The first house in the Narva-Jõesuu SOS Children’s Village, the one next to the gate, is a special one. It’s special among all of the SOS Villages and among the whole country, and it’s special also for its habitants. In this little house, educators Irina and Oksana care for eight children with major disabilities. “Care” is a word not quite adequate since the ladies provide love, attention, understanding, and support for these children.

Irina is working on this rainy day. It’s 1 pm. Seven children are asleep in their beds and the eighth is waiting in his carriage for the nanny to come with medicine. The little boy is recovering from an illness but he doesn’t know it; he doesn’t know who he is, nor where and why. At times, hearing a pleasant voice brings a faint smile on his face. Irina says, “The children of this house are often hit hard with diseases and normally get sick all at once.” The last winter was hard in this regard: there were many nights where a worried educator stayed up watching over the children.

Irina is Like a Gift from the Heaven

Why are we writing about Irina the educator, not Irina the SOS mother? Her house is the only one in the SOS Children’s Village system allocated for the children with special needs. The house has its own set of rules. Normally, there are 5 or 6 children sharing a family home with a SOS mother, supported by a father or an aunt. In this case, two educatorst, and a helper or nanny, take care for the children and an additional employee fills in when needed.

The little boy is recovering from an illness but he doesn’t know it; he doesn’t know who he is, nor where and why. At times, hearing a pleasant voice brings a faint smile on his face.

Irina never sacrifices on the wellbeing of the children – the chores come second. Irina pays attention to every swing of mood and every movement. For each of her children she knows exactly what they are capable of, what skills to develop, what kind of treatment to seek. Irina chats, laughs, pats heads, reads books, helps reach for toys, carries children to the playroom and bed, changes diapers, and feeds. In addition, she makes sure that visitors are greeted with a clean house and well-groomed children.

High and Low Tides

Irina had been working with the children with special needs in the Narva-Jõesuu Children’s Home before it was to be closed. She took the children and moved into the Children’s Village. Irina is grateful to the SOS system for having taken the risk. She has been building their lives for two years now, and things seem to be moving more smoothly with each day.

“At first we were clueless about where to find special furniture and how to manage cooking and cleaning. There were so many details to be arranged,” recalls Irina. “Children had to be made familiar with the new location. Getting used to new and different smells and sounds wasn’t easy for them. We walked daily from the old house to the new one, taking along a bag full of things. We wondered how we’d manage in a house with several small rooms instead of a single large one. We wondered how we’d be able to watch over the children.” Now those fears have disappeared. The house in the children’s village with its small bedrooms and large living room is no different from an ordinary home. Now the educator room also has an additional safe space with toys for the child needing most attention and adult company while the educator needs to focus on paperwork.

Nature has not been kind to these children. They need extra attention. Let them have a beautiful childhood!

During daytime one adult looks after four children and takes care of the household tasks. At nights, one employee is present, doing laundry and ironing, washing dishes and preparing breakfast. The director of the children’s village and a psychologist are also available.

Of those who moved into the house two years ago, seven have remained. One little boy has since passed away. A new brother has joined the family.

Noticing the expression on my face Irina says: “It would be very hard if I couldn’t have time alone and if my own family wouldn’t support me.” Irina has two sons, ages 9 and 13, and she is proud to have raised them not being afraid of people who are different from them.

Every Child Deserves the Best

At present, Irina is most concerned about rehabilitation plans. The state system allows for a number of services. Unfortunately, there aren’t any specialists for children in Ida-Virumaa. Taking a child to another county is not always an option for health reasons or for difficulty in finding an accompanying adult. A big dream of Irina’s is to have a suitable rehabilitation center right here, across the road from the house. Children would then be able to have massages, physiotherapy, and whatever else they need. One step at a time, and one day this dream will come true – Irina who has worked with children for 20 years knows for sure.

The spring will be here soon and children will be taking longer walks. Irina says they’ve checked out all the park trails and playgrounds in Narva-Jõesuu and they’ve been to the beach, a few hundred yards away, innumerable times. She wishes for a boardwalk to push carriages closer to the sea. She also plans to sow the seeds of cucumber, squash, and flowers. The children will help with whatever they can. “Nature has not been kind to these children. They need extra attention,” Irina says, “Let them have a beautiful childhood.”

What would be a cheerful ending to this story? Perhaps a picture of a boy, about 6 years old, awakened from his nap, stepping into the living room while talking in a language known only to him. He replies with a shy smile to the greeting of the guest and points to Irina’s pants, puzzled. “Well, yes, I changed – we have a visitor,” says Irina. “Come, let’s spruce you up, too.” And they leave together, small hand enclosed in the bigger.