Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kids With Special Needs Around The World: Russia

The girl in this photo is Nadya. She's 9 years old and has cerebral palsy; she lives in the Dmitrov Orphange for Physical Disabilities in Russia, a couple of hours away from Moscow.

Taken by photojournalist Nancy Borowick, this photo and others were recently featured on Nancy made the trip to the orphanage through Happy Families International, an adoption agency. Only 10 percent of Russian orphans, the nonprofit notes, become "functional" members of society. They hope that the attention Nancy and other journalists bring to the situation of kids like Nadya will force the government to take note and make changes.

My wonderful friend Lauren knows Nancy, and told me about her trip. We exchanged emails, and I asked Nancy what preconceived notions she'd had about kids with special needs and how Nadya changed her perceptions. Here's what she had to say:

"Having worked with children who have special needs in a variety of capacities over the years, I don't think I really had any specific preconceived notions. I didn't even know that Nadya had CP until I left the orphanage and a Russian colleague translated a doctor. I had been told that the children I would meet at this orphanage had a range of disabilities, from CP to missing arms and legs, but upon arriving and meeting these wonderful children, in my mind and in my eyes, they just seemed like regular kids who liked to play, sing and explore the world around them.

I was drawn to Nadya as soon as I met her—she sat alone at a table in her classroom, hunched over some math problems, and seemed to be struggling. While I couldn't speak to her, knowing almost no Russian, I felt like I could relate to what she was going through and took the seat beside her. I then spent the next two days following her around, playing games and watching her explore and find joy in the little things within the walls of the orphanage.

Perhaps not speaking the same language gave us the opportunity to rely solely on human interaction. I feel like I got to know a bit of who she is just by watching, and spending the kind of quality time with her that I don't believe she has experienced with another in her life, having been abandoned by her teenage mother immediately after birth.

Nadya is an amazing and resilient little girl, and with all the cards stacked against her in Russian society by having CP, and being an orphan, I hope she holds on to that beautiful spirit and excitement for lie that I was privileged to see during my brief time with her."

Head on over here to see more of Nancy's beautiful photos and read about her trip.

This post is part of an ongoing series about kids with special needs around the world

Photo/Nancy Borowick


  1. I loved hearing about this and hearing Nancy's firsthand account of her time with Nadya.

    I hope someone reads it and gives Nadya a shot at life. Very moving.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Ellen! It's amazing to see how resilient and adaptive kids can be -- and how hungry they are for that personal connection. Nancy is a wonderful photojournalist and an even better person with a huge heart. Thanks for passing along her goodness here!

  3. Perhaps things are improving a bit for these Russian orphans with disabilities. My son, who has a type of dwarfism and whom I adopted at age 10, was not even allowed to go to school over there, though someone along the way had taken the time to teach him some very basic academics. He was destined to go to an institution for "invalids," which reportedly resembled those awful places like the infamous Willowbrook here. But the author is right: even for Russian orphans without disabilities, 90 percent wind up in prison, on drugs, as prostitutes, etc.


    Ellen, you need to see this, I'm younger than 16 and I read your blog. This story -the link- is about a girl with CP. you should read it:(

  5. How would someone go about adopting Nadya?

  6. Jerry, it seems like anyone interested could contact Happy Families International. I've heard that someone was interested in adopting Nadya!


Thanks for sharing!

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