Lee-ann shares her families’ international adoption journey and raising two incredible kiddos who happen to have down syndrome
Bulgaria as one of Eastern Europe’s treasures but underneath the rich sights and sounds, there is an imbalance and a need to find loving homes for many Roma children.
Bulgaria’s history is vast and its culture rich, and like all countries, it has customs that are unique to itself.
Roma people represent around 12 million of Europe’s overall population and Bulgaria is home to the third largest population of Roma in the world. We see this reflected in the large population of Roma children in need of families in Spence-Chapin’s Bulgaria adoption program. Though the Roma are an estimated 5% to 10% of the general population in Bulgaria, around 60% of the children in need of permanent families are of Roma descent. Why are such a large number of Roma children in need of adoptive families?
To begin scratching the surface of why many Roma children are waiting for families in Bulgaria, exploring the larger scope of Romani history is an important first step. The Roma make up the largest and most vulnerable ethnic group in Europe. After migrating from India over a thousand years ago, the Roma people have endured oppression and discrimination. Yet quite remarkably, they have been able to preserve Romani language and culture. You may be more familiar with a commonly used term for Roma – “gypsy”. This term is an outdated and historically inaccurate word stemming from a time when Roma people were thought to have come from Egypt. As the term has negative and derogatory connotations, the most widely accepted term today is Roma.
Centuries of structural discrimination and social exclusion have led to the difficulties that Roma people are faced with today, leaving Roma children vulnerable and, at times, in need of loving homes outside of their birth families. The most prevalent issues faced by Roma families include discrimination, poverty, and limited access to education and medical care. While it can be difficult to picture the realities of what social exclusion may look like for a Roma child in Bulgaria, poverty is the most common reason Roma children are over-represented in child care facilities. The World Bank estimates that the poverty rate for families of Roma descent is 6.7 times greater than non-Roma in Bulgaria. Housing conditions illustrate a powerful snapshot of what living in poverty can look like for a Roma family. While sewage and water supply are available to 93% of the Bulgarian population, 50% of Roma families have no sewage and over 30% of families do not have access to a water supply system.
Regular school attendance can be difficult for Roma children due to circumstances caused by poverty. Issues include a lack of transportation, caring for younger siblings and experiencing discrimination in the school system. Teenagers who experience unplanned pregnancy are also faced with difficulties not only in school attendance but also with their health due to a lack of medical care access. This culminates in only 13% of Roma people with high school diplomas compared to 87% of employed non-Roma Bulgarians.
Lower levels of education lead to higher levels of unemployment and combined with the discrimination faced when seeking work, the Roma experienced an unemployment rate of 59% in 2010 while the national average for unemployment in Bulgaria was 11.6%. Since joining the European Union in 2007, many Roma who have not been able to find employment in Bulgaria have migrated to other European countries for job opportunities. This can create a difficult decision for parents who may not be able to parent their children as they leave the country and then choose to make an adoption plan.
Another factor in the over-representation of Roma children who are adopted internationally highlights the discrimination the Roma people receive within Bulgaria. If a child cannot be raised with their birth family, it is the best choice for a child to be placed with an adoptive family in their home country. Due to a long history of falsely held beliefs and discrimination against the Roma population, Bulgarian families may choose to adopt ethnic Bulgarian children, leaving Roma children waiting longer to be placed with an adoptive family in their home country.
Hundreds of years of oppression have created an environment where Roma children are more vulnerable to factors that leave children in need of a family. While the reasons any Roma child in Bulgaria are in need of a family are complex, Spence-Chapin’s mission is simple - to find families for the most vulnerable children. We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition. There are thousands of school-age children, sibling groups, and children with special needs languishing in orphanages and foster care in Bulgaria. These children blossom when given the opportunity, support, and resources to live within the stability and safety of a permanent loving family.
To learn more about adoption through our Bulgaria program or to view profiles of Waiting Children in Bulgaria ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at email@example.com..
There are over 1,800 older children, siblings, and children with special needs in Bulgaria who are eligible for international adoption but have not yet found families.
An adoptive mom shares her in-country experiences with Bulgarian adoption partner ANIDO.
For a fresh, modern take on Romani culture, don't miss the events during the 8th Annual New York Gypsy Festival, starting September 8th and running through the 30th. This festival celebrates the Romani diaspora, a people widely spread throughout the world, to transcend barriers of location, language, and status, for a true celebration of roots and ethnicity in music, art, and dance.
The film screening of A People Uncounted, a 2011 documentary about the Roma will surely be a festival highlight. It uncovers the rich, and sometimes painful, history of the Roma, who, now, are commonly referred to as Gypsies. The critically acclaimed, feature-length film was directed by Aaron Younger and edited by Kurt Engefh.
Watch a preview for A People Uncounted, here:
Bulgarian traditions include a number of holidays during the month of July. From July 16th to the 18th The Romani celebrate Goreshtnitsi or "the dog days,” named so because they're usually the hottest days of summer. While the origins of these feast days are pagan, The orthodox calendar also celebrates these holidays. According to the calendar, July 15th is Churuta, the 16th is Pyrliga, and the 17th is Marina.
The Romani believe that during these days no-one should work in the fields, and women, who traditionally keep the household and cook food, shouldn't bake bread to prevent destructive fires and hail storms from raining down from the sky. The Dog Days are also used to predict the weather for the next winter season. If the all three days are hot and sunny, the Romani predict that the next winter will be a mild one. After the three day break from work, the Romani renew the fires in their homes and resume their daily tasks.
Spence-Chapin is delighted to report that, thanks to the generosity of our Bulgarian adoptive parents and their friends, we were able to send a donation of $4,145 to the Varna Children’s Home in Bulgaria. This orphanage, with whom Spence-Chapin has a nearly two-decade connection, suffered a tragedy in February when a fire swept through their building. Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured, though a great deal of damage was sustained. Dr. Jankova, the orphanage’s director, sent the following words in response: “I’m writing back to you with gratitude for your compassion for our situation. The knowledge that in a difficult for us moment, we can rely on your help coming from so far away, brings us the comfort that we are not alone.”
We are glad to have assisted the Varna Children’s Home with their recovery efforts.