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Bulgaria: Orphans Suffer Dire Neglect

Fakiya, Bulgaria, 14 November 1997(RFE/RL) -- The Fakiya Foster Home for Disabled Children is secluded in the remote southeastern Bulgarian village of Fakiya, 10 km from Turkey.

In the social and economic calamity that is ravaging Bulgarians, among the most unfortunate and neglected are the 50 institutionalized, parentless children aged 3 to 10 of the foster home in Fakiya. Most are handicapped. Many cannot eat or walk and need to be fed through tubes or require other special care.

On a recent visit to the Fakiya home, RFE/RL found the home's drab interior stinking of urine and spoiled food, its small residents without medicines, underfed, lacking sheets and sometimes naked.

The home stands on the edge of the small and decrepit village. The home's director, Vesselin Todorov, a former schoolteacher, said the villagers pay little attention to the home and try to avoid it because of the stigma associated with its inmates. The home's personnel comprises three nurses and 17 cleaners. There is no doctor save for the village medic, who does not have a legal obligation to attend to the children. In Director Todorov's words: "The children need medical treatment every day, but we can afford to take them to Bourgas (60 km away) once a month."

The biggest benefactor of the Home in Fakiya is the Dutch Red Cross, whose contributions helped build a bathroom and a kitchen. The Dutch last year sent six nurses, who stayed two months each. They were appalled. As Todorov put it: "They said they'd never seen anything like this before."

But the Dutch assistance ended. The orphanage receives small private donations, including the equivalent of $58 a month from a donor in Bourgas who came into some property in the post-communist restitution.

Todorov says that a child dies every two months at the Fakiya home. But a psychiatrist in Bourgas who sometimes works for the social services -- and does not want her name disclosed -- says the Fakiya home has a vacant bed every two weeks.

Todorov put his despair in these words: "In Bulgaria, whoever is weak, down and out is being forced by the society and the system to stay there."

In Sofia, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told RFE/RL that his right-of-center government intends to increase assistance to the needy.

But the nationwide economic crisis leaves little room for hope for the children of Fakiya. Official statistics place 90 percent of Bulgarians below the poverty line, with monthly incomes below $20. Bulgaria's government doesn't have a precise count of the number of children who live in foster homes.