Award-winning documentary filmmaker Kate Blewett recently returned to Bulgaria to make a sequel to her film Bulgaria's Abandoned Children, made two years ago.
The 60-minute sequel, entitled Bulgaria's Abandoned Children...Revisited, was shown on BBC4 on October 15.
Blewett, who gives the BBC an account of her initial visit to the Mogilino Institute, recalled that her first impressions of the Mogilino institute were deceptive because from the outside it seemed clean.
"It was not until I pulled back the bed covers to witness the children's wasted bodies that I realised there was a very serious problem," she says.
The original film told the story of various inmates of Mogilino. Some of the case histories featured in the original film made for grim viewing. There was the story of Vasky, a blind girl who suffers cerebral palsy. "Sadly what I witnessed, 14 years after her arrival (in Mogilino) was a deeply unhappy girl, who had simply shut down, who sat on her bed day in and day out – saying nothing, her head bent down between her knees," says Blewett.
Then there was the story of Milen, a teenager with a cleft palate. "During filming, Milen was brutalised and beaten by a member of the staff. I captured this on camera and confronted the director of Mogilino. The offending staff member was fired and Milen was moved to a protected home far away," recalls Blewett. Then there was Didi, an autism sufferer who would rock back and forth relentlessly. According to Blewett: "She shut down – just like all the others around her."
Blewett said the response to the initial film was overwhelming. "Viewers wrote to me by the thousands, donating money, and forming petitions demanding change from their MPs and MEPs. Some gave up their jobs and went to Bulgaria to help, taking supplies, food, clothing and medical aid."
This year Blewett returned to Bulgaria to find out exactly what has happened to some of the key characters from the original film and – for once – there is some good news.
"I witnessed the miraculous improvements that can happen in badly-damaged children when decent care is finally given to them.
Milen now lives in a glorious home with seven other young people and good carers. He is a new person – happy, outgoing and communicative through sign language."
As for Didi, she now lives in a special boarding school for those with behavioural and learning difficulties. "She has wonderful carers and has made good friends. She goes to school every day and is top of her maths class. She makes her own clothes, goes to the shops to buy things she likes and visits museums and art galleries."
Vasky has been moved to an institute for the blind. "She eats well and demands two courses at meal times, giggling cheekily with her carer as she asks if she can go out in her car with her."
A report from Unicef also recognised that the children from Mogilino have made great improvements since leaving the home.
"Their cognitive development has changed at all levels (perception, attention, memory, and thinking)... they have become part of particular groups and spend more time playing," says the report.
Blewett says she feels that the film "lifted the lid" on a desperate situation that had been hidden away.
The BBC also quotes Mark O'Sullivan of the Bulgaria-based Cedar Foundation. "I look forward to the day this year when Mogilino is finally shut. The problems were not all about poverty or money, but rather about having a good level of genuine care that transformed a miserable existence into a fulfilling one. Bulgaria does have good carers and decent homes but what it now needs to do is to get rid of its large, isolated institutes that are warehouses to a further 8000 disabled children, and to create small group homes.
"There can be no more remodelling or restructuring of institutions. There needs to be a well-organised campaign that seeks to close down all institutions and set up proper alternative care services. The government needs to carry on what it is doing well but it also needs to radically overhaul the parts of its system which are not working," he adds.