In 1992 I was invited to be part of a sister city team that traveled from Norwalk, Connecticut (where I was serving as a UMC pastor) to Kragnorsk, Russia. Given a morning off from our busy schedule of activities, I asked my host to show me one of their houses for children. Clearly uncomfortable with my request, she never-the-less agreed.
We spent less than 30 minutes at this house for children and though I took no photos the memories remain fresh and dramatic. I remain haunted by that experience.
The house for children was divided into a series of age related rooms, where children from infants in cribs through teenagers stayed. An overwhelming stench of urine and feces dominated the facility and the residence was clearly understaffed: we saw only four adults caring for the 40+ children.
In the infant room diapers were changed only twice per day and the children were left unattended most of the time. The toddlers, too, were mostly ignored: what I saw reminded me of The Lord of the Flies because the children were pushing, kicking and biting each other in efforts to control the few toys in the room. The children apparently spent their entire day in this room and rarely got outside. Older children had access to some school materials but spent the time I was with them watching TV.
It has been almost 30 years since I was in Russia. I have no idea what has become of these children or this house for children. But I know that what I saw is how too many precious children spend their childhood. We can do better.