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.

 

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

Shame of a Nation

Shame of a Nation

Izidor Ruckel was born in 1980. When he was six months old, he became ill and his parents took him to a hospital where he contracted polio from an infected syringe. Later, the hospital doctors encouraged his parents to drop him off at an orphanage. From 1983 until 1991, Izidor lived in the Sighetu Marmatiei orphanage.

No one knows how many children were in Romanian orphanages at end of communism. The number is estimated to have been somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. What we do know is that child abandonment was actually encouraged by the Romanian government as a means of population growth by discarding children who could not be productive workers for the state.

Sighetu Marmatiei is located in Sighet, a small city in northern Romania. It is the hometown of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

The Sighetu Marmatiei institution is located on the western edge of town behind a 6-foot wall. The sign above the entry reads “Camin Spital Pentru Minori Deficient,” which translates to the “Hospital Home for Deficient Children.”

In 1990, shortly after communism fell, ABC News’ 20/20 producer Janice Tomlin visited Sighet and produced the awarding series “Shame of a Nation.” Tomlin’s photos and videos brought the world’s attention to Romania’s horrific child welfare practices.

Communist newspaper encourages Mothers to leave their children in State Care

Dan and Marlys Ruckel of San Diego watched the 20/20 broadcast and went to Romania with the intention of adopting a child. On October 29, 1991, Dan and Marlys adopted Izidor. He was one of many Sighet orphans to make San Diego their new home.

In 2016, Izidor moved back to Romania, where he has committed his life to children without families and finding the means to support the 60,000 orphans of his generation who were never adopted.

Izidor meets his new mother
1990 – Izidor behind orphanage bars
Izidor’s family
I recently met Izidor at the Cluj train station to talk about his life, why he moved back to Romania, and the current state of child welfare.

TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND

From 3 until 11, I was in a hospital for children, not an orphanage. But back then, and still today, there is no difference between how a kid is treated in a children’s hospital or a state orphanage. They are both institutions.

Two years after arriving in the US, I started to miss the institution in Sighet. Nobody in the US had the answers that I was looking for, and I took out my anger on the people that loved me most, my adopted family. I was a child from hell.

Then a Romanian family came to San Diego for Easter and I heard about Christ. I wrote down tons of questions and began to find the answers I was searching for. People ask me how I overcame this. It isn’t because of my parents or anything I did, it was because I allowed Christ to tell me who I really was.

As my anger subsided and family life improved, I was asked to write a book to help families who adopt abandoned children. The book, Abandoned for Life, was published in 2003 and sold over 30,000 copies.

Izidor in the US with his father

For 17 years, since 2001, my primary life goal has been to tell people what happened in my institution and make sure it stops happening to other children in Romania. I have spoken hundreds of times, including on the BBC, in the Washington Post and recently in an interview with Morgan Freeman that will be aired this October in 176 countries on National Geographic.

DESCRIBE LIFE IN THE ORPHANAGE

We woke up at 5, stripped naked, since most kids wet themselves in bed, and went to another room for new clothes while the floor was cleaned. We ate breakfast, washed up and were put into a clean room where we just sat there rocking back and forth, hitting each other, sleeping or watching someone cry until they were drugged. After lunchtime, we went back into the clean room, repeating the same things as the morning. Then we were fed, bathed again, put into clean clothes and into bed for the night.

WHAT DO YOU WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE?

First, that the children suffered more than anyone knows. No reporter can capture the suffering. The abuse was worse than anything reported. If you were handicapped like me, you were hidden and never allowed outside the institution.

Secondly, despite all trauma and emotional wounds, no life is ever lost. If we give these kids, now adults, some opportunity, with love, nourishment and development, they can function in the world and develop independence. I stay in touch with the kids I grew up with and they can be helped. They still have dreams.

WHY DO YOU KEEP RETURNING TO SIGHET ?

There are many reasons. First off, it was my home for 11 years and believe it or not, there are memories I cherish. The few times I was allowed out of the institution, I was in awe of the natural beauty of Sighet. Romania to me was the beautiful land outside the institution, not the evil inside the institution.

I like to visit some of the nurses. I call them my seven angels. Their love and compassion was the only source of hope I had.

There is also a specific memory that reminds me that God was with me even though I did not know who He was. On one of my trips outside the institution, I saw a dead man hanging on a cross. The nurse said it was Jesus Christ, but without any explanation. I actually thought he was some poor guy from Sighet.

I kept feeling sorry for him when I got back to the institution. Now I take a picture of that cross every time I am back in Sighet.

I go back to reconnect with the kids I grew up with. In 2014, four of us went back to the institution. Dolls, furniture and clothes were lying around like it just closed. Crows were everywhere like in a haunted house. But it was remarkable that each of us remembered things that the others had forgotten. It felt really good for us to share our common experience. When I asked them if they missed this place, we all said ‘yes’. It was our only childhood home.

But the biggest reason is to find out what really happened there. Even though the place had been closed for 11 years, it is still filled with records and supplies. When I was seven, a kid named Duma was beaten so badly that I hid under the sheets, fearful that I might be next. In the morning, I saw Duma’s naked bruised body and by lunch he was dead. Last year I found his medical records. His official cause of death was “stopped breathing.”

There was another kid named Marian who was hyperactive and was often given medicine. His father visited him every weekend and I would jealously look out the window as they sat on a bench. In time, Marius stopped eating and lost the will to live. I remember looking out the window on the Sunday when he died in his Dad’s arms. His Dad was crying and praying to heaven.

In 1995, there was a media story that Romanian orphans were given rat poison. Three years ago, a nurse from institution confirmed that Marius and many other kids were given rat poison.

Many former orphans are returning to Romania for answers. For me, it is all about forgiveness and making sure Romania stops sweeping the child welfare issue under the carpet. Children’s rights and interests are still being ignored.

From left to right: historian Mia Jinga, Izidor Ruckel and the director of IICCMER, Radu Preda. Photo: Lucian Muntean

On June 1, 2017, the state-funded Investigation of Communist Crimes (ICCMER) submitted a criminal complaint to the Ministry of Justice for the deaths of 771 children in the Sighetu Marmatei, Cighid and Pastraveni orphanages between 1966 and 1990. Investigators say this is just the tip of the iceberg for a much wider investigation that is needed into Romania’s 26 orphanages.

ICCMER investigators and archivists say official records list pneumonia and brain disease as the main causes of deaths, but witnesses say the causes were exposure to the cold, poor hygiene, starvation, lack of healthcare, rat poison, and violent physical abuse.

Investigators say Communist records classified children into 3 categories: reversible, partially reversible and non- reversible. Children in the latter two categories were thrown into centers to die.

Radu Preda, director of ICCMER says “My plea as a father is to ensure that these things never happen again. Let us do something on the media level and at the institutional level in order to ensure that no child in this country who has a handicap, or illness, or has been abandoned will ever be slapped, starved, tied down or left to die in their own feces.

We need to acknowledge the utterly uncivilized society of our communist past and rid all traces of this sickness from our child protection system.”

TELL ME ABOUT THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION YOU ARE A PART OF?

I agreed to help bring attention to a criminal investigation led by the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (ICCMER). This investigation focuses on the deaths of children in Sighet Marmatiei and two other institutions.

I asked the investigators if they were going after nurses and they said “No, only the people who dispensed medicine and managed the facilities.” Once I knew that, it was okay with me.

But I am less interested in putting people in jail than I am interested in getting financial resources from the State to support the 60,000 orphans of my generation that were never adopted. Most of them have no means to support themselves as adults and are homeless. My hope is that this investigation will lead to a much larger class action suit on behalf of these 60,000 citizens. There needs to be a cost for gross neglect or things will not change.

TELL ME ABOUT HOW THE ROMANIAN MEDIA COVERS CHILD ABUSE AND WELFARE

I could not believe all the Romanian media at the June 1st press conference announcing the criminal investigation. This was history! Romanians finally fighting for something that we failed to do all these years. I always challenge the Romanian media since all of the stories on orphans and child abuse come from international news organizations. Even today, all the footage of child neglect comes from international organizations.

For years people were embarrassed and scared about this issue. But now it seems young people are waking up to the fact that this is still going on.

IS THERE STILL ABUSE IN ROMANIA INSTITUTIONS

Yes there is. I do not know from firsthand experience, but I have heard so from people I know and trust. I am trying to get access to more institutions to help kids and social workers. I am not living in Romania to embarrass or destroy people. But the government officials in Parliament seem to have no clue what is really happening in their institutions.

DO YOU THINK ROMANIA SHOULD OPEN INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION?

I am fighting for international adoption for children with special needs or those that have no chance of being adopted in Romania. Most of the people in the government reject this idea on the basis that children will be damaged by losing their culture and identity if they get adopted outside of Romania.

That’s a horrible excuse. From the moment these children enter the institution they are stripped of everything. Their dignity, freedom and their brains become mush. Tell me, what culture are they losing by being adopted abroad?

The issue in Romania today is all about money and jobs for political patronage. The State pays institutions, residential homes and foster care a stipend for each child. If the State found adoptive families for 20,000 of the 60,000 children in State custody, they would lose 33% of their funding and the jobs they often give to family and friends.

In my generation, the government wanted to dispose of the children. Today, they want to profit from them.

WHAT BOTHERS YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE CHILDCARE SYSTEM TODAY?

I am actually impressed with how many good social workers want to change the system. I get lots of emails from social workers and was shocked to see how many social workers showed up at the Romania Without Orphans conference last November. It is a great joy to see all of the Romanian families that have adopted and want to adopt.

We all know that institutions are not the answer. But I am not in favor of just shutting down the institutions. Simply putting kids on the streets is even worse. At least institutions provide a bed, food, clothing and shelter. Our train stations are filled with homeless.

The biggest problem we have today is that the workers who worked in the institutions in the 1980’s through the mid-1990’s still work in the system. You can’t expect change by renovating buildings when you have the same people and same culture.

I visited 6 orphanages 2 years ago. Most of the kids saw my story on television and were comfortable talking to me. I asked each child, “Do you like living here?” They said “See that lady over there? She still beats us.” I asked “how long she has been working here?” They said “from day one, since this place opened.”

It is constantly the same response. And I thought “Wow, there is the problem.” These people need to be replaced.

I want to work with the system. I want to stay in Romania. I can see that people are really looking for answers. I am getting a powerful response when I speak to the new generation of Romanians. I believe the time is right to confront our past and create a system that works in the interests of children.

AUTHOR’S CONCLUSION

I was moved by Izidor. He travels around Romania on filthy trains. He carries his suitcase without complaint, despite a partially paralyzed leg. He does not have much money and is not motivated by fame or public attention. What he has is a passion and purpose.

Romania in 2017 reminds me of growing up in Germany in the 1970’s. I remember talking to my German teenage friends about Nazism and the Holocaust. They had no answers, no ability to comprehend the horror, just a deep passion to fight any legacy of Nazism. I feel the same sentiment among young Romanians today as they feel deep anger towards any abuse or injustice towards children.

It is cliché to say that our future is in our children. But in Romania the numbers speak for themselves.

Every decision made in our homes, communities and government, needs to be made in the context of “Is this a good place to raise healthy children and are we doing our best to find every child a loving family?”

 Izidor is in desperate need of a new leg-brace for his polio damaged leg. Please see the link and share or donate if you can.
Thank you for your support

Romania Reborn; Hands of Hope

Romania Reborn’s Director, Corina Caba, with a young man adopted through the Romania Reborn Ministry years ago.

She  grew up during the darkest days of Communism, the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher. She remembers being mocked for her faith every day at school. She remembers peeking under her bedroom door at night, watching the boots of the soldiers who had come to take her father away for interrogation. She remembers what it was like when Communism finally fell, and she learned that the government had hidden hundreds of thousands of children away in terrible orphanages. And that was when Corina Caba knew what God wanted her to do with her life.

She founded her orphanage in a tiny apartment in 1996, taking abandoned babies from the hospital and caring for them until she could find adoptive families. Gradually, she added to her staff, paying their salaries however she could. After Romania Reborn was founded to support the work, she built a bigger facility, hired more workers, and took in more babies. As the years passed, Romania’s laws and child welfare system evolved, but God always made a way for Corina to help abandoned children.

 

Today, Corina is the adoptive mother of four children and a mother figure to hundreds more, whose lives she has forever changed. She is also an emerging national leader in the field of orphan care, traveling to speak at conferences, helping advise the government on policy, and (reluctantly) speaking to national media. And she’s still fighting for individual children every day. “When the pain is too much, God taught me to trust in Him,” she says. “One day, He will restore all that seems lost, redeem all that seems hopeless, repair all that seems destroyed. Our God owns the last reply!”

Give the Gift of Commitment

Your gift will help our committed staff keep passionately fighting for the children in our care, advocating for better government practices, and using our ministry headquarters as a training and counseling center for families. You can give toward the following staff and ministry needs:

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$250: ONE MONTH OF ELECTRIC EXPENSES (FOR HEADQUARTERS)

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Romania Without Orphans Alliance Report on Adoption

The degree of declaration of adoptability did not increase at all one year after the revised law on adoption was implemented, keeping it below 6% of the number of children in the system.

In March 2016, there were 57,581 children who had been abandoned by their families and entered the child protection system.

This report is the result of an analysis of the situation of abandoned children in the child protection system, carried out by the Romania Without Orphans Alliance.

The report was made public at the start of the A.R.F.O Summit, held in Bucharest, November 2017.

The report shows that the declaration of adoption for children where there is no possibility of being reunited with their biological families, is hampered by over exaggerated legislation and poor implementation of legislation.

The very small number, only 1.5% of children being adopted, highlights a worrying practise to keep children in institutions.

Another aspect highlighted by the report is that, whilst private organisations are not allowed to provide services unless they are licensed, 83% of public services do not have a license and do not meet mandatory minimum standards.

Raportul ARFO cu privire la situația copiilor din sistemul de protecție

Shame of A Nation

 

Shame of a Nation

Izidor Ruckel was born in 1980. When he was six months old, he became ill and his parents took him to a hospital where he contracted polio from an infected syringe. Later, the hospital doctors encouraged his parents to drop him off at an orphanage. From 1983 until 1991, Izidor lived in the Sighetu Marmatiei orphanage.

No one knows how many children were in Romanian orphanages at end of communism. The number is estimated to have been somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. What we do know is that child abandonment was actually encouraged by the Romanian government as a means of population growth by discarding children who could not be productive workers for the state.

Sighetu Marmatiei is located in Sighet, a small city in northern Romania. It is the hometown of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.

The Sighetu Marmatiei institution is located on the western edge of town behind a 6-foot wall. The sign above the entry reads “Camin Spital Pentru Minori Deficient,” which translates to the “Hospital Home for Deficient Children.”

In 1990, shortly after communism fell, ABC News’ 20/20 producer Janice Tomlin visited Sighet and produced the awarding series “Shame of a Nation.” Tomlin’s photos and videos brought the world’s attention to Romania’s horrific child welfare practices.

Communist newspaper encourages Mothers to leave their children in State Care

Dan and Marlys Ruckel of San Diego watched the 20/20 broadcast and went to Romania with the intention of adopting a child. On October 29, 1991, Dan and Marlys adopted Izidor. He was one of many Sighet orphans to make San Diego their new home.

In 2016, Izidor moved back to Romania, where he has committed his life to children without families and finding the means to support the 60,000 orphans of his generation who were never adopted.

Izidor meets his new mother
1990 – Izidor behind orphanage bars
Izidor’s family
I recently met Izidor at the Cluj train station to talk about his life, why he moved back to Romania, and the current state of child welfare.

TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND

From 3 until 11, I was in a hospital for children, not an orphanage. But back then, and still today, there is no difference between how a kid is treated in a children’s hospital or a state orphanage. They are both institutions.

Two years after arriving in the US, I started to miss the institution in Sighet. Nobody in the US had the answers that I was looking for, and I took out my anger on the people that loved me most, my adopted family. I was a child from hell.

Then a Romanian family came to San Diego for Easter and I heard about Christ. I wrote down tons of questions and began to find the answers I was searching for. People ask me how I overcame this. It isn’t because of my parents or anything I did, it was because I allowed Christ to tell me who I really was.

As my anger subsided and family life improved, I was asked to write a book to help families who adopt abandoned children. The book, Abandoned for Life, was published in 2003 and sold over 30,000 copies.

Izidor in the US with his father

For 17 years, since 2001, my primary life goal has been to tell people what happened in my institution and make sure it stops happening to other children in Romania. I have spoken hundreds of times, including on the BBC, in the Washington Post and recently in an interview with Morgan Freeman that will be aired this October in 176 countries on National Geographic.

DESCRIBE LIFE IN THE ORPHANAGE

We woke up at 5, stripped naked, since most kids wet themselves in bed, and went to another room for new clothes while the floor was cleaned. We ate breakfast, washed up and were put into a clean room where we just sat there rocking back and forth, hitting each other, sleeping or watching someone cry until they were drugged. After lunchtime, we went back into the clean room, repeating the same things as the morning. Then we were fed, bathed again, put into clean clothes and into bed for the night.

WHAT DO YOU WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE?

First, that the children suffered more than anyone knows. No reporter can capture the suffering. The abuse was worse than anything reported. If you were handicapped like me, you were hidden and never allowed outside the institution.

Secondly, despite all trauma and emotional wounds, no life is ever lost. If we give these kids, now adults, some opportunity, with love, nourishment and development, they can function in the world and develop independence. I stay in touch with the kids I grew up with and they can be helped. They still have dreams.

WHY DO YOU KEEP RETURNING TO SIGHET ?

There are many reasons. First off, it was my home for 11 years and believe it or not, there are memories I cherish. The few times I was allowed out of the institution, I was in awe of the natural beauty of Sighet. Romania to me was the beautiful land outside the institution, not the evil inside the institution.

I like to visit some of the nurses. I call them my seven angels. Their love and compassion was the only source of hope I had.

There is also a specific memory that reminds me that God was with me even though I did not know who He was. On one of my trips outside the institution, I saw a dead man hanging on a cross. The nurse said it was Jesus Christ, but without any explanation. I actually thought he was some poor guy from Sighet.

I kept feeling sorry for him when I got back to the institution. Now I take a picture of that cross every time I am back in Sighet.

I go back to reconnect with the kids I grew up with. In 2014, four of us went back to the institution. Dolls, furniture and clothes were lying around like it just closed. Crows were everywhere like in a haunted house. But it was remarkable that each of us remembered things that the others had forgotten. It felt really good for us to share our common experience. When I asked them if they missed this place, we all said ‘yes’. It was our only childhood home.

But the biggest reason is to find out what really happened there. Even though the place had been closed for 11 years, it is still filled with records and supplies. When I was seven, a kid named Duma was beaten so badly that I hid under the sheets, fearful that I might be next. In the morning, I saw Duma’s naked bruised body and by lunch he was dead. Last year I found his medical records. His official cause of death was “stopped breathing.”

There was another kid named Marian who was hyperactive and was often given medicine. His father visited him every weekend and I would jealously look out the window as they sat on a bench. In time, Marius stopped eating and lost the will to live. I remember looking out the window on the Sunday when he died in his Dad’s arms. His Dad was crying and praying to heaven.

In 1995, there was a media story that Romanian orphans were given rat poison. Three years ago, a nurse from institution confirmed that Marius and many other kids were given rat poison.

Many former orphans are returning to Romania for answers. For me, it is all about forgiveness and making sure Romania stops sweeping the child welfare issue under the carpet. Children’s rights and interests are still being ignored.

From left to right: historian Mia Jinga, Izidor Ruckel and the director of IICCMER, Radu Preda. Photo: Lucian Muntean

On June 1, 2017, the state-funded Investigation of Communist Crimes (ICCMER) submitted a criminal complaint to the Ministry of Justice for the deaths of 771 children in the Sighetu Marmatei, Cighid and Pastraveni orphanages between 1966 and 1990. Investigators say this is just the tip of the iceberg for a much wider investigation that is needed into Romania’s 26 orphanages.

ICCMER investigators and archivists say official records list pneumonia and brain disease as the main causes of deaths, but witnesses say the causes were exposure to the cold, poor hygiene, starvation, lack of healthcare, rat poison, and violent physical abuse.

Investigators say Communist records classified children into 3 categories: reversible, partially reversible and non- reversible. Children in the latter two categories were thrown into centers to die.

Radu Preda, director of ICCMER says “My plea as a father is to ensure that these things never happen again. Let us do something on the media level and at the institutional level in order to ensure that no child in this country who has a handicap, or illness, or has been abandoned will ever be slapped, starved, tied down or left to die in their own feces.

We need to acknowledge the utterly uncivilized society of our communist past and rid all traces of this sickness from our child protection system.”

TELL ME ABOUT THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION YOU ARE A PART OF?

I agreed to help bring attention to a criminal investigation led by the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (ICCMER). This investigation focuses on the deaths of children in Sighet Marmatiei and two other institutions.

I asked the investigators if they were going after nurses and they said “No, only the people who dispensed medicine and managed the facilities.” Once I knew that, it was okay with me.

But I am less interested in putting people in jail than I am interested in getting financial resources from the State to support the 60,000 orphans of my generation that were never adopted. Most of them have no means to support themselves as adults and are homeless. My hope is that this investigation will lead to a much larger class action suit on behalf of these 60,000 citizens. There needs to be a cost for gross neglect or things will not change.

TELL ME ABOUT HOW THE ROMANIAN MEDIA COVERS CHILD ABUSE AND WELFARE

I could not believe all the Romanian media at the June 1st press conference announcing the criminal investigation. This was history! Romanians finally fighting for something that we failed to do all these years. I always challenge the Romanian media since all of the stories on orphans and child abuse come from international news organizations. Even today, all the footage of child neglect comes from international organizations.

For years people were embarrassed and scared about this issue. But now it seems young people are waking up to the fact that this is still going on.

IS THERE STILL ABUSE IN ROMANIA INSTITUTIONS

Yes there is. I do not know from firsthand experience, but I have heard so from people I know and trust. I am trying to get access to more institutions to help kids and social workers. I am not living in Romania to embarrass or destroy people. But the government officials in Parliament seem to have no clue what is really happening in their institutions.

DO YOU THINK ROMANIA SHOULD OPEN INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION?

I am fighting for international adoption for children with special needs or those that have no chance of being adopted in Romania. Most of the people in the government reject this idea on the basis that children will be damaged by losing their culture and identity if they get adopted outside of Romania.

That’s a horrible excuse. From the moment these children enter the institution they are stripped of everything. Their dignity, freedom and their brains become mush. Tell me, what culture are they losing by being adopted abroad?

The issue in Romania today is all about money and jobs for political patronage. The State pays institutions, residential homes and foster care a stipend for each child. If the State found adoptive families for 20,000 of the 60,000 children in State custody, they would lose 33% of their funding and the jobs they often give to family and friends.

In my generation, the government wanted to dispose of the children. Today, they want to profit from them.

WHAT BOTHERS YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE CHILDCARE SYSTEM TODAY?

I am actually impressed with how many good social workers want to change the system. I get lots of emails from social workers and was shocked to see how many social workers showed up at the Romania Without Orphans conference last November. It is a great joy to see all of the Romanian families that have adopted and want to adopt.

We all know that institutions are not the answer. But I am not in favor of just shutting down the institutions. Simply putting kids on the streets is even worse. At least institutions provide a bed, food, clothing and shelter. Our train stations are filled with homeless.

The biggest problem we have today is that the workers who worked in the institutions in the 1980’s through the mid-1990’s still work in the system. You can’t expect change by renovating buildings when you have the same people and same culture.

I visited 6 orphanages 2 years ago. Most of the kids saw my story on television and were comfortable talking to me. I asked each child, “Do you like living here?” They said “See that lady over there? She still beats us.” I asked “how long she has been working here?” They said “from day one, since this place opened.”

It is constantly the same response. And I thought “Wow, there is the problem.” These people need to be replaced.

I want to work with the system. I want to stay in Romania. I can see that people are really looking for answers. I am getting a powerful response when I speak to the new generation of Romanians. I believe the time is right to confront our past and create a system that works in the interests of children.

The massive decline in child population is the greatest threat to Romania’s future

AUTHOR’S CONCLUSION

I was moved by Izidor. He travels around Romania on filthy trains. He carries his suitcase without complaint, despite a partially paralyzed leg. He does not have much money and is not motivated by fame or public attention. What he has is a passion and purpose.

Romania in 2017 reminds me of growing up in Germany in the 1970’s. I remember talking to my German teenage friends about Nazism and the Holocaust. They had no answers, no ability to comprehend the horror, just a deep passion to fight any legacy of Nazism. I feel the same sentiment among young Romanians today as they feel deep anger towards any abuse or injustice towards children.

It is cliché to say that our future is in our children. But in Romania the numbers speak for themselves.

Every decision made in our homes, communities and government, needs to be made in the context of “Is this a good place to raise healthy children and are we doing our best to find every child a loving family?”

 Izidor is in desperate need of a new leg-brace for his polio damaged leg. Please see the link and share or donate if you can.
Thank you for your support

Asociatia Catharsis Brasov- Registered Adoption Agency. Preparing Parents to Adopt

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Brasov, Romania.

From 15 to 29 July this year, together with the Directorate-General for social assistance and the protection of the rights of the child, we organised the third course of this year, to prepare families who want to adopt a child. We are glad that other 13 families of brașoveans are prepared to receive a baby from romanians in their lives.

For three weeks, the participants received detailed information about abandoned children, about abandonment issues, about the biological family, and in particular about the role of foster foster family. This time, I put the emphasis on children with hard profiles and their needs.

The theme, well-structured in three sessions, was supported by an interdisciplinary team composed of Alina Bedelean, Cathy Ross and ioana lepădatu, clementina trofin and silvia tișcă – social workers, Eva Pirvan-Szekely, lawyer. I also invited the adoptive parents, who opened their soul and shared the learners aspects of their experience.

At the same time as the theoretical knowledge of the role of a parent, which lasts three weeks, the psychological and social evaluation is also done. All these procedures take 90 days, after which the cursanții will receive the family attestation fit to adopt one or more children.
Currently in brasov, more than 100 families want to adopt a child and their number is increasing. We hope so that our efforts to provide a family of their own and permanent to an eligible child will contribute to the higher interest of abandoned children, to say mommy… Daddy… Home…

The training, and development of parental capacities this year are financially supported by our traditional partner, onlus Oikos Italia, President, Don Eugenio Battaglia.

Asociatia Catharsis Brasov

Asociatia Catharsis Brasov

As of January 2005, when the current adoption law came into force, the number of national adoptions dropped sharply from 1.422 in 2004 to 313 in 2016, and the number of international adoptions dropped from 251 in 2004 to 2 in 2006, one in 2007, 8,, 10, 11, 12, 12 At the same time, it increased the number of abandoned children from 44.000 in 2004 to 70.000 in 2010. Irony. Although it increased the number of families qualified to adopt one or more children, there were very few national adoptions. It also increased the interest of romanians established abroad for adoption of a child. But adoption law allowed international adoption only to grandparents residing abroad. That’s just so they don’t make international adoptions! No grandfather has ever adopted an abandoned nephew, not even in Romania. In addition, adoption sets between the child and the foster family, an affectionate connection, while between grandpa and child there is already a blood link. We’ve managed, hard, very hard to replace grandparents with third-degree relatives, then four and the result of adoption was still zero. Hard, unimaginably hard to obtain the right of romanians abroad for adoption. We had to fight the legislature, because the number of romanians residing abroad was always growing. And I did. Children’s drama harassed by foster homes after growing up in foster families and the statistical data provided by the Romanian media gave us the courage to start the adoption crusade. And we’ve managed with other ngos to amend three times the articles that have made the national adoption difficult, but we haven’t yet here the international adoption-only chance for sick children in an adoption family. Still no international adoptions. The Romanian state still prefers institutionalisation instead of the foster family. The adoption law still humiliates romanians who make extraordinary efforts to adopt a child. Of the total 57.581 children, only 3250 are adoption. And 5 children were adopted international last year, although it was adoption 534. The adoption law humiliates families of romanians in the country and abroad who want to adopt, destroy dreams and kill hope. For impossible reasons, adoption law makes the lives of romanians who want to adopt the future of abandoned children. Romanian abroad are required by law, article 3, to leave her husband alone at home, to give up work and income and a comfortable life with her husband, whether it is all romanian or foreign .. The future mothers were bound by the law of adoption to live effectively and continuously 12 months in Romania, before submitting the adoption request. Many ladies got sick, depressed and gave up. The loser was the kid, and the family, and the state, but nobody cares! I asked for the repeal of article 3 that provides such nonsense. Instead of being repealed, this article has been amended, reduce to 6 months in the territory of Romania… Crazy… and a lot of other bullshit calls for adoption law three times in the last 8 years. For example: Romanians are obliged to make a statement that they have lived effectively and continuously in Romania, before submitting their adoption application!!! Another 90 days, three months, must stay in the country to Participate in the parenting class, the evaluation procedures. After, he has to stay a while to sign the psycho-Social Evaluation Report, the last document required to get the statement. Then get the certificate. And there goes the year. After obtaining the statement, families are registered in the national adoption registry, after which, there is a very long wait, which sometimes leads to even quitting. What sadness, such disappointment, only the Romans know. And all that while tens of thousands of abandoned children want a family.

A Mother’s Journey to Reunite Adopted Romanian Daughter With Her Roots.

A family reunited for the first time. From left: Cristina Graham; Jonquil Graham; Cristina's birth mother; Cristina's ...

This story is written by Nina Hindmarsh, Nelson Mail, Newspaper of the Year; Canon Media Awards. May 2017. 

A family reunited for the first time. From left: Cristina Graham; Jonquil Graham; Cristina’s birth mother; Cristina’s birth sisters Geanina-Ionela and Maria-Magdalena.

A horse pulls a cart down a dirt road. Geese flap their way through the dust.

In a small Romanian village on the border of Moldova, 26-year-old Cristina Graham walks apprehensively with her adopted mother, Jonquil Graham. They are there, thousands of kilometres from home, to meet the woman who gave Cristina away 25 years ago.

She is small and toothless, waiting with her hands clasped tightly behind her back in front of a barren, cobb house. Next to her on crutches is her husband and Cristina’s older half-sister, Maria-Magdalena. Until now, they have never met.

Cristina hugs her birth sister first, then her birth mother. Cristina doesn’t cry, but Cristina’s birth mother sobs as she holds her tightly, swaying her back and forth.

She tells Cristina she didn’t have the conditions to care for her, that her violent husband at the time, Cristina’s father, did not like children and that her sister had pushed her to give Cristina up.

“I felt sad for her,” Cristina says later. “It was hard seeing her like that.”

After that first meeting, Cristina explores the bare neighbourhood of Bivolari that would have been her’s had she stayed in Romania.

She didn’t expect to see her birth family living like this. She is beginning to grasp what poverty really means.

Her birth family’s health is suffering due to alcoholism. There is no running water in the house, no power, and they bathe from a bucket.

Six of the adopted Graham kids. From left to right: Tristan, Misha, Cristina, Joanna, Natasha, Masha

Six of the adopted Graham kids. From left to right: Tristan, Misha, Cristina, Joanna, Natasha, Masha

It is far from the idyllic childhood Cristina had being raised on a kiwifruit orchard in Golden Bay, among the loving, hustle-and-bustle of a sprawling melting-pot family.

Jonquil and her husband Bryan were one of the first New Zealand couples to attempt inter-country adoption, which included three girls from Romania. Cristina was one of them.

Together, the pair have adopted and raised nine children and fostered 20 more.

Unable to conceive children, Jonquil and Brian first became “accidental” adoptive parents when a relative could no longer care for their difficult 3-year-old daughter.

The Grahams took in the girl, and in the years following nearly 30 more children flooded into their care.

“We thought we could just love any child,” says Jonquil. “It doesn’t matter what colour or what creed. We had a big house, and we thought, ‘why not?’ Fill up the house.”

A FOUR-MONTH BATTLE

Jonquil remembers the putrid scent of boiled cabbage, urine and cleaning products as she entered a room lined with cots.

Jonquil and Bryan Graham with their three adopted Romanian daughters. From left; Jonquil with Cristina; Bryan with ...

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Jonquil and Bryan Graham with their three adopted Romanian daughters. From left; Jonquil with Cristina; Bryan with Natasha and Johanna.

“What struck me was the quietness,” she says. “Babies don’t cry in there, and they don’t because nobody is going to pick them up. Their needs were not met.”

In Romania’s orphanages, babies and children were so severely neglected they had learned not to cry, because no one would answer.

Jonquil recalls the trip they took with Cristina last year as a part of TV3’s Lost and Found which aired in March. It was there that Cristina was reunited with her roots. But 25 years ago the process for inter-country adoption was full of unknowns. Bringing baby Cristina home was an arduous journey.

“It was an absolute nightmare,” Jonquil says.

It was 1989, after the overthrow and execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, that news began to filter out about a vast human tragedy happening to Romanian children behind closed doors.

Among the most disturbing were images of tens-of-thousands of abandoned children suffering abuse and neglect in Romania’s orphanages.

Confined to cribs, babies lay wallowing in their own filth, their cries going unheard and ignored.

There was outrage in the West. Western couples flooded in to adopt unwanted children and charities poured in to help.

Among those parents, were Bryan and Jonquil.

It was supposed to be just a three-week trip in order for Jonquil to bring their seventh child to their Golden Bay home in 1991.

“I had already been to Romania before to collect our other two Romanian twins, Johanna and Natasha,” says Jonquil. “And I was going back to adopt a boy we had left behind.”

Jonquil was haunted by the memory of two-year-old Bogdan whom she seen on that first trip but left in Romania. She was back to bring him home with her.

Jonquil left Bryan in Golden Bay in care of the kiwifruit orchard and the tribe of children.

But upon arrival, Jonquil was told the paperwork to adopt Bogdan had become invalid and she could not adopt him.

“But I always suspected foul-play,” Jonquil says. “The little boy was promised to me but I actually think they hid the papers.”

She spent the afternoon cuddling little Bogdan goodbye.

Determined not to return home empty-handed, it wasn’t long before Jonquil met Cristina-Laura.

The five-month-old baby girl had been abandoned in an orphanage by a teenage mother who did not have the resources to care for her.

But during the process of doing the paperwork, the local court threw out Cristina’s adoption application after badly translated papers stated Jonquil as being “infantile” instead of “infertile”.

Jonquil was then forced to endure three expensive and lengthy court hearings and a landmark decision in the Romanian Supreme Court involving some of the country’s most prominent lawyers in order to bring Cristina home.

She was robbed at knife point by a group of men during her stay and had her bag slashed open.

The prosecutor tried to convince the judge that the Grahams were only interested in adopting slave labour for their kiwifruit orchard and that the children would be raised for organ transplants or sold as slaves.

Jonquil appealed the case in the Supreme Court and won. She finally left Romania four months after she arrived with baby Cristina in her arms.

“I couldn’t believe I had been through that nightmare and I just wanted to get out safely and return back to my family.”

At the time of her leaving, riots were breaking out in Romania after the country’s central ruling committee decided to stop all further overseas adoptions.

Western couples who were waiting for their adoption papers to be approved panicked, creating dramatic and angry scenes. Just in the nick of time Jonquil and Cristina slipped out of Romania and into a new life.

A TRAGEDY

Among the adopted brothers and sisters that Cristina would join in Golden Bay were two Maori boys, one Rarotongan boy and a pair of Romanian twins.

A second pair of twins from Russia, a girl and boy, would join the family a few years later.

Their historic house sits at the base of Takaka Hill and is much quieter than it once was.

All but one of their nine children have left home, although grandchildren keep spilling through the doors now.

Jonquil says the most remarkable part of the trip back to Romania to meet Cristina’s family was finding out that their Romanian twins, Natasha and Johanna’s birth family, lived just streets away from Cristina’s birth family.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked,” she says.

Jonquil and Bryan had bought the tiny malnourished twins back from Romania when they were 10-months-old.

But in 2009, tragedy struck the devoted parents.

One of the twins, 19-year-old Natasha, was hit by a car in Nelson and died of her head injuries months later.

As the TV3 crew were filming on the street outside Cristina’s birth mother’s home, the twins’ own birth mother had been watching from across the road. She recognised Jonquil. She walked up to their interpreter to say: “When is that lady bringing the twins back to see me?”

The interpreter had to tell her that one of the mother’s daughters had died.

“It was so hard,” says Jonquil. “How do you tell a mother their child is dead?”

They returned a few days later with albums of the twins’ life to show the birth mother.

The last page of the album showed a photo of Natasha’s headstone.

“It was very emotional,” says Jonquil quietly. “I wish I would have had the language to tell her about the kilometre-long line of cars at her funeral.”

A NEW HOME

Jonquil says that although most of the couple’s adopted children have left home they still seem to keep adopting people.

“We have kind-of taken on the half-sister, Maria-Magdalena because she needs a family and we want to help her kids,” says Jonquil. “Now I will make a greater effort to learn Romanian.”

The Grahams say they are still in daily contact with her.

“She didn’t have the good start like Cristina. She’s a solo mother and doesn’t have much to do with her own mother.”

Jonquil says everyone is special and often they can’t help their circumstances, like those who are not loved properly.

“But that happens to millions of youngsters in the world, sadly. Everyone wants a rock.”

Cristina lives in Christchurch now, a solo-mother with a daughter of her own.

She has stayed in daily contact with her birth sisters by Facebook, but has struggled to keep the communication up with her birth mother.

Jonquil says a lifetime of questions for her have been answered for Cristina.

“It was a real eye-opener for Cristina. She is more settled now somehow, more at home in herself,” she says.

“I think she finally understands now why she was given the chance at a better life.”

Jonquil Graham is the author of the book, How Many Planes to Get Me? A story of adopting nine children and fostering 20 more.

 – Stuff

Romania’s Institutions For Abandoned Children Caused Life-Long Damage

Romania’s Institutions Caused Lifelong Damage

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Romania’s institutions have a history of neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse which still continues to this day and causes emotional, physical, and mental scars.

Institutionalized care, according to Dr. Victor Groza, the Grace F. Brody Professor of Parent-Child Studies at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, causes problems with developmental, physical, psychological, social and brain health. Dr. Groza stated, “The regimentation and ritualization of institutional life do not provide children with the quality of life, or the experiences they need to be healthy, happy, fully functioning adults.” They are also unable to form strong and lasting relationships with adults, leading to severe problems with socialization, primarily building trust and lasting relationships amongst adults and children alike.
This article, kindly provided by Dr. Victor Groza, is an easy to follow guide to the risks inherent to children institutionalised at an early age. Dr. Groza has been developing social work education and promoting best practices in child welfare and domestic adoptions in Romania, since 1991.
Victor Groza; PhD,LISW-S Grace F. Brody Professor of Parent-Child Studies, Director; Child Welfare Fellows Program Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.http://msass.case.edu/faculty/vgroza/  – Faculty website for further reading.

https://www.facebook.com/adoptionpartners/?fref=ts  – Website about Professor Groza’s post-adoption practice.