have to maintain such a strict environment” – the schola internat that I went to had 30 teachers, 200 children, and 5 staff there staying overnight – “that the children rarely learn what loving interactions look like.  And these interactions are only replicated between children.”

“When children are asked what they plan to do once they age out, they usually say they’ll find relatives or live with their boyfriends.  As far as job prospects – these are few and far between.  So they usually take to theft for survival.”

Now, this is all hearsay – I can’t vouch personally for all of this.  But I believe some of it.  And that frightens me.

(The researcher in me wants to note that in Philadelphia, children face many of these same circumstances to different degrees.  Children aging out of foster care have very few opportunities, and it is an up-hill battle surviving on your own.  Children who cannot thrive in Philadelphia public schools are sent to special schools – Community… something…?? Can anyone tell me what they are?  I’m drawing a blank.  In these schools, it is the job of teachers, security and police officers largely just to keep children under control, and it is a very limited learning environment.)

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