Monica and Damian

Monica and Damian were born with cerebral palsy to a single mother in an eastern European country. Without the necessary support to care for her children, the mother left them in a psychiatric hospital when they were aged 9 and 10, respectively. A year later, the children were moved to a residential special school for children with mobility impairments. During a recent interview, both siblings spoke of the regimented routine in the school and the resulting lack of freedom. They also spoke of their joy in opportunities to leave the school, such as the occasional community outing: “The regime there was not the most pleasant. It wasn’t like we had a lot of freedom, or we could relax; everything was time-tabled ... ,“ said Monica.

Both said that time had passed slowly and monotonously. Despite feeling isolated in the special school, they said their situation had worsened when they were moved to a residential institution, where they lived for 10 years. Still, Monica and Damian were luckier than many young people, as they were allowed to remain together.

Monica got along with most of the children in the institution, and maintains friendships with some now that she has left. She often quarrelled with institution staff, however, and described feeling that nobody seemed to understand her: “We all have the same fate, but we are different; because of our defects, we’re different ... . Sometimes we would feel a bit embarrassed; sometimes we would feel that they didn’t quite understand us, that they didn’t see us as we were.”

Neither Monica nor Damian likes to talk much about their past and many memories seem to provoke negative emotions. When asked what they learned from living in an institution, Monica replied that a person who has a family will never understand those who do not:  “We would have been different in the world; we might have even been different people if we were part of a family, maybe ... .”

Damian said he learned that “fate is hard on some people”.

Both young people are living in a temporary centre for orphans, but they have dreams for their future. Monica would like to learn how to use computer, and to travel to London. She wants a family and someone to whom she can tell private things, perhaps a loving husband. Damian would like to study electronics repair and also wants a family of his own.

To date, they have not received the support necessary for them to fulfil their potential. Neither is sure where they will go or what life will hold for them when they leave their current temporary placement. With proper community-based support, both young people can live independent lives and contribute to society. They need the opportunity to do so.