Sunday, March 13, 2011


I want to talk about Stephen. As you can see he is a (natural) red head with freckles. I can honestly say in almost two  years I have not seen another red-headed freckled kid in Bulgaria never mind the mahala where most everyone has dark eyes, skin and hair.

Steven is a third grader and attends school occasionally. I can not begin to explain his individual circumstances but I can guess at many of the reasons for his frequent absences. He fits the stereotype of Roma kids, being quite dirty most of the time, worn dirty clothes, shoes that neither fit nor are held together well, a street kid, fighter type. When he is in school not a day goes by that you are not pulling him off someone else. At times it is “play fighting” which most of the boys engage in, but not always. He is the kind of kid that can draw moans from his teachers when they do see him in school, knowing the day will be tougher for everyone.

Yet there is something about Steven that pulls me in, just as there has been with dozens and dozens of boys over the years. Without knowing how, he tries to engage others, most often unsuccessfully.If you can get it, his attention during lessons is hard to keep. He rarely completes his work and if he feels he has had enough he leaves school for the day (as do other "tough" kids). On a few occasions I have worked one-one with Steven to try to get him through an English lesson by modifying the written work. Under these circumstances he responds positively, demonstrating some knowledge of what we are doing. The other day he came into the library at the end of school where I spend most of my free time. Petya and I were cleaning getting ready for our "Computer Lab Grand Opening". We jokingly asked him if he wanted to help clean, and he quickly responded "yes". He eagerly wiped down desks and chairs for about 30 minutes, rolling on the floor as he did. By time he declared he was "done" I was working on a computer. He came to see what I was doing. I decided to open up the new Math software program and found a shape puzzle to complete. It was obvious puzzles have not been a part of his childhood. But after doing three together he now had an understanding of what to do. His behavior was very acceptable, but it is easy to understand when you are getting all this individual attention. During the following days, Steven looked for more attention from me. One of his inappropriate ways was to ask "Do you watch porn shows?" Sigh!

In many ways Steven is not much different than many kids I have worked with back home. I have seen these behaviors many, many times. What is different about Steven though is there is little hope for positive change in his life. In the states, kids like Steven have educational plans with goals outlined and much support to help them achieve them bit by bit. Steven has no help beyond what his teacher can offer. She has several "Stevens" in her class and little to no training managing them.  I have seen a few kids here successfully receive some limited help, but it requires parental agreement, and that appears to be hard to get. I don't know what the process is, but it certainly is not well developed and there are not specially trained people to direct that process. I know some teachers have tried to get help for kids unsuccessfully.

I will be surprised if Steven continues in school beyond 6th grade. He understands very little Bulgarian (a frequent and real complaint about our kids) and continues to fall further and further behind. I can not say for sure, but I suspect there is very little adult supervision or guidance in Steven's life. He is a prime candidate to succumb to negative influences as he makes his way through life with little to no education or life skills.

All I have been able to give Steven is a few moments of acceptance and attention, but not enough to make a difference in his life.