Morgan Freeman; The Story of Us; The Power of Love.

“The Power of Love” is the title of the third episode of the National Geographic series “The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman”. The episode includes Izidor Ruckel’s life story. Izidor spent the first 11 years of his life without the love and support of a family. For 8 years, he survived horrific conditions in one of the most terrifying “child care” institutions during the Ceauşescu era, the Home-hospital for the irrecoverables in Sighet. In 1991, he was adopted by Danny and Marlys Ruckel and started a new life in America. However, all the attachment issues he developed due to the lack of love in the early childhood needed a long time to heal. And not just time.
Morgan Freeman interviewed Danny and Marlys on their efforts to reach such a broken boy with the power of love…
All you need is love!

Polio is a crippling disease. Izidor desperately needs a new leg brace for his polio damaged leg. Please donate if you can and thank you for your support.
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The Romanian Boy Who Overcame The Dark Side of International Adoption

The Romanian boy who overcame the dark side of an international adoption

Nicolae Burcea got smallpox immediately after arriving in the US in 2002. He was sick in bed, looking out the window in a nice neighborhood. The 8-year old boy felt uncertain where the future was gonna lay, but it was the best feeling of being uncertain- to go to bed and not to worry about when you’re gonna be beaten up,when your food is gonna be stolen. It was a big relief. But of course, only for so long.

In his early childhood, he was Nicolae Burcea, but friends called him Nicu. After being adopted, the boy’s name became Nicolae Butler, and everybody in the US called him Nico.

The 23-year old man now uses Nicolae Burcea when he writes books or in casual conversations, but he’s still a Butler in official documents. Officially, though, he’s no longer a member of the Butler family.

“I like to think about it, to say that I’m a new generation Charles Dickens character because everything is an up and down. (…) The amount of luck I get is incredible especially given the odds,” says Nicolae.

In a hours-long Skype interview, Nicolae tries to disentangle his life story, to explain it to a stranger. It’s not the first time. He’s written a book about his early childhood in orphanages in Romania and he’s told his story hundreds of times. But despite the suffering, the young man feels that there could be a meaning, that his story could inspire others.

Nicolae Burcea was born in December 1993 and placed in the “Sfanta Ecaterina” foster care center in Bucharest’s District 1, according to his adoption papers.

Nicolae remembers a room full of cribs, everybody crying, car horns from outside, sitting in a room forever, and nobody coming to the room.

He wrote a book about his early years called “Memories of Childhood: Life in the Romanian Orphanages”. The book has a small poem as a dedication.

“These Memoirs are dedicated to
My biological and adoptive mothers,
So that you will know a part
Of my life that you never experienced with me.”

Nicolae now lives in Berlin, where he’s enrolled in a master’s program at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. He hasn’t yet visited Romania, but when he comes to Bucharest, he first wants to visit the “Sfanta Ecaterina” foster care center. The center no longer exists; instead, it hosts the headquarters of the District 1’s General Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection.

The “Sfanta Ecaterina” foster care was closed before Romania joined the EU, as part of a large deinstitutionalization process. The institution was shut down and replaced with three alternative services, with pre-accessing EU funds of over EUR 1 million.

The orphanage was synonym to abuses, from getting whipped to being sexually abused by the other kids. Caretakers played a role, but it was a vicious circle, says Nicolae. Caretakers were cruel to kids, who became abusers. “The orphanage is viciously making people abuse others and themselves,” he adds.

When asked if it’s not too disturbing to talk about these things, Nicolae replies immediately:

“Not an issue. I think for me the abuse has been so much and I am so used to it that I’ve become detached from it,” Nicolae says.

Around 2000, a family of wealthy engineers from Missouri, US, started the process to adopt Nicolae, who was from a Roma family. Most of the people prefer to adopt babies, but this family wanted to give a chance to an older boy.

His adoption papers include a report drafted by the Sperante foundation, which describes Nicolae’s mental and emotional development.

“The language is normally developed, the vocabulary is well represented, he uses complex sentences and can reproduce short poems. (…) He is emotionally balanced and has a proper social behavior,” reads the report.

Nicolae was healthy and went to school. “For my parents, I was like the perfect kid. In the US they all think all these kids just need a loving home and they’ll be perfect. It’s a lot of myth and I guess good selling from the people at adoption agencies,” Nicolae says.

The adoption process took forever, but a final decision came in April 2002. The document certified that the adoption of Nicolae Viorel Burcea was carried out according to the law.

By June 2002, Nicolae had his first bedroom ever, in a white neighborhood in the Saint Louis area, in the Missouri state. He was eight and a half.

“For me, when I was adopted was like the best moment. Because I was like the most important guy. You come from a place where you are nobody and suddenly you are the most important person in that family,” says Nicolae.

Nicolae in Romania

His adoptive family was a very caring and loving one, especially his dad. His mom used to dream about adopting a kid since she was a little girl.

“I had everything,” says Nicolae.

It seemed like a fairy tale, but things didn’t go as planned.

Nicolae was not easy to handle. In school, he got suspended many times. He was aggressive, talking back to teachers, showing high defiance, not following orders. He once punched a disabled guy when the boy took his soccer ball and refused to give it back to him.

School was tough.

“People look at you and you have dark skin and your parents are white skin. How did this happen? This obviously makes you feel pretty awkward. Especially because I went to very white communities,” Nicolae says.

He’d have to explain that he had been in an orphanage. People would sympathize with it. But to him this was bad.

“Nobody gives me anything because I deserve or because I earn it. They always give it to me because they sympathize and this makes you feel less of a human when you are being victimized not by yourself but by all the people who are surrounding you,” Nicolae explains.

The boy suffered from reactive attachment disorder, a very rare disorder in which kids don’t establish healthy attachments with parents.

“Parents didn’t treat their kids right, didn’t love them and eventually you get people who are incapable of loving others. And when people show love, it’s seen as a threat,” Nicolae says.

He found it difficult to adapt to an organized, rule-driven family, after years of chaos in orphanages. The rules felt as authority, and he had been traumatized by abusive authority in his past.

“I felt that my power was being taken away from me. When somebody said ‘go to bed at this hour’, I was like: I don’t want to do that. The authority felt very much like the orphanage in that sense.”

His parents became obsessed with fixing him, took him to several therapists, put him on medication. The situation at home got pretty bad. Nicolae felt that he was cast in the troublemaker role and that no matter what he’d do, he’d be different from the rest of the family.

“I became this super obscene, super trouble kid who cannot work in this very nice loving family,” Nicolae says.

Nicolae tells the story as if he was the bad character who failed. This tendency stems from his first years in the foster care system, he explains.

“You are kind of taught to take the blame when you are in foster care. Why are you there? Why would a normal family put you there?”.

But things were more complex. His family had the money, the lifestyle, but they had no patience, they had no time, they were stubborn, very engineer- minded, Nicolae adds.

All the therapists would tell them to stop thinking of a kid as something that you could fix. “This is a kid who has been through a lot, is working through a lot. You can’t compare him to his brothers.” Nicolae remembers that his parents would lock him in his room for hours, for days.

He thinks that his parents were people who had never experienced big trauma in their lives, who wanted to help but weren’t prepared to deal with a traumatized kid, who was far from perfect.

Every night he would always ask them “Even if I’m a terrible kid would you give up someone like me?” That became a ritual, something he would do every night. And every night the parents would say “We love you till everything, never will we give you up.”

The constant fear that he could be abandoned again was there all the time.

***

Dealing with Nicolae created a rift in the family. His grandparents had one way of thinking how to take care of the kids and his mom had another. Nicolae remembers a summer trip to Florida when he was 12.

They got into a fight over Nicolae. His grandparents told the parents that Nicolae was just a kid, that he just wanted to go to the beach and have fun. “Leave him be. You don’t have to be so restrictive, always think that he’s no good. He may be, but not all the time. Kids are kids,” Nicolae remembers his grandparents saying.

Things continued to escalate. At 16, there was an incident when Nicolae became physical with his parents and he had a fight with his dad.

“My dad told me something and it came to me as very aggressive, at least verbally and I immediately stroke back. This was after the situation at home got really bad,” he says.

His parents called the police. The officer took Nicolae to a medical center, which is what happens if you don’t know where to put kids and you don’t want to put them in jail, Nicolae explains. After a few days, his parents had to pick him up.

They came to the medical center, only to drop him off in an institution two hours later. They went to the court a few weeks later and gave Nicolae up to the state.

“I think it’s a fairytale gone wrong for them. I think it’s literally a German fairy tale on a grim side,” Nicolae explains. “They never got what they wanted. They wanted a kid who loved them, followed their rules, a kid they could react to. I wasn’t that way.”

Then he adds: “This is just what happens. This is just the dark side of adoptions gone wrong.”

***

Nicolae now lives in Berlin, but spends the summer in London. People have often told him while he was abroad: “Oh my God, you come from America; please tell me how awesome it is. How great it is.”

Not only that he got the bad end of America in sense of family, but he also got the worst of it in the sense of where unwanted kids go, Nicolae says.

At 16, Nicolae became one of the United States of America’s unwanted kids.

In 2015, there were about 428,000 kids in the US foster care system, according to US official statistics.

“You get the kids who are unwanted and you get the kids who are high abusers. (…) Their lives are ruined. There is no other way of saying it. Many kids, two-thirds of us, would end up in jail. That’s what we were told. It was just a fact of life,” Nicolae says.

When he entered the foster care system, he went from being a terrible kid to a great kid. He had more freedom, he could dictate his plan based on his behavior. This was in the beginning. After some months, he became really frustrated about the system’s immovability. The education was terrible, nobody cared about you. He was scared to remain in the same institution for years, so he tried to force the system. The only way to move forward was to get expelled.

Nicolae moved to several schools and different levels of the foster care system. Meanwhile, his former adoptive parents were still in touch with him, although they were no longer his parents.  This felt like a pressure for Nicolae. Once they relaxed their grip on him, Nicolae started improving. He decided to prepare himself for college. He read everything that he could find, wrote a lot.

At 21, the state gave him up, and his grandparents stepped more into the picture. They helped him pay for the college.

“We’ve always thought that he was very smart and he’s always wanted to go to college very badly so we’ve helped him with finances although he got some grants,” says his grandmother Velma. “If it didn’t work out it didn’t work out, but at least we felt that he had a chance.”

Nicolae joined a fraternity, became the school vice president, played football, had two jobs. He managed to do four years of college in two years. Nicolae’s good results weren’t a surprise for his grandparents.

“We were expecting that because he would read anything he could get his hands on,” says Velma.

“He knew a lot more about the US Government than I did,” adds his grandfather Marion.

After college, Nicolae came to Europe, where he’s currently in a master’s program in international relations.

One of his teachers recently asked him if he felt that he belonged anywhere. He doesn’t feel American, nor Romanian, but he’d like to come to Romania someday and do something big here; maybe even run for the president office someday. Many people have told him that it’s a crazy dream, but Nicolae says that he doesn’t want a simple life. He wants to inspire people, to change Romania’s image abroad.

“I would say my parents never left me so much room to kind of do things on my own. They thought I was a kid, treated me as a kid, never let me do things independently. This caused a rift in the family. It just became a psychological battle between me and them. When I had the freedom to do what I could do, all I had to do was show people: look, I am an exceptional kid.”

By Diana Mesesan, features writer, diana@romania-insider.com

Associata Catharsis- Adoption Agency. Adoption and Disability Advocacy.

The President of Romania has sent a signed decree to parliament promoting some changes to the adoption law. adopției.

The adoption law, although said to be “new”, is in fact the “old” law with some minor changes. But the lack of transparency and the discriminatory nature of the law currently in force has not been changed. That law, nr.273/2004 has been very slightly modified three times since 2004: in 2009, in 2011, and in 2015. And all of that was due to pressures from society as a whole.

The modifications made by the National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and for Adoption have not really modified anything substantive, including adjustments made in April of 2015. Those adjustments really did nothing in favor of the children who find themselves “imprisoned” [apart from a permanent family] since the day that they were born.

There is really no hope for a permanent family for more than 23,000 institutionalized children in approximately 1500 placement centers. The new legislation really does not offer them one bit of hope.

The modifications do NOT foresee a way to truly reduce the number of institutionalized children, but rather foresees only a reduction in the time frame of adoption and also a leave time for parents to get to know the adopted child.
The modifications also allow for a subsidy of 1700 lei per month (about $425) for a time period of 1 year for one of the parents who adopt a child over the age of two years. And that’s about it.

The law continues to discriminate against children for whom a family in Romania or for whom a Romanian family cannot be found. Usually this has to do with the health of the child, the child’s ethnicity, and/or the child’s age.

The adoption law also continues to discriminate against Romanian families and non-Romanian families who live in countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention. The adoption law currently requires either Romanian citizenship, or the establishment/reestablishment of residence in Romania, i.e., to live continually in the country/territory of Romania in order to receive the evaluations and attestations necessary to adopt.

The adoption law does NOT in any way guarantee every child’s right, and particularly the right of abandoned children, to a permanent family in which to grow up.

We will protest these injustices even in the streets of Romania, and we will militate for the rights of these children.

July 15 – 2017

Alături de Caty Roos, psiholog și Silvia Tișcă, asistent social, alte 12 familii au finalizat cursul de formare a calităților parentale și au primit deja Atestatul de familie aptă să adopte un copil. Pregătim părinți, oameni minunați, pentru copii speciali.

Along with Caty Roos, psychologist and Silvia Tișcă, social worker, 12 other families completed the parenting training course and they already received the family attestation fit to adopt a child. We’re setting up parents, wonderful people, special kids.
Image may contain: 15 people, people smiling, people sitting

Asociatia Catharsis Brasov- Registered Adoption Agency.

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.

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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

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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

My Russian Side, By Alex Gilbert

This is Alex. He is adopted. He has a story to tell.

”My Russian Side” is Alex’s story of bravely undertaking a search to find his Russian biological parents and to uncover the truth about his past.

Alex longs to find the answers to questions. Questions he has held hidden in his heart for many long years.

Global warming hasn’t reached Russia. Alex’s sunny disposition and bright smile are in stark contrast to the dreary skies and decaying buildings of Rybinsk, where his birth mother is now living. A six hour drive from Moscow. Alex does not harden his heart against his birth mother and father when he learns the truth about his past. He doesn’t judge them.  His New Zealand adoptive parents would no doubt be very proud of their son.  Alex is grateful for a better life in New Zealand. Sadly, very few abandoned children are so lucky and International adoptions from Russia are now banned. Conditions in Alex’s old orphanage in his birthplace of Arkhangelsk are harsh and hopeless. Alex wants to provide comfort and hope to the hundreds of abandoned children left behind.

He is the founder of ”I’m Adopted” which is a Registered Charitable Trust in New Zealand.  You can find them on facebook helping adoptees around the world connect and find biological parents and siblings.

Please help Alex’s dream of a better life for abandoned children living in his old orphanage in Arkhangelsk. Visit the website; http://www.imadopted.org and donate.

Peter Heisey; Missionary to Romania. Poverty and Prayers

I asked Peter Heisey what he was doing in Romania and how long he had been there. He said that the Lord had sent him there eighteen years ago to plant New Testament Churches amongst the ethnic Roma. Following is one of Peter’s most recent newsletters and prayer requests. Peter is based in Timis; a county in Western Romania on the border with Hungary and Serbia.

Peter writes;
Dear Friends,
We are still getting used to writing and believing 2017 is here. This winter has been unusually cold… It’s been like this in all of Europe- the Venice canals froze for the first time in history! We thank the Lord for a warm house and warm boots for our services. Though Ion starts our fires and it is really very warm, the cement floors seem to suck the heat right out of our feet!
Services are going well. There has been a lot of sickness, but the faithful ones are usually here. Also Ana ( not the saved one but an older lady who’s been coming fairly regularly), is back after some sickness. She still does not understand her need for Salvation and sometimes we wonder why she comes, as she seems oblivious to the preaching. Still, God’s word does not return void, so we pray for her understanding and salvation.
The children have been quite unruly and just plain rude lately. Several families have returned from begging in Spain and these children are quite bad. One girl though, Alina, has been quite receptive to the lessons and comes faithfully. At times, she is giggly and disruptive, but for the most part, settles down when spoken to. Please pray for these children who come so often but still don’t understand their need for a Saviour.
We ask prayer for our teens also. There has been a nice group of them the last two weeks. Ionel has come and so has his brother. Pray for continued interest and faithfulness, and mostly for them to allow the Lord to change their lives and for them to serve Him.
Around Christmas time, a Romanian family gave us money to buy things for the children. We usually don’t like this kind of thing, but we were able to use this to buy a very nice wheelchair for Marian, a very handicapped little boy who can’t sit up in a regular wheelchair (which also had broken and he had nothing). He comes to services when the weather is nice and even prayed to receive Christ. He says ”Amin” at the preaching and is quite sweet. He and his parents were quite thankful and excited about the new wheelchair. We made sure they understood it was not from us. Please pray for Miki and Tina to be saved. Marian and his sister, Bea, come to our school classes too. Pray for their salvation.
Thank you for your prayers for us- God bless you as you serve Him.

Please also pray; For Sewer Connection.
For Safety
For Physical Health
For Fruitful Ministry
For Souls to be Saved.

poheisey@gmail.com

Half a Million Abandoned Kids; Moving Forward From South East Europe’s History of Shame

One Baby Abandoned Every Six Hours In Romania.

Report on Child Protection by Ioana Calinescu. Photos by Petrut Calinescu.

Looking at results in child protection can show an “X-ray of regional mentalities”, says Andy Guth. Child Pact.

“There is so much more to do for the children of Romania, but you need to know where we started from,”  Daniela Buzducea, World Vision.

“When the Police find a new child on the street, they call me first,”  Zini Kore, All Together Against Child Trafficking.

“These youngsters are so hungry they would eat the corner of the table,” Mariana Ianachevici, Child Protection NGOs Federation, Moldova

Hoping to increase the age that children in Romania are institutionalised, from three to six years old, Daniela Gheorghe, FONPC

Half a million children were left abandoned in eastern Europe following the collapse of Communism that began in the 1980s.

After more than 25 years of democracy, many of these countries’ record on child protection is now mixed. 

In 1997, while global concern focused on abandoned children in Romania, 1.66 per cent of the country’s kids were separated from their families.

By 2013, this had dropped to only 1.52 per cent.

This means 60,000 children have been recently cut off from their parents, according to the new Child Protection Index, a cross-border instrument launched this week in Brussels.

Most southeast European nations – including Romania – are fast to reform their laws, but changes are slow to improve the life of every child.

 

Belgrade, 2016. A tiny conference room, packed with civil society activists who have fought for children’s rights from the wider Black Sea and Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism.

Armenians, Georgians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Moldavians, Romanians, Albanians, Bosnians and Kosovars look at the findings of a comparative study as though they were the pass, dribble, tackle and assist of a football match.

A whisper rises up from the Bulgarian delegates.

“Romanian really undid us on this one,” comes a voice.

Despite the collegiate atmosphere among the members who all put the needs of children way above national interest, there is a still time to entertain rivalry between the EU’s two poorest countries.

The study has been developed in nine nations and shows how the lives of these “invisible” children changed over the last twenty-five years.

Romania was the country with the largest problem – with its abandoned kids running into the 100,000s.

The images of abandoned children after the fall of its Communist regime remain scars on the European collective conscience.

To stop the population decline in Romania in the 1950s, due to more working women and a fall in living standards, the Communist Party aimed to boost the numbers of Romanians from 23 million to 30 million.

In 1966, in a move to raise the birth rate, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu de facto declared abortion and contraception illegal.

This resulted in parents abandoning children in hospitals after birth. The state then placed the kids in overcrowded institutions.

With the break-up of communism in 1989, the doors opened to a humanitarian crisis.

Today ChildPact is the only regional alliance that includes more than 600 child rights organizations. For the ten national members, ChildPact is the friends they grew up with; with whom they shared the same playground and the same stories. They know the group dynamics, the pacts and rivalries, the sensitivities and small victories.

Romanian doctor Andy Guth pours over comparative charts showing which child protection reform models  worked in spite of the east European national systems, and which tend to be corrupt and underfinanced, with low levels of economic development, bad laws and zero methodology of implementation.

 

Child outside block in Ferentari, Bucharest (copyright: Petrut Calinescu)

Child outside block in Ferentari, Bucharest (copyright: Petrut Calinescu)
“At the back of the institution: an image that still haunts me”

Spring, 1990, in Romania. Guth was a recent graduate from medical school and fledgling director of an orphanage in Onești. Here he was signing two of the first transfers to a hostel for ‘irrecoverable’ children, the official term for mentally or physically disabled minors.

These children were clinically healthy when they were admitted.

“Two weeks later, we received the first death certificate,” he says. “I immediately went to the hostel. The first thing I saw when I got out of the car was the graveyard behind the institution. They had their own graveyard!”

For Guth, this was ground zero – the initiation point for the child protection renaissance that would follow seven years later.

“It’s an image that will haunt me for the rest of my life,” says Guth.

Guth was one of the doctors on the frontline of humanitarian convoys in the nineties, facilitating the programs drawn up in offices abroad. They were known as ‘The White Guard’.

Many became civil society activists, who still play an active role in the reform of child protection.

Why did doctors take on such a role?

During Communism, medically-trained personnel were tasked with raising deserted children in unheated buildings that served as town hospitals. This abandonment was seen as a public health issue.

Twenty-five years later, Guth is presenting the results of the Child Protection Index, an international instrument whose development he dedicated four years to, coordinating the collaboration of 71 child protection experts from nine countries. He has worked on the project together with Jocelyn Penner Hall, World Vision’s Policy Director.

This has some disturbing information.

 

“One baby abandoned every six hours”

In Romania, the number of children separated from their families in 1997 was in the range of 100,000 for six million kids.

By the end of 2013, the number hovered around 60,000 for a total population of four million.

Taken together this amounts to a statistically insignificant change, from 1.66 per cent in 1997 to 1.52 per cent in 2013.

One reason for this is a gap between reforms on paper, and those on the ground.

For instance, between 1997 and 2007, Romania was pressured by the EU integration process to accelerate reforms. Now – according to the Index – Romania scores highest when it comes to public policies and legal framework, but still hosts the greatest number of institutionalised children in the region.

Armenia and Moldavia follow closely behind. At the other end of the spectrum, the Index results show that of all countries surveyed, Kosovo has parents who are least likely to abandon their children.

Meanwhile, in Romania today, a baby is abandoned in a maternity hospital every six hours.

What does the tiny decrease in infant abandonment say about child protection efforts over the last twenty-five years?

“This says that one cannot change the mentality of the public by responding to EU pressure alone,” says Penner-Hall.

“It’s been said that the year Romania joined the European Union marked the burial of [child protection] reform. With no external pressure, nothing remarkable happened. However, I believe that after 2007 smaller, more meaningful things occurred. The worst day ever was the first day of democracy in Romania; it was that day when the public conscience started to blossom.”

Guth also believes that the Index can also be seen as an X-ray of regional mentalities.

“For instance, the results prove that in Armenia 97 per cent of disabled children are taken care of by the state, while only three per cent grow in real families,” adds Guth.

“The Index also shows that in Georgia the exploitation of children through labour is not considered an issue. They think it is normal for some children not to go to school.”

 

Romania: number of kids in rural areas going hungry “doubled”

Back in the conference hall, Guth cautions that the results he is about to present are not part of a competition.

But he knows that the moment he opens the diagrams comparing the nine countries, the Romanians will look at where the Bulgarians stand, the Albanians will check Serbia’s scores and the Armenians will want to know if they have outrun the Georgians.

According to overall Index country scores, Romania is placed highest, followed by Bulgaria and Serbia. At a continental level, Romania has some of the most efficient child protection legislation. “The law is built upon the structure of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” says Guth. “In theory, Romania rocks.”

But in practice, the Eurostat data shows is that, as of 2013, the child poverty rate in Romania exceeded 48.5 per cent.

A 2014 World Vision report stated that eight from 100 children in Romania face extreme poverty, living on less than 3.5 Euro per day. The same study testifies that one out of eight children in rural areas go to bed hungry.

This percentage doubled between 2012 and 2014.

“There is so much more to do for the children of Romania,” says Daniela Buzducea, Executive Director of World Vision Romania. “Then again, to see how far you’ve come, you need to know where we started from.”

Daniela is part of the first “free” generation of social workers in Romania. Only in 1994 did Post-Communist Romania have its first graduate promotion in this field. Before this moment, this occupation did not exist.

In the 90s found Daniela in the homes of some of Romania’s most vulnerable children. She was trying, on her own, to prevent the separation of children from their families.

“To me, the Romania of those years is HIV positive children who got infected in hospitals,” she recounts.

In the late 1980s, thousands of children in Romanian institutions contracted HIV due to blood transfusions from syringes infected with the virus.

“The real moment the reform started is encompassed in a scene when I was visiting a young mum with an infected baby,” says Daniela. “She had no form of support whatsoever. She was going through hell. I also had a small baby at home, and apart from visiting this woman just to reassure her that she was not completely alone, there was not much else I could do.

“One day, she was diagnosed with cancer and lost her hair because of the treatment. When I went to see her, on the wall of her house was written the word: ‘AIDS’. She had locked herself inside. She could not even take her child to the hospital because people would throw stones at them. In reforming its social protection system, this is the point from which Romania started.”

 

“If I had not been there, the kid would have been lost”

Albanian Zini Kore represents the national child rights network “All Together Against Child Trafficking” (BKTF). For almost twenty years Zini earned respect on the streets of his country’s capital Tirana. Not just with the homeless kids, but also with the cops.

“When the Police find a new child on the street, they call me first, to pick him up and only after that do they contact the authorities,” says Zini.

Kids know they may not have much in this life, but at least there is someone fighting on their behalf until the end, no matter what kind of end that may be.

Zini never drives. No matter where duty calls, he always crosses town on foot, searching through the labyrinthine streets, scanning for homeless children.

There was a time when his phone rang incessantly – at day and night. The terrified voice of a street child on the line. No one knows the magical and subterranean paths his phone number travels to reach the kids in the city who need him most. He always grabbed his clothes and left.

“Had I not been there the exact moment the Police accosted a child,” he says, “the kid would have been lost in the inferno of the correctional institutions. From there, there is no way out.”

Today, his phone rings less often. Thanks in part to Zini and his organisation, who work hard to compensate for the state’s lack of involvement, the lives of street children have improved. But the underlying problems persist. The Child Protection Index shows that only Bosnia surpasses Albania when it comes to neglecting the situation of street children. It also demonstrates that the region has a major problem regarding the involvement of authorities in effective protection solutions.

When asked about his kids, Zini proudly mentions his boy, who is still not legally his son. He will soon turn 18 and then Zini will start the adoption procedures. It’s easier this way because at this age the young man can make his own decisions. He is one of those street children Zini fought for.

Child Protection “Mall” in Sofia

George “Joro” Bogdanov doesn’t talk much and when he does he fishes for the right words in English.

He is not a born public speaker. But he is a man of big ideas. He succeeded in putting child protection on the public agenda with an annual gala event where The National Network for Children in Bulgaria recognize citizens whose work improved Bulgarian children’s rights and prosperity and awarded them with the statue of a Golden Apple.

Now he has a new vision: The Children’s House in Sofia. This will be something like a child protection “mall” with conference and meeting rooms for child protection events and workshops; offices for the coalition’s NGOs; playgrounds for children and an educational centre for children with special needs; accommodation and a restaurant for international and local guests. Following a social enterprise model, he wants to hire disadvantaged young people to run the place.

Everybody has told him that he was crazy to even think he could raise the huge amount of money necessary to carry out his idea, but Joro went ahead and did it anyway.

He is now building the House.

 

“How am I supposed to feed a teenager with one Euro a day?”

Among the group gathered in Belgrade, Moldovan Mariana Ianachevici’s laughter is the loudest. It’s contagious, the kind of laughter you want to cling to in the midst of a large and unfamiliar gathering.

If one can still laugh like that after twenty-five years of helping victims of trafficking and abuse, and if one can still talk about taking home the last ten unwanted teenagers from a closed orphanage in Chisinau, there must be a parallel world better than the statistics suggest.

Mariana Ianachevici is a three-time President – she is President of ChildPact, the President of the Child Protection NGOs Federation in the Republic of Moldova, as well as the President of her own NGO, which has assisted more than 1,200 children over twenty years.

“The future President of the country,” she laughs, before relating stories about surviving the winter with canned vegetables and frozen fruits harvested from her NGO centre’s tiny orchard.

“How am I supposed to feed a teenager with one Euro a day? This is all the state gives me. When they sit down… these youngsters are so hungry they would even eat the corner of the table!”

And the story continues, about Valentina, the Centre’s long-time accountant, who never comes to work without a homemade cookie. Just to have something nice to give the kids.

About another lady, Rodica, an older employee of the center, diagnosed at infancy with polio and brain paralysis, of whom all the children are so fond, because she hands out gifts of pretzels, nuts and kind words.

 

“If only every child had an adult to protect them”

Daniela Gheorghe is executive director of the Federation of NGOs for the Child (FONPC). Blonde, tiny and delicate, Gheorghe wrote history by strengthening the role of civil society in Romania. Her eyes brighten when she adds that “in all these years, we mostly fought the Government.”

Her mission has been to forbid the institutionalisation of children under three years old, and she now hopes to increase this age to six.

The Index shows that institutions taking on children under two years old occurs most often in orphanages in Bulgaria, while the countries most protective of this age group are Kosovo, Georgia and Serbia.

Gheorghe earned her psychology degree in the nineties when the humanitarian convoys opened the doors of the Romanian orphanages.

She enrolled in salvation missions, and was part of the first teams to work with abused children in orphanages. At that time, she had no idea she was joining a battle that would change her life.

“After five years, I fell into a depression that would last for six months,” Gheorghe recalls. “I couldn’t distinguish colors anymore, I was seeing only black and white.”

She was representing abused children in lawsuits with the aggressors and, during her last trial, Gheorghe experienced a miscarriage. She was never able to have another child.

Nevertheless, she developed a bond with three of the girls whose own trauma of abuse she helped overcome, and today she considers them her daughters.

“I am not a mum, but I am some sort of a granny,” she says, as she flicks though pictures of the beautiful girls on her Facebook page.

One of them is a hairstylist and has two children of her own, another is studying physical therapy and the third is working with children diagnosed with autism.

Gheorghe has found joy in seeing the girls develop into independent women.

“It’s no big deal,” she says. “I just fought for them. If every child had an adult to protect him or her, we would change the world.

Building A Family; Needing Support

img_3245This article, which I wrote for the ”Adoption Today” magazine appeared in their July 2016 issue. I can highly recommend the magazine as a resource for anyone whose life has been touched by adoption in some way and for prospective adoptive parents.

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