ĎWords canít explainí visitorís reaction to orphanage

Editorís note: Karin Crider, director of auxiliary student services in the Kyrene School District, has embarked on a month-long trip to Greece to visit local orphanages, where she is working as a volunteer with disabled children. The following email account describes her arrival in Greece and what she found during the early days of her visit.

Well, I made it--after 19 hours (10 hours for the time change). We spent the first day in Thessoloniki and met with the U.S. consul general. I also met two people from the American College in Greece. 

Then we came to Siderokistro and met with the director of the orphanage. We have spent the last two days here. 

Words can't explain what I saw. It was  unbelievable. These children have misformed legs, arms, bodies. They are caged up all day long. Some wear full body suits that cover their hands.  All are in diapers. They started out with a simple disability, but because they have lived like this all their lives, they will never live a life as we know it. 

The orphanage is on top of the hill, "away" from the community. The children never leave the grounds, never leave their rooms. If they can walk, they may go out to the hallways, but that is it. The staff sit on the couches in the hall and smoke and watch TV.

It is terrible. I showed the director of the orphanage pictures of Courtney, my disabled sister at home, and she asked why Courtney lives at home. Wow!  She had never heard of anything like that.

The director invited us to her home for dinner last night. I almost died. She introduced us to her four sons--8,7,4 and 2 months old. As she picked up her two-month-old and showed him to me, I observed that he has Down Syndrome. She doesnít know it.

Imagine the director of the institution where these children are kept has a handicapped child of her own, and isnít aware of it.

From what I understand, she has very good intentions for doing more for the children, however her hands are tied by the government. 

They won't let her do anything for the betterment of the children. The bishop (it is all religious here) asked her why these children need to be anywhere but in the institution.  The staff argue about who is going to do what. (The times I have been there, I haven't seen them do anything.)

The first day I walked in, little Maria was by the door in her wheelchair. She started jumping up and down in her seat, so I bent down to hug her. She latched onto me so hard that when I stood up, she was still holding on to me. She wouldn't let go.

Another little boy who could hardly see loved the colored reflectors I brought with me. Through his Coke-bottle glasses he put the colors up to his eyes and smiled as he looked around. He took my hand and sat me down next to him on the nasty floor and put the reflectors up to my eyes and planted his face up to mine to look at my eyes through the colors.

I learned from the director that these children have all types of situations when it comes to their families.  Some children have a father or mother who comes visit every month, however the other parent sometimes doesn't know the child is alive, thinking he or she died at birth. 

There are twins who were separated at birth. There are parents who don't know their children have died at the institution. Funerals have been held with no family members present. 

Then there are children who have a parent or a sibling who comes visit every week. It is just so sad.

As to the rest of what Iíve seen, Greece is great. Thessoloniki was like any other city to me, but then we got here. It was more like I expected a Greek town to be: windy streets, lots of trees, apartments above the stores, bakeries everywhere! 

I've been asked out twice, once by a cab driver (he wanted to go to Italy with me) and another time by a man in a store. I politely declined.

Very few people speak English here. As I walk through town (good thing I have insurance; Iím bound to break my foot on these sidewalks and streets) people stop to ask, "Why are you visiting Siderokostro?" 

When I try to explain that there is an institution at the top of the hill, many of them don't seem to know about it. Others just shake their head and say, ďToo bad for them.Ē

The culture here reminds me a lot of Mexico. The shops are open until about 3, then close until 6.  Families go home to eat and rest, then go out again. Dinner isn't until about 10 at night. (It is killing me. I can't stay up that late.)

Thursday was "Market Day."  I was up early, so I walked through the streets. Whew, did it smell.

As a result, I haven't eaten too much. When I walked by a pickup truck with full pieces of meat sitting in the back, in the sun, I couldn't bring myself to eat meat in one of the restaurants that may buy their meat from that guy. I'm living on bread and Pepsi Light, when I can find it.

I leave for Athens on Saturday (one week from now).  I'm told by Spiros (the host family here) that I will have a personal tour guide there.  His cousin is a police officer there. Last night we sat with a guy who went to school in Pennsylvania, so his English was good, had some complaints about the current U.S. administration, but I discovered one thing: As long as you donít share a name with one of our high-profile political leaders, Americans are liked here!