Attachment: A Worldwide Issue
by Linda M. Ikeda, R.N., MFT
Since my visit to “PostCura III,” an orphanage filled with HIV+ children, in Constanta, Romania, in 1991, my life has not been the same. The conditions were just as the 20/20 documentaries revealed; scores of children, lined up in metal cribs or lying on the floor (since most were unable to walk); heads shaved, skin rashes, emaciated, self-stimulating, vacant eyed. It was heartbreaking. What could one person do? I wanted to take them all home and “mother them.” Eventually this orphanage became the House of New Life (Casa Viata Noua) as people from my church took over the administration, daily operations, hiring and training of staff. Eight small “apartments” were built within the walls of the orphanage, and the children divided into families of 4-5 children each, with two consistent Romanian “Mamas” who worked twenty-four hour shifts, for each family.
As my own children reached maturity and I had more freedom to be away from home, I began traveling to the House of New Life to teach and train about attachment. It was a high learning curve for me, beginning in 2000, as I saw the need for the caregivers to understand the genesis of the children’s outrageous behaviors, in order to help them heal. They had seen the children as bad, retarded or hopeless (“encephalophat”) and had not understood that the great deprivation the children had experienced led to their inability to trust or “give back.” We learned together as I returned five more times, training the Romanian “Mamas” and eventually those responsible for orphan care in other institutions.
I remember the first time I reviewed the symptoms of attachment problems with the “Mamas.” There was complete silence and finally I sheepishly asked, “Are ANY of the children exhibiting ANY of these symptoms.” I was taken aback, when they answered, “All of them!” To this day it still surprises me, that no matter where I travel in the world to teach about attachment, the response is the same.
The work in Romania began to grow as others working with orphaned and abandoned children began traveling to Constanta from other parts of the country to be trained. Soon, children from the House of New Life began being placed in “foster homes,” and training and support groups for the foster parents were begun. Several of the children began to thrive. However, not all did, and some have acted out becoming sexually promiscuous, spreading HIV/AIDS. Others oppositionality has gotten them in trouble with the law. A few have died. I say they died of attachment disorder, not from HIV/AIDS because it was the attachment disorder that created their unresolved rage and lack of trust that put them in harm’s way and led to their untimely deaths.
Last year I was in Nepal, teaching groups of parents who were raising orphaned children in each of their homes. I thought to myself, “Maybe this is just a Romanian thing,” but soon ascertained that the orphaned children in Nepal were exhibiting the same behaviors I saw in Romanian orphans.
I have just returned from Uganda, where I had the great privilege of teaching about attachment for two weeks. Again, I found the behaviors they were finding problematic in the children was all the same as in Nepal and Romania! I don’t know why it still surprises me. In my practice I have worked with families whose children were adopted from Russia, Kazakhstan, Korea, Ukraine, China, Ethiopia, Colombia, Guatemala (as well as the U.S. foster care system) – so many different places, and the issues are all the same. It really IS all about the brain.
I have found that people both here in the U.S. and abroad, are so interested to learn about attachment. The first and second year cycles speak to all of us. After all, each of us started out as an infant, didn’t we? What is unique about the developing world is the scarcity of access to information, services, and resources. Many villages and homes do not have reliable electricity at best, or electricity at all, at worst. Without our western comforts of easy transportation, umbrellas, and water bottles, people walked to the trainings, several miles in pouring rain, because they wanted to make a difference for the children they were encountering. They are so eager to learn!
In Uganda, as in much of Africa, there are too many children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I had never heard the term “child-headed household” before, and the term just makes my stomach turn; it shouldn’t be this way! There are also many, many women widowed by HIV/AIDS. In various locations, with a variety of models, a number of these courageous women are raising orphaned children. They have come together in their loss, to offer hope and stability to one another. One particular group of widows in Rukungiri, Uganda, has committed to each other, that when they die from being infected with HIV/AIDS, they will raise each other’s children. Amazingly, in the three years since they have lived in community like this, very few of the women have died, (much less so than in the general population of HIV/AIDS infected women)!
And every where I have traveled to teach about attachment, I have always been asked, “When are you coming again? Please come back!” There is such great need for the information we have. If each of us does a little, we can accomplish a great deal!
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