Building My Adoption Support Team; Adele Rickerby

This article, which I wrote for the ”Adoption Today” magazine, appeared in thier July 2016 issue.

Within one year of adopting a baby girl from an orphanage in Romania, after the revolution, my husband was living elsewhere and I was a single mother of two beautiful girls. This was the inevitable result of a dysfunctional relationship. One in which I did not have the support of my husband when adopting.

I travelled alone to Romania and back home again via Germany and New Zealand, where I needed to finalise the adoption of my daughter as a New Zealand citizen. My ex-husband did not finally meet his adopted daughter until I returned home to Cairns, Australia, two months after I had left. There were many opportunities for him to be involved, but, apart from playing his part with the paperwork during the adoption approval process, which took three and a half years, that was all he did.

It is imperative that couples support each other and travel together throughout thier adoption journey. Meeting your adopted child for the first time in thier country of origin, is an essential part of the initial and ongoing bonding process for both parents.

Feeling isolated and with no support where I was living, I sold the family home, packed up what remained of our belongings after a garage sale, and moved to Brisbane with my two daughters. Natasha, my adopted daughter had just turned one year old and my biological daughter, Melannie, had just turned seven years old.

After settling in to a rented house, I actively went about building my adoption support team.                                                   International Adoptive Families Association of Queensland, was an essential part of my support team. I was already a member, having joined the organisation at the beginning of the adoption approval process. During that time, I spoke with other I.A.F.Q. members over the phone and looked forwards to receiving thier regular newsletters, but had never met a member in person. I started attending regular ”chat and plays” with Natasha. These were held in the homes of I.A.F.Q members or Parks and Gardens around Brisbane.

It wasn’t long before I was asked to take on a more active role. I was asked if I would co-ordinate the first seminar on Intercountry Adoption, to be held in Brisbane, and subsequently co-ordinated two more. Coordinating the seminars provided me with the opportunity to become more actively involved in the adoption community.

”Our Country is Poor But Our Hearts Are Rich”, said my fellow train passenger, an engineer on his way to an early morning meeting in Bucharest. The sun was rising on a day full of hope and promise, after a nightmare journey, alone, across Germany,  Austria, Hungary, and finally, Romania, on my way to adopt a baby girl. I had been thrown off the train at the border between Austria and Hungary by eight Hungarian soldiers with revolvers at their hips and one official. When, finally, I arrived at the Gara De Nord railway station, and after a lengthy wait, was met by Janet and Michaela, I was exhausted and relieved.

Janet and her husband were from Brisbane and were adopting a baby girl and a baby boy. We stayed together in Michaela’s house. When, eventually, I arrived in Brisbane, one of the first people whom I contacted was Janet. Another couple whom I had also met in Bucharest, Tina and Steve, were also from Brisbane and adopting a baby boy and thirteen months old girl. Tina and Steve arrived back in Brisbane after spending one year in thier original home country of England.

After the revolution, foreign journalists went into Romania and discovered approximately 100,000 abandoned babies and children living in horror institutions where they were neglected and abused. The New Zealand government established an adoption program with Romania and a group of New Zealand parents formed Intercountry Adoption New Zealand. New Zealand parents soon started arriving back from Romania with thier adopted children.

Narelle Walker, married to a New Zealand man whilst living in Brisbane and wanting to adopt, made enquiries and learnt that they could adopt from Romania as New Zealand citizens. Narelle and her husband were one of the first couples to travel to Romania. Narelle went to the media to tell her story. That’s how I learnt I could do the same.

Together, Narelle, Tina, Janet and myself formed the ”Eastern European Adoption Support Group”.                                                 Tina had a suitable home with a safe backyard with a fort-style cubby-house, a sandpit and a swing. There was a rumpus-room with lots of toys for rainy days. Soon, we were meeting every Thursday morning for playgroup. As a single mum with no family, this was another vital source of support for me. We still meet regularly, twenty-four years later.

In 2013, I wrote a short memoir; ” The Promise I Kept”, published by Memoirs Publishing in the U.K and available as a paperback from The Book Depository. It is also available to be downloaded as a kindle edition on Amazon.                      I followed this with my website; http://www.thepromisekept.co in which I publish articles about orphan advocacy and child welfare in Romania. I also have a community Facebook page of the same name.

Adele Rickerby

 

 

Alex Kuch; How International Adoption Changed My Life

Happy Birthday in the Family

Elgard Andreas, four years old.

Just a few years ago, Romania started a dirty and illegal business; they banned the adoption of the children abandoned by irresponsible people and put them in the hands of other irresponsible people!

At the age of four weeks after birth, I was abandoned at the No.4 Children’s House in Lugoj, Timis County. I was born on July 6, 1994, in the city of Jimbolia, Timis. My mother, Lili, wanted to get rid of me- she had postpartum. Mama, (Liliana’s mother), gave me to the children’s home.

At Lugoj, a Danish foundation annually organised a series of visits to families in Denmark, who wanted a child. I was one of the lucky ones in the project. I was admitted to a family in Copenhagen, the Elgard Jensen family, both employees of the Royal Danish House. The family had two sons, one of whom was a student in medicine. A very beautiful family who started my adoption. I was four years old. I knew that I was going to be theirs. I knew that I was going to be Danish. I wanted to get rid of the 120 kids in that ugly house, dirty and administered by bad people who beat me for no reason.

I was deluded. A family promised. I was sure that I would be adopted. I was in the courthouse or in the courtroom. I do not know exactly. I was asked if I wanted to be adopted by Eva and Flemming. I said my first ”da” and they took me out of the room. After a few minutes, I was told to return to Lugoj for a while. It was a short time because in December 1999 I was visited by the Herbold family from Germany who wanted to open a family home in Checea. They got me in their house. It was very nice. It was hot and I had food and I did not have to hurry when I ate. I could sleep without being touched by the older boys and I said for the first time, ”mother”. Unfortunately to a person not worth it.

At Checea, the Children’s Safety Foundation in Romania became my home. It became the place where I feel safe and appreciated for what I do.

I am twenty-four years of age. I graduated from the Social Assistance Faculty and I only have six months to complete the dissertation. I want to study more. I decided that after graduating the Mastership, I will enrolled in the PhD.

In 2017, helped by two friends, we set up an ong; YouHub Association, and in December 2017, I was elected President of the Institutionalised Youth Council, the national representation of children abandoned in Romania.

My mission is to promote and protect the rights of the child. Adoption is a fundamental right through the right to family. The Romanian government, encouraged by a Baroness, blocked International adoption on the grounds that it had become organ-trafficking. Checks, inquiries, and other inquiries and …nothing!!

I don’t understand Tiriac’s involvement in this story! But one thing is certain. Romania boasts about 57,000 abandoned children. 19,000 in children’s homes.

Are we a statistic or are we people who could change our story if we were supported towards an independent, dignified and better life.

In January, Adoption Law should be discussed in the Chamber of Deputies, was voted unanimously in the Senate. I hope that the article on the reopening of International Adoption from Romania is voted for and so gives the chance of a family to all abandoned children.

https://andreaselgardjensen.ro/2019/01/02/la-multi-ani-in-familie/

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

The Journey Home Made Me Complete; John Gauthier

 

A Milwaukee-area man who was adopted from an orphanage in Romania when he was 5 years old found some answers this summer in a journey that, for him, proved you can go home again.

http://www.wisn.com/article/the-journey-home-made-me-complete-says-wisconsin-man-adopted-from-romania/12449085

John Gauthier, 32, grew up outside Milwaukee, but he always wondered about his birth family and the life he missed.

When he left for Romania in July, he went back to the land where he was born.

“I’ve been waiting for so long I just couldn’t wait any longer,” John Gauthier said.

Like thousands of other Romanian children, John Gauthier spent time in an orphanage. He was saved when a couple from the town of Lisbon saw their plight televised on 20/20.

They traveled to Romania in 1991 to adopt John and another boy and brought them to Wisconsin.

But John was always curious about home.

“It was something I knew was going to come along with time,” John’s father, David Gauthier, said.

Sensing his son’s curiosity, two years ago, David Gauthier gave John a letter.

“I open it, and it’s all in Romanian. I don’t know what it says. I remember that night I translated just the first sentence on the top of the letter and it said, ‘My dear son,'” John Gauthier said.

The letter said: “My dear son, when you read these lines that I am writing you right now, you will be an adult and maybe you are going to ask yourself, who are you? Where do you come from? Please do not judge me because I let you go. I just wanted you to have a better life than mine.”

The letter let John know who his mother was. With her name, through Facebook, he quickly discovered he had siblings in Romania.

“I just needed to go over there and see them,” John Gauthier said.

So this summer, he did.

He met his older brother, and for the first time, two younger sisters.

“They changed me in just seeing the beauty in everyone, just even more than what I saw before,” John Gauthier said.

He set foot in the village where he was born, Ramnicu Valcea, and met extended family he didn’t know he had.

“I thought about how much I could’ve experienced with my siblings, but I’ll take what I can get now. I’m just thankful for that,” he said.

Before he left, he went with his siblings to their mother’s grave. There, he showed them the letter that led him to them.

“The whole trip made me complete. The whole journey made me complete. I felt like I found my voice. I found myself and meeting them changed me forever,” John Gauthier said.

He hopes to travel to Romania again, and his father, David Gauthier, plans to take his other son, David, to Romania soon, so he can have the same kind of experience and discover his roots.

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:

$50: ONE WEEK OF GAS/TRAVEL EXPENSES (FOR SOCIAL WORK)

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

$600: ONE MONTH SALARY FOR A SOCIAL WORKER

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