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When the orphanage becomes your home in the middle of the steppe
If the toys of a kid’s soul would be lost into a blend of twisted feelings and their par-ents, would be just two names subscribed into a birth certificate, could that kid be called an orphan? At 140 km from Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, rests a house which al-ready has more than 20 years of existence and which became home for the abandoned children. Abandoned, not orphans. During the last Sunday of February, 27 volunteers woke up one hour before sunrise and shared a bus for over 140 km, from Astana to Akkol - a town where the orphanage is located, - in order to spend a day in another type of childhood. The volunteers are members of the “Best for Kids” Public Fund, a Non-Government Organization which does all the possible to give the kids a “fishing rod”, not the fish itself, and teaches them how to play with it. Meanwhile, in Astana the wind was blowing the last stars away from the dark sky, in Akkol, it seemed even colder and unfriendly. At 10 in the morning, children with their hands folded were already waiting for their guest on one of the long hallways of the house.
The toys that we brought were divided into three workshops: a dance one, a hair-styling one and one for photography. Together with the volunteers and next to the only person able to understand me both in Romanian and English, I went to three of the eight families living under that roof, in order to show them a short presentation of a piece of land called Romania, in a continent named Europe. All these are somewhere at 5000 km from them. This distance seams more than they can perceive in their universe, but somehow, through stories seen in Romanian, said in English and translated into Russian, distance and time became a childhood. The first surprise is when they start identifying the differences on our faces, in comparison with the traits that they were raised with and saw every day in the mirror and around them.
After minutes of doubting, the kids start asking questions in Russian and also in Eng-lish, in terms of their yet little knowledge of this language. Even though all the books that they receive are written with Cyrillic alphabet and all the voices from the television are doubled to the same omnipresent Russian, a few of this kids are humming in English, a language that they wish to learn regardless of the difficulties and barriers that living in an orphanage in Kazakhstan puts on their way. For these kids I was the first foreign person that they ever met. Maybe I was also the proof that the world is so big. The borders and differences disappeared the moment we became dancing and singing fellows. At Akkol the reality changes behind every door. They call "family" the wing of the orphanage which they share with brothers, sisters and a so called mother, a woman who is responsible for them. Some are blood brothers, others are brothers by chance. No matter of their connections, new families are raised. Under the same roof live 8 families of this kind, and walking from one to another I felt that I am crossing through various lives.
Life through houses
Each kid has his own house, family and reality. When meeting on the stairs with kids from other families, they act like the neighbors of the same flat building. From outside the orphanage seams a big building, but only once you step in you get aware of its real dimensions. The atmosphere that I receive behind each door makes me forget for a moment that I am in an orphanage. The order, the way each bed has its space and each toothbrush its glass and they still make part from the same whole, the smell of warmth which reminded me about my own childhood, carried me through many houses.
Divided into day room where each kid has many play-palls, a TV and a library, girl's room, boy's room, toilets and a kitchen, the orphanage is the reality in which they wake up every morning, the mirror which listens to their dreams, laughs and tears.
Organizing is one of the notions with which they've been raised and this place is the only definition of home what so ever. Their time is divided between house-keeping activi-ties and school.
The pink aprons turn them in real cookers when food time is coming and the summer school teaches them about Break Dance. Talent, not just dreams, is the attribute of most of them. When they are dancing it seems that they are teleporting from the Persian car-pet to the dancing floor of a nice club.
The real reality
"How many pictures am I allowed to take?" When they touch a camera, they start pic-turing each corner of the house, like if through the lens of the camera it would turn into a different place.
With the camera hanging at their neck, they also make immortals those faces of the people who, for one Sunday, came to play with them. From the looks in their eyes, when they are holding the camera, it seams that it becomes, one by one: magic object, toy and friend.
Their age can be transcribed into a number which always begins with 1 or all the stories they carry deep inside. "How old are you?", "Tomorrow is my birthday", answers a girl who already lived 13 years, knowing her family just during one short visit, from now and then. Most of the children from Akkol still have at least one of their parents. Parents usually don’t have rights to raise these children, still they can visit the kids if they want to. Many parents do this visit once a year.
Even though reality tries sometimes to limit their life, these kids don't forget how to wish. "What do you want to become when you get older?", "A cooker, a journalist, a lawyer", replied with confidence three sisters. They all have big plans and work daily in order to achieve them.
5:30 p.m. Hopes to see each other again, shy hugs and then, I open the door which brings me back to my reality, leaving that Sunday behind.
17 is the age which gives them a ticket for going out into the world, so they can change the address with the one from a student’s dormitory. In this children's path, college or university is the last station where they still receive support from the orphanage. After that - they are on their own.
Statistics still prove a really dry reality, as the steppe that surrounds them: just about 15% of these kids find a job, meanwhile the others end up on the streets.