When photographer Nancy Borowick met 9-year-old Nadya Rodena in an orphanage in Russia last year, she was drawn to her. The little girl sat alone at one of the paired-off desks in her classroom and mostly kept to herself. She seemed to struggle academically, getting most of the answers wrong on her homework. Borowick could relate to that.
While Nadya didn’t speak English and Borowick couldn’t understand Russian, the American photojournalist didn’t let that stand in the way of getting to know the handicapped child. Nadya has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder caused by damage to a baby’s brain. March 25 marks National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day.
“Nadya realized quickly that she couldn’t talk to me, but she didn’t (seem to) care that I was there,” Borowick said. “It was weird not being able to communicate verbally. … (It became) just about human interactions.”
The little girl’s personality still shone through as she explored outside, played alone or learned to use Borowick’s camera. Borowick felt like she really got to know Nadya; leaving her after two days was difficult.
The orphanage where Nadya lives, Dmitrov Orphanage for Physical Disabilities, houses handicapped children and is located a couple hours north of Moscow. Borowick was sent there through Happy Families International, a nonprofit adoption agency. According to their website, only about 10% of Russian orphans become functional members of society.
“It was amazing to see how the children were all very accepting of one another,” Borowick said. “The norm wasn’t ‘normal.’ … They’re so accepting of each other when the world is not accepting of them.”
Having worked for a summer in a children’s hospital, Borowick has a deeply rooted interest in working with children. She hopes to show the human side of orphans – to give them a face and a voice.
“It’s important to show the cards against (Nadya),” Borowick said, “but still see that she’s a kid, human, and she still has joy.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN