No One Left: Behind the Scenes with Sanjay

The festival seems like any other—clowns, balloons, painted faces and broad smiles.  There is music and dancing.  There are games and activities.  There are mothers and children.

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This little boy is excited to see his mother in prison. Clowns and balloons made the day extra special for him.

Also, there are guards with guns.  Real guards.  Real guns.

This festival, which seems like any other, has one significant difference: it is held within the walls of a women’s prison.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the stability of Moldova toppled with it, causing the economy to fall and unemployment and crime to rise.  Through it all, the children suffered most.  Many kids, some no more than toddlers, were abandoned.  They had to struggle for survival in any way possible, often living in the streets and sleeping in alleys.

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Children at the Rainbow of Hope Children’s Center pose with the crew after shooting for “A Closer Walk”

For these children, ADRA provides a home full of love, safety, and three balanced meals every day.  But for the countless others whose mothers are incarcerated, a home isn’t always enough.  Many of these little ones even have relatives who care for them, or friends of the family who adopt them as their own, but growing up without a mother’s love and affection is a difficult and lonely loss of one’s childhood.

 

And so ADRA organized a festival, because no child should have to hug their mother in a drab visitation room.  A few guards and a gaggle of delighted volunteers later, and the festival is actually a festival, a real fun-and-games kind of festival.

It’s time.  Load the bus, cue the music.

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A clown leads a game with the children who came to see their mothers in prison.

As an impossibly catchy “Alouette gentille alouette,” crackles through the speakers, kids run down the steps of the bus and into the arms of their mothers.  There are shouts of joy, peals of laughter, and tears that flow with the kind of happiness one grows to forget behind bars.

Even the guards are smiling.

Despite the walls and the bars and the guns, this festival really is like any other.  There are clowns and balloons and painted faces, and everywhere there are little fingers interlaced with big fingers, and you can almost feel the hearts of these incarcerated women bursting for joy, if only by the smiles that illuminate the courtyard.