November 2002, The Way Home
“My Mummy will come and take me. She loves me, I know” almost all the children in residential institutions say this or hope deep in the their hearts. However, Irina, the director of Belovodski Child Institution, remembered no such cases over her long experience. Eight years old Belek was the first and “hopefully not the last”.
The sad story of his mother Aida went back to 1990 when she was sentenced to 4 years imprison for an attempt to steal. Belek was born in prison. At that time the young mother was released before the appointed time for her good behavior. In the Maternity House she was told that the child was weak. Treatment required money. Where to get it? Aida could not return to her parents. Alone and burdened with traditional stereotypes and ashamed, she saw no other way but to get money by stealing for the sake of her child. That time, the sentence was 10 years.
For 7 long years Aida did not hear a single word about her child. After being released, in the maternity house where she saw her baby only once she was asserted that her child was not born there. She had hardly heard anything more absurd but could do nothing. She lost her hope: “One still can live without hope, but what kind of life it is…”
There is probably something else that remains after hope dies. Aida and Tilek did find each other. “God punished me by depriving me of an ability to have any more children, and He forgave me by returning the one and only value of my life.” Aida referred to God all the time. In fact, the way they met seems very much preternatural.
In December 2001, UNICEF launched a Child Re-integration Project. Social workers and psychologists were to study cases of Belovodski Child House, study children and their biological parents. According to Belek’s personal file, his mother did not officially abandon him but disappeared and just left the address of Aida’s mother - Meerim-eje. But it turned out that she moved from that house and new owners did not know her new address, they just remembered that the old woman worked at Osh market. One of the project workers ventured to try her luck. She went to the Osh market and asked a young woman that first caught her eye whether she knew Merim-eje. The young woman pointed at her mother seating just near her… Yes, it was Aida who never dreamt any more to find her child.
Cholpon, the Project social worker, told us that along with this case they have identified 12 children who potentially could be returned to their biological families. “It takes up about 6 weeks to study parents and their intention to take their children back. It cannot be denied that no institution can replace family environment and prepare children better for the life in the society, but still we must be sure that we did not harm the child. Our psychologists spend a lot of time before and after the return to prepare the parents and the children, and to assist them to cope with arising questions.”
At the presentation of the Project, Aida was crying telling her story, did also cry all the present in the room. Belek looked happy: “I love my Mummy, I never doubted that she would come and take me. I am sure my friends in the Belovodski Institution will also be found by their lost parents. Then, we, together with our parents, can visit each other and play.”