When Love Changes Everything

The love and care of his adoptive parents changed the world for Alex Kuch, but he also gives credit to the University of Auckland, which “opened up so many opportunities” to learn and then to apply the knowledge he has gathered.

Alex Kuch, aged 18 months, with his adoptive parents.

The story of Alex Kuch, a recent University of Auckland graduate in Politics and International Relations, begins half a world away in an orphanage in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Given the basics of life but deprived of any affection, warmth, stimulation or love, Alex suffered from a condition called hospitalisation.

He habitually rocked, had no language and could not make eye contact with another human being.

His life changed forever when his adoptive parents Heidi and Walter Kuch rescued the 18-month-old and gave him a second chance at life in Germany, later relocating to New Zealand when Alex was 11, attracted by our education system.

“When I met Alex he was very quiet,” Walter says, as he recalls the “basic and overcrowded” institution where some 200 children were housed.

“He had a black mark on his cheek. We were told it was from another child who bit him when he tried to pinch an apple. There was not enough for them to eat so they fought over food. Alex couldn’t walk. Nobody cared for him.”

Walter bundled Alex up and took him to Bucharest for three nights while paperwork was finalised, while his new mother Heidi waited anxiously in Germany for their arrival.

“On the first morning in our hotel he woke up and I dressed him and he started rocking. That was a scary moment, it was a symptom of hospitalisation. We didn’t know if he would recover, but regardless I thought ‘he is our child and I will take him home’.”

After a few weeks in a loving home with responsive parents, the rocking stopped and never came back. But the long-term outlook for Alex was grim. A psychologist advised that he would never lead a normal life, complete high school, or have the social skills to integrate into society.

With the help of intensive speech and fine motor therapy, Alex walked at 22 months and began to talk around the age of five.

This year Alex completed a Bachelor of Arts degree and is now an accomplished public speaker, researcher and adoption advocate.

My parents weren’t going to let a prediction determine who I was going to become.

Alex Kuch

“My family is really proud of me, especially as I’m the first person in my family to have gone to university. It has been challenging; however the University has been very supportive. I had a writer for exams as I still have some fine motor challenges such as not being able to write neatly and quickly. But coming to university has opened up so many opportunities for me.”

Alex’s full list of achievements is lengthy and constantly growing. Standouts are speaking twice in Romania’s parliament, the first time when only 18 years old, being named a finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year, and completing research looking at the experiences of adoptees.

He is also an advocate for re-opening Romania’s borders to international adoptions. After the overthrow of the Ceau?escu government in 1989, thousands of abandoned children were adopted by overseas families, but corruption was rife and the world’s attention was drawn to the terrible conditions. Romania closed its borders to international adoptions in 2001.

“Just because there have been bad instances, entire countries have closed international adoptions as a result.

It’s like saying just because a small proportion of a population has inflicted violence towards children then everyone should be prevented from having children. What we need is to develop better policies to protect children during the adoption process.”

To this end, Alex is helping to establish a framework for global adoption policies at the third Asia-Europe Foundation Young Leaders Summit on ethical leadership, and will work with other global adoption experts at the International Conference on Adoption Research in 2020 in Milan.

Alex Kuch, photographed recently with Frank- Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany.

He will also share his joint research with Dr Rhoda Scherman from AUT, which compiles the experiences of other adoptees published on the New Zealand based ‘I’m Adopted’ website.

“I’m Adopted is a place where adoptees from around the world can connect and share their stories,” says Alex. “With the permission of the adoptees, we have gone through dozens of stories to pull together the common themes of what adopted children go through. It’s valuable knowledge for agencies and families, for example knowing when to intervene or what to expect, and to provide better support.”

In an unusual twist in Alex’s own story, he met his birth mother three years ago on a live Romanian talk show.

Alex has visited Romania twice to advocate for reopening international adoptions, but has never sought to connect with his birth parents. While he was speaking on television about his advocacy work, the show’s producers blindsided him by bringing his birth mother and half siblings onto the stage.

“It could have been done more professionally, but things are a bit different over there,” Alex says.

“After I visited some orphanages and was then surprised by my biological family, I began to recall some visual impressions of my time in my orphanage. It was very emotional.”

Alex has chosen not to stay in contact with his birth mother.

“Why would I? I have a mother and father in New Zealand,” he says.

Heidi, his adoptive mother, says there was never an expectation that Alex would attend university. His younger brother Colin, also adopted from Romania two years after Alex, is more hands-on and has started a building apprenticeship.

“Alex just loves to learn. Once he learnt to talk, whoosh, it was like a waterfall that never stopped. He was always asking questions,” Heidi says.

“But we never put pressure on him to go to university. We just supported him in whatever he wanted to do. We didn’t spoil the boys or give them lots of toys, but we spent lots of precious time with them playing games and doing activities as a family.”

But Heidi says Alex was a challenging student and the German schooling system held him back.

“The New Zealand school system has been very good for Alex. When they discovered he was good at maths they pushed him, and then he was away.”

Alex was a top student at KingsWay School, on the Hibiscus Coast where he grew up.

Now back living in Europe, he has begun an internship with children’s rights and development organisation, Aflatoun International, based in the Netherlands. He also plans to return to Romania to continue to advocate for the re-opening of international adoptions, and is writing an autobiography chronicling his journey from the orphanage to New Zealand.

“Alex’s background, interests and experience will help us to scale up our focus on children that are living in alternative care and will have to stand on their own feet as they reach the age of 18,” says Roeland Monasch, director of Aflatoun International. “We want to make sure this specific group of children are empowered with these essential social and financial skills in order for them to be resilient and successful in their adult life. Alex will be a great resource for us.”

By Danelle Clayton

Ingenio: Spring 2018

This article appears in the Spring 2018 edition of Ingenio, the print magazine for alumni and friends of the University of Auckland.

 

Tragedia Bebelusilor Abandonati In Spitalele Din Romania



Conform datelor publicate pe site-ul Autorității Naționale pentru Protecția Drepturilor Copilului și Adopției (ANPDCA), 245 de copii au fost lăsați în maternități și în alte unități de îngrijire a sănătății în primul trimestru al anului 2017. Conform acelorași date, anul trecut aproximativ 1.000 de copii au fost abandonați în spitale.

Dintre cei 245 de copii rămași în unități medicale, 164 au fost abandonați în maternități, 71 în secții pediatrice și 10 în alte spitale.

De asemenea, dintre cei 231 de copii eliberați din unități medicale în perioada ianuarie-martie 2017, 100 s-au reîntors la familiile lor, unul a fost plasat în familia extinsă, 7 au fost plasați împreună cu alte familii / persoane și 102 au fost plasați în îngrijire.

În același timp, 6 copii au fost plasați în centre de plasament, 4 copii au fost plasați în centre de primire de urgență, iar 11 copii sunt în alte situații, potrivit ANPDCA, citat de Agerpres.

Aproape 1000 de copii (977 de exacți) au fost abandonați anul trecut în spitalele din România. Mai mult de jumătate dintre aceștia au fost lăsați în maternități. Acest lucru rezultă din datele centralizate de Autoritatea Națională pentru Protecția Drepturilor Copilului și Adopție (ANPDCA).

Romania’s Last Orphanages

http://www.hopeandhomes.org/news-article/economist-film/

@TheEconomist has visited @HopeandHomes projects in Romania to create a film examining how we’re finding families for the 7,000 children who remain in ‘Romania’s Last Orphanages’ https://buff.ly/2nn16YQ #FamiliesNotOrphanages

HOPEANDHOMES.ORG
Hard hitting film by the The Economist exploring the rise of the terrible orphanage system in Romania and explaining why Hope and Homes for Children is determined ‘Romania’s Last Orphanage’ should close.

Hope and Homes for Children’s work in Romania is central to a hard-hitting new film, released today by The Economist.

Available here. ‘The End of Orphanages?’ focuses on the transformation that’s taken place in Romania’s child protection system in recent decades.

Viewers are reminded of the horror of the Ceausescu-era orphanages that were discovered after the fall of the dictator in 1989 and goes on to explain how the majority of the county’s orphanages have now been closed by ensuring that children can grow up in family-based care instead.

Hope and Homes for Children has played a fundamental part in driving the process of child protection reform in Romania over the last 20 years. When we began work there in 1998, over 100,000 children were confined to institutions. Today that figure has fallen by more than 90% to less than 7,200.

The Economist film tells the story of Claudia, a woman in her late 30s who was born with one arm and abandoned to the orphanage system as a baby. She shares painful memories of the abuse and neglect she suffered as a child. She struggles to remain composed as she describes one incident where she was stripped and beaten with a rope as a punishment for playing in the wrong place.

“Effectively we belonged to no one. You were basically treated like an animal” she says.

Today Claudia works in the Ion Holban institution in Iasi County – one of the remaining orphanages that Hope and Homes for Children is working to close in Romania. The film shows some of the children who have already been supported to leave the institution and join families.

The Manole sisters spent five years in Ion Holban after their remaining parent died. Our team gave their extended family the extra support they needed to make it possible for all four girls to leave the orphanage and begin a new life together with their Aunt and Uncle.

Three of the Manole sisters with their Auntie Maricica

Stefan Darabus, our Regional Director for Central and Southern Europe, contributes to the new film, explaining “Any institution like Ion Holban should be closed. They do not offer family love. They do not offer what a child needs most which is to belong to a family, to have a mother and a father, to feel special.”

The film gives a balanced view of the process of deinstitutionalisation, pointing out the risks to children if the process is not properly supported but gives the last word on the future of the children in the Ion Holban to Claudia. “What they need is such a simple thing,” she says. “Parental love in the bosom of the family, rather than in the bosom of the State. But mainly they need to be accepted.”

E.U. Funds Used to Close Fifty Orphanages in Romania

EU funds will be used to close 50 Romanian orphanages

The Government of Romania has confirmed that it will use European Union funds to close 50 state orphanages and other residential institutions for children. The closures programmes will take place across the country, in seven out of eight regions, and include institutions for children with disabilities.

As part of Opening Doors for Europe’s Children, our pan-European campaign with Eurochild, Hope and Homes for Children has played a key role in securing EU funding for child protection reform across Europe and ensuring that the money is specifically ring-fenced for closing institutions and supporting families.

Adrian Oros, National coordinator of Opening Doors in Romania said, “This is an important step in the reform of the child protection system in Romania. The long-standing governmental declarations to close all institutions by 2022 are getting gradually translated into action. Especially commendable is the fact that a third of the old-type institutions in Romania that have been listed for closure by the Government in May 2017 include institutions for children with disabilities. This group of children make up almost 60% of all the children who remain in Romanian institutions. The time to ensure their right to live in more inclusive, supportive and caring communities is now.”

Although Romania has made great progress in reforming its child protection systems over recent decades, there are still 7,500 children living in the 191 remaining institutions. Johnny is one of these children. He loves football and being outside but he spends most of his time indoors because he uses a wheelchair and the orphanage where he lives has few ramps and no lifts. Johnny was separated from his younger brother and his father when his mother died and his family could no longer care for him without support.

Hope and Homes for Children is working to close the institution where Johnny lives by finding safe and loving family-based care for all the children living there. The news that EU funding is now available to support this and 49 other closure programmes marks a significant step towards the day when all children in Romania can grow up in families and not in orphanages.

Hope and Homes For Children; Romania. Deinstitutionalisation

In 2018, almost 6,500 children in Romania still live in institutions, which are inappropriate for their development.

Reports of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, child-trafficking and suicide, consistently appear in the media regarding the abandoned children in these institutions.

Over the past twenty years, Hope and Homes for Children, Romania, has closed 56 institutions, including the Nassau Foster Centre, and built and moved institutionalised children to one hundred and four family type homes.

http://www.hopeandhomes.org/news-article/mark-and-caroline-romania-honours/

 

Romanian Adoptee Defies The Odds To Complete A Degree

Alex with his parents, Walter and Heidi Kuch.
Alex was only eighteen years of age when he made his first trip to Romania to speak to the Parliament to advocate for the reopening of International Adoptions from Romania.
Alex with the PM at the NZ of the Year Gala

Alex Kuch and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when he was named a finalist at the Young New Zealander of the Year awards. 27 June 2018. 

When Romanian orphan Alex Kuch was adopted at age two, his new family was told he would never finish high school or lead a normal life.

This week, Alex finished his final semester of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and International Relations with a minor in Sociology at the University of Auckland.

Now 23-years-old, Alex is an established children’s rights advocate and is invited to speak around the world. Next month, he will co-present research into the experiences of adoptees at a major international conference in Canada.

“My parents weren’t going to let a prediction determine who I was going to become,” Alex says. “While never pushing me, they always encouraged me to give my best in everything I did. My family is really proud, especially as I’m the first person in my family to go to university. I’m really looking forward to using my degree in the real world.”

Alex will be one of the youngest presenters at the sixth International Conference on Adoption Research in Montreal and has received a grant from the University of Auckland’s Vice-Chancellor’s Student Support Fund to attend.

His research, completed with Dr Rhoda Scherman from AUT, analyses the stories of other adoptees shared on the New Zealand-based I’m Adopted website.

“The stories have helped us to pull together the common themes of what adopted children go through. It’s valuable knowledge for agencies and families, for example knowing when to intervene or what to expect, and to provide better support.”

Alex was adopted in 1997 from an orphanage in Cluj- Napoca, Romania by a German couple. He also has a younger brother adopted by the same family. The family moved to New Zealand in 2006.

At the time of his adoption, a German psychologist advised Alex’s family that the emotional damage from spending his formative years in an orphanage meant he would never lead a normal life, complete high school, or have the social skills to integrate into society.

“The conditions weren’t the greatest. My parents were told that I had started to rock backwards and forward due to a lack of emotional and physical stimulation and I could not look people directly in the eyes.”

Alex received specialist support such as speech and fine motor therapy, and against all odds, has now completed high school and university.

“It was challenging, however the University of Auckland has been very supportive. I had a writer for exams as I still have some fine motor challenges. Also many of my assignments were tailored to reflect my advocacy work.”

Alex is passionate about lobbying the Romanian Government to re-open international adoptions, which were closed in 2001.

In an unusual twist, Alex met his birth mother on live television during a lobbying trip to his birth country. While speaking on a talk show about his adoption experience, producers blindsided him by bringing his birth mother and half siblings onto the stage.

Alex is now concentrating on his long-term aspiration is to establish a children’s rights consultancy that collaborates with different sectors to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of children.

In October Alex will speak in Brussels at the third Asia-Europe Foundation Young Leaders Summit on children’s rights and international adoptions.

Danelle Clayton | Media Adviser
Communications Office
Email: d.clayton@auckland.ac.nz