January 31, 2021

‘Our children are like any other children’: a conversation with Saule Kenzhebayeva, Director of the ‘Dom Rebenka’ Specialised Orphanage in Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan)

In any society there have always been and, unfortunately, will always be children who, for some reason, were left without parental care. They are cared for by the society and the state. The important role is also played by the charitable organisations and philanthropists, who make a significant contribution to the wellbeing and development of such children. Today, we speak with Saule Kenzhebayeva, director of ‘Dom Rebenka’, a specialised orphanage in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan. The International Chodiev Foundation (ICF) has been supporting ‘Dom Rebenka’ for the past 20 years (to read more please follow this link).

– Ms Kenzhebayeva, could you please tell us about ‘Dom Rebenka’ and its purpose? 

– Our main aim is to create comfortable and nurturing environment for children who, for some reason, have lost their parents, and to provide medical treatment of children with disabilities and and other health conditions. We take care of children aged up to four years old, starting from the new-borns. Our capacity allows us to provide home for 100 children. We try hard to create a loving and supportive home for our children, who by the will of ill fate have found themselves in the care of the state.

In addition, we have another very important mission – to accompany children into foster care. One of the main rights of every child is the right to live and to be raised in a family. It should be a loving and caring family that is committed to the upbringing of a healthy and happy child. And no matter how wonderful the conditions of our orphanage are, children always dream of their own mother. The only thing they really need now is a person who can give them warmth, care and love, someone who would be the most important person in their life and someone who would mean a world to them.

Our work starts with determining the status of a child. The social services department conducts a study of the child’s situation, circumstances of his (or hers) life, his family members, if existent, and social connections. Specialists of the social department collect as much information as possible about the child’s life before he is placed in our institution. We try to establish a complete picture of the reasons why this child has been put into such conditions.

It should be noted, however, that over the past four years there has been a downward trend in the number of children coming here, while the number of people applying for adoption has increased. Among those who apply for adoption there are also people with their own children. In January 2017, Kazakhstan launched a national electronic database containing information about children left without parental care and subject to adoption. Since then, the system has been fully functional: the adoption processes have been simplified; and potential adopters choose children themselves, based on information published on the portal, without the involvement of third parties.

– What is the process of placing children into the orphanage?

– Currently there are 65 children here, including 21 abandoned children, two orphans and 26 children who are held temporarily. There are another 16 children who attend a day care rehabilitation group.

Firstly, we receive children whose parents do not want to raise them. Secondly, there are simply abandoned children. It is hard to talk about this calmly. All these children are all victims of parental irresponsibility. 

Abandoned children make up around 70% of the children in our orphanage, and the so-called ‘crisis children’ make up about 30%. We also have a department, a crisis center, where children are placed temporarily during crisis in their family, and later they return home. The main reasons for such situations are usually long-term medical treatment of the parents, the imprisonment of parents, or a difficult financial situation of the family, which might be affecting the child’s health. We are here to help a child when his stay in an unstable family environment poses a threat to his life or health.

It also happens that a young mother finds herself in a difficult situation and gives her child to us for a while. Unfortunately, mothers are not able to stay with their child in an institution, but her contact with the child is maintained. This ongoing communication between a child and his mother contributes to the process of the successful return of the child to the family. The mother periodically visits the child and is given the opportunity to participate in the child’s upbringing. In case of the child’s illness, the mother also provides support and care, which allows her to keep her attachment to the child. The administration of the ‘Dom Rebenka’ provides her with legal assistance and advice.

Undoubtedly, we are very happy when a child can go into a family, we give him away with joy and wishes to live in a loving family. But we always remember our children for a very long time. You can see the graduates of the orphanage on our web site. We follow their lives and do not lose contact with them. They come to visit us and tell us about their life and successes. For example, recently we met with Alma, a former pupil who now lives in Belgium. She was adopted in 2008, at the age of one, by a Belgian family. For the first time in nine years Alma and her parents came to Kazakhstan to get acquainted with her homeland. The staff at the orphanage welcomed Alma and her parents as their family, and she delighted everyone with a song and stories about her life and her academic achievements. 

– Could you please tell us about the material support of the orphanage and the educational process?

– Our children are provided with healthy nutritious food, comfortable clothing and entertainment and equipment required for their age, for example, play pens, special carpets and tools for stimulating healthy growth and movement, and variety of development toys. We organise the space in a way that encourages free movement, games and communication among children. The same applies to comfortable rest and sleep. In my opinion, our conditions are more comfortable than in any average family. 

When it comes to entertainment, our children are no different from the rest, they also go out to Happylon (an amusement park in Nur-Sultan – note), the circus, the Mega entertainment centre, have fun, and they have everything except the most important thing – their mother. 

– What an ordinary day at ‘Dom Rebenka’ looks like?

– Our children spend days as any other children. They get up in the morning, wash their faces and brush their teeth, have breakfast. There is a certain routine of the day and a timetable of activities. They exercise, play, run and sometimes fight and then cry. They like affection and some of them like attention. They like dressing up, especially girls, they like presents, celebrations, new toys. We try to make any celebration at the orphanage joyful and merry, so it stays in their memory for a long time as a bright and positive event.

We celebrate traditional holidays, such as Rizashylyk, Nauryz, New Year, International Women’s Day, and others. Of course, a special holiday for us is the International Children’s Day. As in any home, we celebrate birthdays, tusau-keser (Kazakh tradition, which is held when a baby makes his or her first steps – note). We have our own puppet theatre. We prepare performances, write scripts, decorate the hall, make handmade presents. And these activities fill a celebration with special warmth and love, make it informal.

– In your opinion, what is the most important thing to consider whilst caring for children at the orphanage?

– It is no secret that children come to the orphanage from dysfunctional families, where sometimes no values or moral standards were instilled. Almost every child at the orphanage has a broken fate and is unhappy. Our children are very special and a job of a care-giver is a special profession. These are a special type of teachers. they need to restore balance in the child’s heart and mind using all their wisdom, passion and patience. They do not just ‘work with children’, they live with them, share their joys and sorrows, successes and failures. Working and organising education for children at the orphanages differs to that of other institutions. Healthcare workers, teachers, speech therapists, psychologists and musicians work closely together here. They develop children’s cognitive abilities, focus and thinking processes, emotional growth, verbal and non-verbal communications. All these activities enrich the children’s life experience and their sensory world, and help them to gain self-confidence.

– You mentioned that you treat children with health problems…

– Another group of children who make up our large family are babies with disabilities. About 20% of the children in our orphanage have serious health problems. Children staying in the orphanage are provided with medical care, they are systematically examined by relevant medical specialists, which allows us to react in time and take timely measures aimed at rehabilitation and treatment. We have a swimming pool, physical and speech therapy facilities, sensory and play therapy rooms, equipment and special walk aids, and outdoor games for children . This is all aimed at improving health of our children.

Our multidisciplinary team is made up of a rehabilitating therapist, neurologist, paediatricians, speech therapists, psychologists, Montessori teacher, music therapist, play therapist, physical therapy instructors, masseurs, social skills specialists, and a head teacher.   

We also have all the necessary equipment for the development of motor skills such as crawling, walking, sitting, hand manipulations, strengthening and normalisation of muscles, speech development, as well encouraging social adaptation and the integration of children into society.

– What problems do children with disabilities face and what kind of rehabilitation do they undergo?

– The main issues that are faced by the disabled child are a lack of his or her normal connection with the world, limitation of mobility, lack of communication with peers, inaccessibility of education. The task of rehabilitation is to give special children opportunities for physical, mental and psychological development, as well as opportunities for further social inclusion of each child.  

Rehabilitation of children with disabilities is conducted according to individual programmes.  Each child has a rehabilitation programme tailored specifically for him and his needs; it determines its methods and timeframes, as well as means for the child’s social adaptation. Such programme might include provision of supportive mobility means, such as a wheelchair, treatment at special resorts and much more. Doctors constantly monitor the state of a child’s health, keep up with examinations and vaccinations. If someone gets sick, they get treated. In summer children spend more time outside, in winter – indoors. 

We also have day rehabilitation care for children. This service has been provided for the past two years. Children in need of medical assistance come to us in the morning and leave in the evening. Such children are usually referred to us by outpatient hospitals, guardianship and custody agencies. Our team starts the work with discussing parents’ expectations and determining short-term and long-term rehabilitation goals. The progress is evaluated and discussed by the team and the parents every month. We also share daily progress by sending videos, photos and messages to the parents. By the end of the rehabilitation programme each family receives reports and photo albums capturing their child’s achievements.

– What kind of support is provided to the orphanage by philanthropists?

– The children at our orphanage are under close attention of both government agencies and society as a whole. The support provided by philanthropists, charitable foundations, governmental and non-governmental organisations, public figures, and any ordinary person who is willing to help gives the children confidence in their future. Thanks to these efforts our children are part of our society in general. Many people offer us help and they are ready to do whatever is in their capacity. We are immensely grateful to all of them. The orphanage has developed significantly thanks to efforts of all these kind people who care about our children.

Good people are akin to sunshine. I would like to say a special thank you to a good friend of our orphanage, Dr Patokh Chodiev. Dr Chodiev and his foundation have been supporting ‘Dom Rebenka’ and caring for our children for several years.

International Chodiev Foundation has funded the construction of an annex to the orphanage, which enlarged the space and added more rooms to our building. This annex now houses a sensory room, speech therapy rooms, a room for physical therapy and other facilities that we are in need of. Undoubtedly, such improvement has also affected the quality of life of our children in a very positive way, it makes their life comfortable. It is impossible to list all the things that Dr Chodiev has done for the children of our orphanage, they include improving children’s living conditions, providing financial assistance for various purposes, providing gifts for the children and much more. Dr Chodiev always demonstrates so much care, attention and generosity towards our children. As we say, philanthropists do not simply provide financial means, they give our children comfort and joy.

Photographs for this post have been provided by  ‘Dom Rebenka’.

View all blog posts