Monday November 8, 2010

One of the newest and poorest members of the European Union, Bulgaria has the highest number of physically and mentally challenged children growing up in institutes anywhere in Europe. The powerful and disturbing documentary, Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children, which TVO premiered in North America, exposed tragic levels of neglect in the Mogilino Social Care Home, a rural, state-run institution for disabled children.

The images were haunting: non-speaking kids rocking relentlessly back and forth; children left to sit on potties for hours on end and others wasting away alone on their beds; children whose emaciated, brittle bodies craved nourishment; kids physically abused by caregivers. There was no schooling. No love. No care.

Kristina Nemes was heartbroken watching the film, and says that TVO documentaries have taught her a lot about issues she’d otherwise be unaware of. “I truly want to help children like these one day, all because you have opened my eyes to issues like [those in Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children],” she says.

Kristina’s sentiment was shared by many. The broadcast sparked an international outcry: shocked viewers and politicians across Europe demanded change, and media descended on Mogilino. Under intense pressure, the Bulgarian government appealed to UNICEF for help, leading to medical assessments for every child. A trust for the children was formed, funded entirely by viewer donations. Gifts, clothes, offers of help flooded in. Most of the kids were moved to better homes.

Producer-director Kate Blewett, who described filming as immensely depressing, returned to Bulgaria 18 months later to document the remarkable transformation of four of the children in her follow-up film, Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children Revisited.

In October 2009, the Mogilino Social Care Home closed down. At the time, Blewett said, “… It has been incredibly rewarding to watch the impacts of the film Bulgaria's Abandoned Children rippling out, globally and within Bulgaria too… Extraordinary and wonderful things have been happening because the focus is now on the disabled children - previously dumped quietly into the inadequate Bulgarian institutes.”

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