I spent the first part of the day getting to know the area and the hotel. The hotel is a nice one near the sea (lots of sea in Varna!) and is very family friendly. The rooms are large and have areas where families can cook if they want to. The pools are lovely and one can book an all-inclusive vacation here.
The view of the sea from the hotel is wonderful, and it is just a short walk to the waterfront. International adoption families may choose to stay here, since the hotel is only about two kilometers from the orphanage.
Martin, Svet, and I spent much of the afternoon/evening planning for the orphanage trip and discussing the local community of Varna. It was a quiet day, and aside from the walk near the pier, our time was spent on the business of the day. We were asked to visit with the local director of Social Care, to let her know what we may be doing with the orphanages and the international adoption program in Bulgaria. This program is the state social service program and as I understand it will provide some oversight with the Ministry of Justice. We are very excited about the orphanage and talking about working with children as we move forward.
We began the day at the local market, buying diapers, wipes, baby lotion, biscuits (crackers), toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children. The orphanage has 240 beds and relies on donations for such items. We met with the director of the orphanage (also known as the House for Medical and Social Care for Children – Varna) and she was most appreciative of the items we brought for the children. The director’s name is Stefka Dzhankova, MD, and she has been the orphanage director for at least 15 years.
The orphanage is a very bright, child-friendly environment as you can see from the following photos:
The children smile readily and are happy. Dr. Dzhankova is proud of the facility and what it has to offer with the most up-to-date occupational, speech, and physical therapies. The orphanage also offers day treatment for children with special needs who live in the community. We met a young man with Prader Willi syndrome who comes from the local community each day to receive individualized services. Dr. Dzhankova feels very strongly that this level of support is necessary for both the progress of the children and the support to the family. When a child is able to receive targeted, developmentally necessary services, it is expected that the child will be able to stay at home with his or her family.
I was able to see a tiny child who was very premature and abandoned at birth. It was wonderful to see the medical equipment with the room looking much like a small hospital room! Dr. Dzhankova reports that she employs 10 doctors to work directly with children and often oversees premature children and children with specialized disabilities, as well as typically developing children. I was able to hold a beautiful baby boy who smiled and cooed and appeared to be very happy. I told Konnie I was fearful I would want to take them all home, and I was right about that! However, it did my heart great to see the wonderful care staff gave each of the children. The staff were singing, feeding, rocking, and working with the children, and it appeared to be “business as usual.” Dr. Dzhankova expressed her hopes that LSS, New Beginnings, and her program would be able to work closely together going forward.
We then went to visit Dimitrichka Kancheva, director of the social care agency in Varna. She is the equivalent of Texas’ DFPS program administrator for her region, which includes Varna and the surrounding communities. There are 12 regions across Bulgaria and each one is responsible for the care of children, the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. She was very interested in learning more about LSS and what we do. Ms. Kancheva was impressed with the range of services offered by LSS, and by our diversity in terms of statewide services. She was also impressed by our continuum of care in the child and family services division, including our newest program in Louisiana. She indicated that Bulgaria is working to ensure there are services to meet the needs of the community. Her hope is to provide services to families up front when a need has been established and adoption services on the back end, so that all children have a chance at permanency. I told her that sounded very much like the philosophy of our state and our agency. Ms. Kancheva indicated that she is glad that we have chosen to visit Bulgaria and feels that we can work very closely together going forward. All in all, it was a very busy, but most productive, day!
That’s all for today,
Sonya L. Thompson