Helping Azerbaijan’s orphans to fulfil their dreams

تم النشر: 22 ديسمبر 2004 0:00 CET

Parviz Nazarov, of Azerbaijan Red Crescent, and Sabina Mahibubi-Iran in Baku

She stood out from the general group of children: timid and smiling, she attracted attention at once.

Gunay did not join in the games, preferring to remain apart, sitting silently on a bench, concentrating on her knitting and sometimes glancing at the other children playing.

“I like sewing. I taught myself,” she said, proudly showing off her brightly coloured and patterned handiwork. “Do you like them?”

She is 16 but looks younger. Gunay is one of the children living at the Shagan orphanage in Baku, having been abandoned by her parents.

“I don’t remember my parents. I’ve spent all my life here. The children here are my brothers and sisters. We are like a big family, the older ones taking care of the younger ones. We understand each other better than anybody,” she said.

Gunay, it seems, is a very talented girl, and one with strong views on life: “I think life is difficult, especially for us: it is unfair that we are without parents; we are like other children - we need care, love and warmth. When we leave this place, it will be difficult to find a job, to start a family, to have normal life.”

Gunay is one of the 5,424 disabled orphans who were living and learning in boarding schools and sanatoriums in Azerbaijan in 2000, according to International United Aid For Azerbaijan (UAFA).

Even under the care of the government, these orphans still feel marginalized from society. When they reach the age of 18, they leave the institutions but it is difficult for them to find work and become integrated into society. There are no specialized institutions where they can learn the skills that will help them find work.

From 2002, the Azerbaijan Red Crescent started to implement social care activities in the Shagan orphanage house in Baku. Since then, Red Crescent volunteers have been visiting mentally disabled orphans here, training them how to look after themselves, teaching them how to knit, to play games, reading them stories and going for walks with them.

“I like it when the boys and girls from ‘Aypara’ visit us,” said Gunay, referring to the Red Crescent volunteers. Aypara is the Azeri for Crescent, and at the Shagan orphanage, the volunteers have created an Aypara room and equipped it with toys and books.

“It is always interesting, because they always think up something new to do. We were reading about Cinderella and all girls imagined themselves in this girl’s place, so they could meet their prince and have another life,” Gunay explained.

So what are Gunay’s dreams? “My desire is to go away from here, find a job, live on my own,” she said with a shy smile. “I will be sad to leave my friends, my brothers and sisters. But one day children leave their families.”

Even if Gunay likes sewing, she prefers drawing. She keeps her pictures with her all the time. They represent her dreams. “My desires are always with me. Each night before going to sleep I look at them and long for them to come true.”

One of the Red Crescent volunteers who visits the orphanage is Bakhtiyar Suleymanov. This 30-year-old has been volunteer with the Azizbayov local Red Crescent committee for the past five years.

“I have always wanted to help people in need. In our district there are various orphanages. There are not only orphans in these homes, but also children who have been abandoned by their relatives. These children are rarely visited, so they feel forsaken,” he said.

Bakhtiyar first visited an orphanage for deaf-mute children when he was still a schoolboy. During his visits he would play games or give presents. When he joined the Red Crescent he discovered that it had the same attitude towards vulnerable people, giving him the opportunity to realize his humane ideals.

“I think other volunteers had the same feelings. I continued to visit the orphans, but I always thought that this is not enough,” he said. He wanted to visit other orphanages, but did not have enough time.

“I came up with an idea, which I shared with other volunteers who regularly come to the Red Crescent youth department, and they decided to join me. There were 20 of us and we divided ourselves into groups of four or five volunteers. We paid a weekly visit to two orphanages in Azizbayov district: one in Shuvalan for deaf-mute children, and the other in Shagan for mentally disabled,” Bakhtiyar said.

“We have two groups of girls and boys each consisting of 10 to 12 children, who are 12 to 15 years old. Our activities depend on the weather: when it is fine, we play different sports: football, volleyball or tennis. When the weather is cold we gather the children in the Aypara room and read to them, play table games like puzzles, dominoes and ping-pong.”

“After reading to them, we encourage the children to talk about the book. They also like painting, and most of them are good dancers and singers. They are fond of lezghinka, the traditional dance of the Lezghin people, who live in the north of Azerbaijan: It looks really energetic. The boys also like singing meyhana: it is Azerbaijani rap,” Bakhtiyar explained.

He said it is rewarding when the children share their emotions. “It is easy to establish emotional contact with them: the main thing is to be kind, open-hearted and gentle.”

Bakhtiyar has not only included Red Crescent volunteers in the visits. His neighbours, relatives and friends also come to play games with the children or organize small parties, which bring them a lot of fun.

“I have only one desire – and it is probably hard to realize - but I wish each of these children could have parents or at least somebody to care for them. Maybe it is not much to visit them once in a week, but it means a lot to them. They are waiting impatiently and we are like their imagined family, part of their world and unfulfilled desires.”