REACHING OUT TO ORPHANS
ENTERPRISE Former Enterprise resident Bridget Anderson recently returned home seeking help for a cause dear to her heart Warm Hearths.
She spoke at civic organizations and the Wallowa County Family and Youth Center.
Anderson and her husband, Rob, were Peace Corps volunteers in 2001-2003. She opened the Peace Corps site in Kapan, Armenia. "Most of the people had not even met an American," she said.
Armenia, just west of Turkey and surrounded by Muslim countries, identifies itself as a Christian republic, and is proud to have been a Christian country since 300 AD.
Anderson has a bachelor's degree in religion from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and a master's degree in special education from Western Oregon University in Monmouth.
She graduated from Enterprise High School in 1996 as Bridget Brown, and was a 1995 Chief Joseph Days Princess. In the 1970s, her parents, Glenn and Suzi Brown, bought the old Ed and Gladys Quinn place on Alder Slope. Suzi is a Warm Hearths project adviser.
Bridget married Rob Anderson, another 1996 EHS graduate, after he graduated from Oregon State University. He's the son of Randy Anderson of Enterprise and Nancy Ingram of Clarkston. His specialty is economic development.
The Andersons now live in Denver, Colo., where Rob is working toward a master's degree in international community development.
In 2001, Bridget was among the first volunteers in the southernmost region of Armenia.
She was told that there were no special-needs children for her to teach. She searched house-to-house and learned of orphanages for adolescents with disabilities.
Disabled orphans and abandoned children can't stay in orphanages past the age of 18, and without families to care for them, the only option in Armenia is for them to spend the remainder of their lives in government psychiatric institutions.
Anderson made initial contacts and built relationships with orphans some of whom are now the first eight residents of a group home for young adults with mild disabilities in a village outside Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
They can easily live and work in a group situation with a live-in supervisor, Anderson said.
Anderson and her Peace Corps successor in Armenia have raised nearly $100,000, and in June purchased a five-bedroom, three-story house that is being remodeled.
There Warm Hearth residents can live with dignity and increased independence, and receive vocational training. They will raise some of their own food, including chickens, fruit and vegetables. Residents attend a community day-care for the disabled, which provides weekly opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Anderson is seeking funds to help maintain the home long enough to help the residents gain some independence.
Like many countries in the former Soviet Union, Armenia lacks the infrastructure to care for those with disabilities and mental illness.
Psychiatric hospital patients are often without enough food, and in Armenia's brutal winters, they live without central heat and only thin blankets to try to stay warm.
Many patients are tranquilized and sedated so they won't be a nuisance. In one facility, the doctor-to-patient ratio is 1 to 115.
Soviet ideology still permeates large psychiatric hospitals in Armenia. The government placed people with disabilities and mental illness in institutions to keep them out of the public eye. To have a child with disabilities was considered shameful. The institutions did not provide individualized care or promote integration into society.
Euthanasia was a common solution to the problem of caring for the disabled. Psychiatric hospitals are still called graveyards.
While euthanasia is no longer practiced in Armenia, the stigma surrounding the disabled and mentally ill remains, Anderson said. It is still common for parents to hide and neglect disabled children or send them to orphanages.
Warm Hearth's partners include
Mission Armenia, a non-profit organization founded in 1993 that is providing oversight and management of the project. On the Web: www.mission.am .
The Mental Health Foundation, founded in 1996 by a group of mental-health professionals and concerned citizens, is providing Warm Hearth residents individual and group therapy, art therapy, social aid support and peer support from psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers. On the Web: www.mentalhealth.am .
Pictures of a typical modern psychiatric hospital in Armenia can be found at at http://www.oneworld.am/photojournalism/psychiatric/psychiatric_0001.html
Contributions can be mailed to Amante Mission, ATTN: Warm Hearth, P.O. Box 254, Flagstaff, Ariz. 86002.