Shen-gul is 39 years old. She lives at the Havza Residential Facility. She’s lived there for the past 13 years. 10 years before that she lived at the Saray Orphanage and Rehabilitation Center in Girl’s Unit 3. She is a paraplegic who was abandoned by her father. After her mother died, no one at home would or could care for her. Years ago while sitting drinking tea with her at the orphanage I was privileged to listen to her tell me about her life, losses and dreams. We became friends and she became a member of the Kardelen Mercy Teams along with several of the other women and girls who lived with her in Girl’s Unit 3.
Shen-gul impressed me with her kind spirit. She was soft-spoken and attentive to the feelings and words of others. She watched us work, listened to our banter in the Continuous Care units when we were taking children out of cribs and into the Kardelen Care room for play or feeding. She asked to be able to bring along another of the orphans she had a particular relationship with. She and little Dilek together chose one of the children who were tied up in their beds to do special feeding and play activities with. Every afternoon, they’d arrive from their ward, found in a building several hundred yards up a broken-up concrete pathway. Since Dilek could walk, she’d help push Shen-gul’s chair. They’d first come to our room to pick up a bowl of yogurt and pureed fruit. Then they’d go to the CC1 building, roll up to Ali’s crib and begin their ministrations.
First, they would check to see if he needed a diaper change, and if so they’d clean him up and prepare him for their special time together. At that time, Dilek was only 10 years old and had been diagnosed with diabetes besides having a developmental disability. She saw little Ali as if he were her little brother on whom she would lavish her attention. Shen-gul viewed both these children almost as if they were own and treated them with tender loving attention. Concerned when they were ill or not feeding well, overjoyed when they giggled or smiled.
One of the greatest joys I experienced while we were in that phase of our work at the orphanage was to watch these abandoned, poor, rejected and weak individuals live in such obvious harmony and joy. What they shared was priceless!
Which is why it was so excruciatingly difficult to witness their separation one year later. For reasons which I won’t write up on this blog but which are clearly described in my book “Cry Out”, from one day to the next, the entire group of women who were our On-Site Team were shipped with only a few hours warning to the Havza Residential Facility some 6 hours drive away.
I’ll never forget Shen-gul’s muffled sobbing as she shook her head in disbelief. “My Dilek! My Dilek! Who will care for you? Who will make sure that you get your insulin shots? Who will make sure that you eat when you should? My Dilek, my little daughter!!”
One of the staff members had been assigned to take Dilek to another part of the orphanage so that she would not be there when Shen-gul, along with the others in her ward, was unceremoniously thrown onto the faded blue bus and driven off to Havza.
For days and weeks, we mourned the loss of these friends, but never so severely as when Dilek would come to the door of the Kardelen Room and ask if we knew when Shen-gul Abla was coming back. No one told her the truth and we could only say what we knew which was “ We don’t know.”
Shen-gul has never been brought back, despite her repeated requests to be brought to Ankara to see her dear “daughter.” As a ward of the State, she has had not rights regarding freedom of movement and is, for all intents and purposes a prisoner not only of her body but also in an institution.
Kardelen Mercy Teams hired Nessy and Jimmy to make sure that those who were sent away to another back-woods facility would not go unattended or be abused. Over the years Nessy has done an incredible job in being a surrogate mother for these physically disabled young adults. Her connection with us as foreigners and Christians however has meant that many times she’s run into cruel and threatening opposition by others who work at Havza. Just this past year she was falsely accused of hurting a resident by the very person who had done the deed. Nessy had come upon this female government employee/administrator kicking and screaming at a naked man who was clearly mentally disabled. When Nessy shouted at her to stop and then pulled her away from the man, the woman, fearing possible repercussions made a complaint against Nessy. Nessy was summarily dismissed.
Kardelen Mercy Teams started a prayer and donations campaign to help pay legal expenses after she was encouraged to hired a lawyer to defend her. The other residents—to a man—signed a petition to have her re-instated, praising her of the people in the entire facility who really showed love and compassion for them. The judge was impressed and signed an order to have her re-instated there at least for the duration of all legal proceedings. These typically can go on fro several months.
Last month, when I was travelling and speaking on behalf of our teams (KMT), I got an urgent Skype call from Nina who regularly speaks to Nessy and Shen-gul over the phone. She needed my O.K. to make an emergency trip to Havza.
“Nessy just phoned and said that Shen-gul is in the local hospital; that her leg has several vascular problems and that she has gangrene. They are going to amputate her leg in two days. I need to drive up there and talk to the doctors.
“When I went to the Lord about this problem, I got the distinct sense that her leg could be saved and that I needed to be there to advocate for her.”
“But Nina,” I replied. “You are too weak. (Nina is also paraplegic) You couldn’t possibly do this on your own.”
“No, You’re right,” she said. “I’m taking Terri with me (Nina’s younger 20-something sister) and I’ve just phoned Harry in D. (a city in the southeast of Turkey). He’s going to join us. He knows Havza from past visits and he cares about what happens to Shen-gul. “
Relieved to hear that she wasn’t going to attempt this trip on her own, I transferred the only money we had in the Kardelen account at the time–$300—for her initial travel expenses and said that we’d have to trust that money would come in to pay the bills that would accrue. We prayed together and I heard nothing more from her for several days.
“Norita Abla,” Nina and I were de-briefing after I returned to Ankara. “ May Allah never leave any of us without family or support. It is soooooo good that we went when we did.
“After getting a written permission from the local police that I wasn’t a terrorist …. I know… You just have to laugh or cry at the ridiculousness of it all in this paranoid place, I went to find Shen-gul at the local state hospital. The doctors and nurses pretty much had left her on her own and she was in filthy sheets and cold and hungry. Tuuba and Nessy did what they could to make her comfortable while I went off to talk to the doctor.
“Harry and I could tell right away that he saw Shen-gul as a useless ward of the state and that the sooner he amputated her leg the sooner she’d be sent back to the home. He knew very little and Harry’s work in the university hospital as a Physical therapist assistant came in so handy in understanding Shen-gul’s condition.
“Harry phoned his doctor friend at the hospital where he worked and explained the situation. This doctor said that we should try to get her to a larger training hospital in Samsun—the larger city an hour and half away on the Black Sea coast.
“The doctor in charge in Havza said that he couldn’t release Shen-gul to us. Since she was a state ward, she was his responsibility. But when we argued that she might be able to get better treatment in Samsun, he took offense and became obstinately obstructive.
“It was all I could do to keep Harry from hauling off and punching the guy, believe me. But I kept my cool and then finally the doctor said that if we were willing to sign on a paper saying that should Shen-gul die we were willing to take the responsibility, then he’d release her to us.
“At first, I got scared. What if she died? We’d surely go to prison until the issue was solved legally. But I knew that she was in a desperate situation and that I had to take that risk. So I signed.
“Then we needed to find an ambulance which would take her. Normally that would have cost us an arm and a leg, so I had to see if I could get someone to help out.
As in past experiences I went to see the mayor of the town. He was extremely gracious and listened respectfully to my plea for my friend.
“ ‘ Nina Hanum,’ he said. ‘ I am so pleased by what you are doing for your friend and I will make an ambulance available to take Shen-gul to Samsun at no charge. And I will make sure that whenever you want to you can go to visit her at the home. It’s a shame that you have experienced such opposition from officials in the past.’ “
“We got Shen-gul to Samsun where we talked to the specialist. When we explained the situation, he said that with a surgery he thought her leg could be saved but that it would be costly.
“Even though Shen-gul is a ward of the State, the State will only pay for amputations, not vascular surgery, so we needed to be willing to pay the extra fees. Believe me, Norita Abla; you would have done the same if you were in my position. I took my credit card and after haggling about the price and bringing it down from $15,000 to $5,000 I gave the go-ahead. The money will come in. God is in this. I know it.
The surgeon called in two of his experienced colleagues—I mean, these guys are university professors—and they worked on Shen-gul’s leg for over five hours. BUT THEY SAVED HER LEG. Every day now she is getting stronger and I’m over the moon with joy. ”
And so am I.