Azerbaijan International

Autumn 1995 (3.3)
Pages 64-65

Children's Games
Build Bridges

International Women's Club Reaches Out

by Anne Kressler

A Home for Inara
- Azerbaijan's First Adoption
Guidelines - Adopting a Child from Azerbaijan
AzerbaijanAdopt ListServ

British Airways Adopts Orphanage
Saving the Children: Mobil Undertakes Orphanage Project
Children's Games Build Bridges: International Women's Club Reaches Out
Third Annual Reunion of Adopted Children from Azerbaijan

To hear Caroline Adams talk, you'd think that playing games and singing British nursery rhymes with Azerbaijani children has become one of the most significant activities of her busy life in Baku. "Ring around the Rosies, Pocket full of Posies, Tish-u, Tish-u. We all fall down!" And then, with a twinkle in her eye, she'll add, "And that's when the children all squeal and giggle in delight!"

It doesn't seem to matter that the children don't understand the words or speak her language, or that the games come from another land, another era, and another life experience. Nor does it matter that many of the children are mentally and physically handicapped, victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that has left their families broken, separated, and too poor to take care of them.

"Children are children, the world over," observes Caroline, wife of AIOC's President Terry Adams. "The fact that our languages are different doesn't have to get in the way. Communication can take place on so many different levels. Somehow, with games and songs, the message gets across that we care. We want to share in the lives of these children and their caretakers. Despite their handicaps, these children act much like normal children everywhere. They like to laugh and squeal and make a lot of noise; they like to fall down together. They love the unexpected. They like to climb up on our laps and nestle close to us. We all have great fun!" admits Caroline, who has been living in Azerbaijan since January.

International Women's Club
Caroline is only one of many women involved in the Orphanage Project sponsored by the International Women's Club of Azerbaijan. The club, quite new, was started by Elizabeth Young, wife of the British Ambassador, Thomas Young, and Anne Kauzlarich, wife of the American Ambassador, Richard Kauzlarich. It fosters the chance for the women to meet each other, to form friendships and support one another. Approximately 50 percent of the Club's membership is made up of foreign women while the other half comes from the Azerbaijani community.

One of the Club's committees is the "Charity Committee" co-chaired by Caroline and Hanna El Habashi, wife of the Egyptian Consul. They set about to identify a project, raise money, and make a difference. Some women visit the children in the orphanages; others prefer to make items that can be sold at the Annual Bazaar; some sell raffle tickets.

"We wanted to identify a group within the community that might not have the ability to help themselves. That's why we chose the mental and physically handicapped. Their situation is no fault of their own," explains Caroline. Since April, the women have identified five institutions and adopted three.

The women try to visit the sanatoria at least twice a month "to play with the children, give them hugs, maybe bring them orange juice, speak to the staff and determine their essential needs".

Dignity Begins with Shoes
For their first project in June, for example, at Psycho-Neurologic Sanitarium No. 41 in Ramana on the outskirts of Baku, they acquired tennis shoes for all 42 children. They plan to buy shoes for the children at the other orphanages as well.

"Right now, the children are wearing whatever can be found," Caroline observes. "You'll find children with broken sandals, Wellington boots (a British term for rubber shoes), and some with shoes so big that they have to be tied on their feet. All their shoes were so dilapidated and worn. We wanted to bring the children some dignity so they can look down at their feet and see a pair of shoes that belonged to them and nobody else."

But the shoes are only a beginning. On each visit to each of the sanitoria, the women confer with the director and staff to find out the most critical needs. Sometimes, it's as simple as buying plastic buckets for carrying water, or basins for washing. Sometimes, it means finding rubber sheets to protect the mattresses of children that are incontinent.

They also alleviate some of the burden for the staff in maintaining living quarters. They're planning to acquire five "industrial mops"-cleaning machines that don't require electricity and that can be pushed by hand and operated with cold water and bleach, both of which are available in Azerbaijan. "If there's anything we can do to make their lives easier, that's what we want," says Caroline.

Not everything they offer is in the form of material goods. "Sometimes the women feel that we aren't giving enough, but I tell them the greatest gift is our time. Going consistently week after week, letting the staff know that we're there, identifying basic needs that don't even take a lot of money-that's what matters most. It makes a big difference if we can fix an electrical or plumbing problem. In this respect, they appreciate the generous support they're getting from some of the British contractors, Adrian Hepworth and Dennis Nelson, to name but two.

Great Respect for Azeri Staff
"We see the marvelous job that the Azeri staffs do with minimum equipment. We've been incredibly impressed. Their dedication to the children is nothing short of heroic. We want to let these people know they're not alone, " says Caroline.

The Club's involvement comes at a very important time in Azerbaijan's transitional process to a market economy. All government agencies are having a tough time financially. Staff members aren't paid very well (most receive less than $10 a month). It's not unusual for even this meager pay to be delayed months.

Few toys can be found at the orphanages. Sometimes there are none. So the women look for balls and playthings that are safe for these children. They'd like to design and build elementary climbing equipment in the playground gardens. They want to recruit some ex-patriot construction workers to tackle such projects.

But it's the games and the songs that provide the links between these different cultures, different economic lifestyles and different backgrounds. "Play" gives these foreign women a glimpse into the lives of these children.

Children's Games
There are games like "Oranges and Lemons", "Ring-a, Ring-a-Rosies", "Hokey-Cokey", "Ride a Cock Horse to Bamberry Cross", and "Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree".

And then there are action games like "Grandmother's Footsteps," sometimes known as "Red Light" to American children. One person stands with his back to the others who try to sneak up on him. Anyone detected moving when "it" suddenly turns around has to return to the starting line.

The activities are not all initiated by foreigners. The children often sing and recite poetry, or demonstrate their own games. One favorite is "Cat and Mouse." The children form a circle holding hands and lift their arms at just the right moment so the child who has been chosen as "mouse" can escape from the "cat".

"Azeris tend to be very musical people," observes Katie Read who has recently arrived in Baku. "Despite their handicaps, they pick up tunes very quickly. It's impressive to see these small children, three and four years old, who know all the words to the songs, never stumbling on a single word."

Deep Satisfaction
The women who visit the children admit they receive more than they ever give. "It's never easy to be away from your own home, especially the first months," observes Katie. "Even though I only know a word or two of their language, the children accept me. It's a great feeling. They give me such great pleasure and it enables me to get rid of my frustrations. It's so easy to get upset when the water in the apartment is suddenly cut off, or when we can't get the food we're used to, or when things take longer to get done than expected.

"Being with the children gives me a sense of the important things in life. And every time when we leave, I look into their eyes which have grown so bright and sparkling. Their eyes say it all. They've had a good time. And that brings me incredible satisfaction. It means our lives have touched."

Kvaerner Helps Support TB Sanatorium
For the last year, Norway's largest non-state-owned company, Kvaerner has been involved with one of Baku's three TB Sanitaria for Children. The Sanatorium (No. 89, on Aga Neimatulla Street) has been in existence for more than 30 years. Its 21 member staff cares for 50 children between the ages of three to seven.

According to Director, Irada Aslanova, the majority of these children have been infected with TB, but the Sanatorium hopes to prevent the disease from becoming full-blown by paying close attention to their diet and isolating them from infected people. Kvaerner is providing medicines, clothing, toys and educational aids on a regular basis. An oil and gas energy sector company, it has been involved in Azerbaijan since January 1994.

From Azerbaijan International (3.3) Autumn 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.

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