Toddlers who crave love and cuddles

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The Independent Online


As orphanages go, Nasa Djeta seems a warm and friendly place: a few toys lie scattered about, a few pictures - abstract expressionism from the under-fives - are pinned to the walls. But the 40 children who live in three rooms above a kindergarten in the industrial town of Tuzla, in northern Bosnia, are starved of love and attention, traumatised by living through nearly four years of war and domestic conflict.

"The children have nothing," Melika Alijefendic, director of Nasa Djeta (Our Children), said. "We need so much for a normal life - a television and video, a car, a doctor ..."

At present, the children are isolated at the home because they have no transport - even for trips to the hospital - and money for food will run out at the end of the year.

The charity War Child, founded in 1993 by two film-makers (and parents) horrified by what they saw while covering the Croatian war, plans to supply food and a vehicle for the next year, with money raised from Independent readers. Funding the orphanage for 12 months will cost pounds 80,000, and will ensure the children at least have a place to call home.

"There is a great difference between our children and those from the kindergarten: here it's almost impossible to keep any kind of order when food comes or visitors arrive. They want and need a bit more love," Jasminka Sinanovic explained.

Ms Sinanovic, a nurse, looks after the oldest group - three-to five-year- olds - who live in a large, cheerful room filled with furniture to scale: tiny tables and chairs, a row of miniature beds. There are a few toys and murals on the wall, small lockers and cups named for each child. The women working at Nasa Djeta frequently hug the children. There are a few toys and murals on the wall, small lockers and cups named for each child. But there is the same, inevitable and desperate need among the children for affection and attention.

Tariq, a small blond boy, was cradled in the translator's arms. No one is sure what happened to his family, but they know he arrived at the orphanage as a tiny baby from the town of Brcko, which had fallen to the Serbs. Nirvana, dark and silent, is here with her sister because both her parents are in an asylum.

"They are not all orphans - some have been abandoned, or perhaps the mother is dead and the father in the army," Ms Alijefendic said. "One child's mother was raped [by Serb soldiers]. She did not abandon him, but her brothers, her family, would not let her bring the child home ... so he is here."

The mother is able to visit only occasionally.

But another woman did return to the orphanage recently to claim her son. "I think she was raped too," Ms Alijefendic said. "She has found a job, so she is able to raise her child."

Over the past couple of years the orphanage has managed to place around 30 children with adoptive parents, but new arrivals appear all too often.

One small girl whispers the word "mama" - every strange adult who appears is "mother" or "father" to these children, a triumph, for the majority, of hope over experience.