It took two years for the neighbours to get to know the children with special needs from the SOS Children´s Village of Narva-Joesuu, Estonia. Now they greet them by name when they see them walking in the streets. ‘An old lady makes us slippers every year. It’s really nice,’ says educator Irina.

Eight children with special needs are currently living in one of the houses in the SOS Children’s Village Narva-Joesuu in Eastern Estonia. Due to their health they will never be able to live an independent life. Four of them require complete care – they are unable to communicate and eat.

Extended expectations

‘We help them to live, their illnesses are so severe that their life expectancy was only 3-5 years. Now, we have already exceeded that mark twice. According to the specialists, this is possible because of the good conditions and care in the village.’

Four of the children are able to talk and move to an extent, only one of them needs to use a wheelchair. ‘We work with them as much as we can, because they too have a right for education, for example. It’s difficult to plan the children’s development, though, because it is impossible to predict.’

Olen iga aasta saatnud neile loo, mida nad saavad oma uudiskirjas kajastatada ja ka välismaale saata. Valiksin selle, TPAst leidsin. Kas sul võtaks kaua see eesti keelde panna? Siis saaksime meie kodukale ka panna. Saadaks selle ka kõigile koolitoetajatele, et öelda aitäh. – siin on kirjas lause, et igal lapsel on õigus haridusele vms.

In September, when the school year began, one of the children started attending special classes in Narva, and a special educator comes to the village to teach the boys. ‘This is not the usual studying with textbooks, but more like supporting the development of the children with playing games and drawing. Everything is done in accordance to their ability to understand the world.’

Small steps go a long way

‘Nature has set limits for the development of these children. For example, we have a young man, who was very apprehensive at some point – he learned the alphabet and how animals look like, but then it all stopped. He is now 15, but we do not know whether we will see such a development again,’ says Irina, who worked in an orphanage for 20 years.

‘Interestingly, the development can be sometimes controversial. We discovered that one of the children has learned to lie, which is not welcome, but at the same time, this is a development, the child has learned something new.’

It sounds like one of the toughest jobs in the world – you work and you work hard, but the result is non-existing or so small that it is hardly visible. However, Irina tells a different story.

‘If you’re trying to achieve something for a long time and you will finally see some results, no matter how small, it gives even more importance to the result because you know that you have waited for long time for this to happen.’

‘Do you remember how many months it took you to teach your child to use the potty? Were you happy when you succeeded? Now imagine that it will take two or three years!’ she gives an example.

A reward for all the efforts

‘We had a seriously ill child, who had to gain weight to boost the immune system to better resist colds,’ says Irina. ‘We did everything we could. We read calories and drew up diets, but nothing seemed to work. When he finally gained 300 grams, we were the happiest people in the world!’

This success also had really practical value – the child gained weight and improved his immune system, which meant that he was less ill, which in turn meant that the educators had more time to dedicate to the other children.

‘A simple cold is a disaster in our house,’ says Irina. ‘If we have an illness, we do not have just one sick child, but all eight. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain, why it is a successful winter for us, when the kids are sick only once.’

Irina has been working for 20 years with children of all ages, and she has learned that the longest way is the path to the heart of children with special needs.

‘Mental illnesses often go along with aggression; fortunately, our children are calm, though they can be aggressive to themselves. It’s difficult to reach them and it’s even more difficult to explain these feelings when I open the door and the children shout: Our Irina came!’

Seeing things from a different angle

So that’s why Irina takes the children and walks around the village with them and in the streets of the town hoping that people would see the children and become familiar with them.

‘We went to a Christmas concert in Johvi and people were a bit scared of us, but it also had a positive side – we had a lot of space for seating positions to choose from,’ she remains positive.

There’s more things to be positive about – people are already asking what the kids need for Christmas.

‘The gifts are not so important for them, the greatest fun for them is to unwrap the gifts, it doesn’t really matter whether there are slippers inside or something else.’