On my lovely vacation in beautiful Croatia amongs stome things I did was pay a visit to an orphanage in the capital city of Zagreb. The city itself is a diverse place filled with small shops, outdoor markets and filled with patio cafes. In a pretty and posh side of town is an old building that's been kept up rather nicely. It's one of about four city orphanages situated on a piece of land surrounded by tall trees. Inside the building , in the hallway a little girl seems to have got lose and is running around. No, wait, it's a little boy with a ponytail. The six or seven year old boy's hair is unusually long. He looks like he's got a good tan or he maybe part gypsy. He looks our way, checks us out then runs off. We are here to make a donation, a bagful of notebooks, coloring books, crayons, markers etc and a bit of monetary help. We are taken into the director's office, her name is Jelena (pronounced Yelena). She's happy to see us. She sits us down, offers us drinks. She and her assistant tell us all about the orphanage, how many children, how many caregivers, three to a room of about six or seven children. The building is over a hundred years old and has always been an orphanage and the money goes towards upkeep and the children. As we're taken through the floors we notice how clean it is and well organized. First we see the baby rooms. As soon as we enter two little ones are crawling over to us, one little girl more so than the other. I can't help but ask to pick her up. She's got dark hair and eyes and she's certainly not starving. She's well fed and she smiles. I coo to her. In the crib next to us a little boy stops drinking his juice and stands up making eyes at us. In the back of the room with three or four more cribs and the babies all between six months and a year look at us longinly. My heart breaks, I wish I could hold them all but I put the baby girl down and pick up the boy next to me and he smiles at me eagerly. Soon we're led to another room where smaller babies sleep in their cribs all around us, the room is clean and bright but each room has one caregiver not three. I assume this means it's one caregiver per shift, so imagine six babies crying at once which one do you soothe first. The caregiver here holds a tiny premeture baby and is feeding her. She looks strong though and breathes on her own.
As we are led to the rest of the wings we see toddlers and five year olds. Most children are healthy but there are a couple that are pointed out to us who have FAS, they are small for their age but they too smile at us and come up to the window. The assistant closes the door and locks it so they don't escape on us she says. This is where the idea I had so far of a wonderful home for the orphans kind of comes to an end. It is an orphanage after all. These children although well cared for are stuck here, in this room most of the time. They don't get to run around with the neighbourhood kids and ride their bikes or play in parks or go to a baseball game. They are still orphans and no mama or papa tucks them in at night. They still look at us with longing in their eyes and wonder if we are here to perhaps take them home. This is where you get a lump in your throat as you walk away.
That was the end of our visit and as we were leaving something else happened. The little boy with the ponytail appared before me again. I got to find out his name and more about him. He left an impression on me with his deep dark eyes but I will save that for another post.