Romania’s Last Orphanages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three of the Manole sisters with their Auntie Maricica

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

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

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

România sa renăscut – atunci și acum. Povestea de credință a lui Corina

 

 

Ea a crescut în zilele cele mai întunecate ale comunismului, fiica unui predicator penticostal. Își amintește că a fost batjocorită pentru credința ei în fiecare zi la școală. Își amintește că aruncă o privire sub ușa dormitorului pe timp de noapte, uitându-se la cizmele soldaților care veniseră să-i ia tatăl pentru interogatoriu. Își amintește cum a fost atunci când comunismul a căzut în cele din urmă și a aflat că guvernul a ascuns sute de mii de copii în orfelinate teribile. Și atunci Corina Caba știa ce vrea Dumnezeu să facă cu viața ei.

Ea și-a fondat orfelinatul într-un apartament mic în 1996, luând copiii abandonați din spital și îngrijindu-i până când a putut găsi familii adoptive. Treptat, ea a adăugat la personalul ei, plătindu-și salariile oricât ar fi putut. După ce România a fost înființată pentru a susține lucrarea, ea a construit o unitate mai mare, a angajat mai mulți muncitori și a luat mai mulți copii. Odată cu trecerea anilor, legile și sistemul de protecție a copilului au evoluat, însă Dumnezeu a făcut întotdeauna o cale pentru Corina să-i ajute pe copii abandonați.
Corina cu un copil abandonat la spital în 2005
https://www.romania-reborn.org/…/11/8/corinas-story-of-faith
Astăzi, Corina este mama adoptivă a patru copii și o figură mamă la sute de persoane, a căror viață sa schimbat pentru totdeauna. Ea este, de asemenea, un lider național în curs de dezvoltare în domeniul îngrijirii orfane, călătorește pentru a vorbi la conferințe, ajutându-i să consilieze guvernul cu privire la politică și (cu reticență) vorbind cu mass-media națională. Și încă luptă pentru copiii individuali în fiecare zi. "Când durerea este prea mare, Dumnezeu ma învățat să am încredere în El", spune ea. "Într-o zi, El va restaura tot ce pare pierdut, va răscumpăra tot ce pare fără speranță, va repara tot ce pare distrus. Dumnezeul nostru are ultimul răspuns!"

Dăruiți darul de angajament
Cadoul dvs. va ajuta personalul nostru angajat să lupte cu pasiune pentru copiii aflați în îngrijirea noastră, susținând practici guvernamentale mai bune și utilizând sediul central al ministerelor noastre ca centru de instruire și consiliere pentru familii. Puteți să vă adresați următoarelor nevoi ale personalului și ale ministerului:

$ 50: ONE SĂPTĂMÂNĂ DE CHELTUIELI DE GAZ / CĂLĂTORIE (PENTRU LUCRĂRI SOCIALE)

250 USD: ONE LUNA CHELTUIELILOR ELECTRICE (PENTRU SANATOARE)

600 de dolari: SALAREA UNEI LUNI PENTRU UN LUCRU SOCIAL
GASITI ACUM

 

 

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

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.

Child Abuse in Romania

Home / SOCIETY & PEOPLE / SOCIAL / 771 children died during 1966-1990 in the Romanian foster homes, IICCMER says
foster homes

771 children died during 1966-1990 in the Romanian foster homes, IICCMER.

The Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile (IICCMER) has filed a denunciation to the Prosecutor’s Office for inhuman maltreatment over children admitted to foster homes during the communist regime in Romania. The case mainly refers to the sick or disabled children who used to be admitted in the hospital foster homes in Cighid, Pastraveni and Sighetu Marmatiei.

According to IICCMER for Gândul online daily, a total of 771 children died in there during 1966-1990, most of them due to medical causes that could have been prevented or treated. The IICCMER experts and legists say the cases revealed that children were submitted to inhuman treatments and aggressions. Overall, there were over 10,000 such victims in the communist foster homes.

These children used to be considered irrecoverable from the medical point of view, suffering severe handicaps, but many of them were orphans or abandoned by their parents and reached those centers without having serious diseases, IICCMER says.

One of these children abandoned in the foster home in Sighetu Marmatiei was Izidor Ruckel, now aged 37. He escaped the center after he has been adopted by an American family, right after 1990. He told his tragic story to the IICCMER experts.

They used to beat me and another boy with a broomstick so badly that I thought I was going to die. They used to sedate us, they kept us isolated,” Izidor recounted, as quoted by Gândul.

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

Romania’s Institutions Caused Lifelong Damage

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

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

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

The Romanian Town’s Revolution

 

The 2-hour Revolution in a small Romanian town

The 1989 Revolution that marked the fall of Communism  in Romania, seen through the eyes of a couple living in Zalau, the smallest county capital.

On the morning of December 22, 1989, Zalau was covered in silence and in an inappropriate spring. Zalau is a small city in northwestern Romania, where Viorica Mesesan and Ilie Mesesan met, got married, received an apartment from the State, gave birth to a child and then experienced a Revolution.

Ceausescu had held his last speech on December 21, 1989, in front of millions of burning heads, deaf to his words (or maybe for the first time actually listening), and on December 22, at noon, he and his wife climbed in the helicopter and ran away. Viorica and Ilie went to work that day like on any other normal day .

Viorica, 35 back then, was working for the municipality in a building right next to the central square. She and her colleagues were gathered in the main hall that day, in front of a TV, watching mesmerised what was going on there. She remembers Ceausescu’s last speech, promising to raise children’s allowance by 100 lei and Dinescu, announcing that Ceausescu and his wife ran away. Two of her colleagues took Ceausescu’s portrait, threw it on the ground, stamped on it and then ran out of the building to the central square, trying to convince other people to join them. It was the portrait of a person no one had even dared to make a joke about before, which now turned into little glass pieces. Her husband Ilie, 34, remembers too such an image: different portraits of Ceausescu, flying out of the windows and breaking down on the alleys of the factory where he was working.

The morning silence which was covering the city was only a deceiving one. There was a great tension hiding behind that silence which exploded when the announcement was made that Ceausescu ran away. Those in factories stopped their work and formed a march to the center of the city. Around 3,000 women and men, taking advantage of the almost spring-like winter that year, singing and shouting among radio announcements, walked to the central square (in picture). Ilie was among them and he perfectly remembers the enthusiasm he was feeling then. An enthusiasm his wife doesn’t recall. She only names fear and confusion among the feelings. “I cannot say that we were very enthusiastic. We didn’t really know what was happening and what kind of consequences this would have on us,” remembers Viorica.

The people gathered in the central square waiting to see what will happen. Who – and what – will come next. The secretary of the county, a woman called Maria Stefan, tried to talk to the people, but they refused to listen to her. They were only receptive to the speech of the Army Commander, who assured them that no fire was shot or would be shot, that he gave orders to the Army not to interfere with the population. In the end, indeed there was no gun shot. At least Ilie remembers it that way and his wife too.

But Ilie’s cousin, Nelu, a communication engineer, remembers the story differently. He was called in those days by the secret police (Securitate) to do some interceptions and he recalls perfectly the gun shots, which stayed in his mind for some months after everything ended. But memories are vague and history is just a collection of these memories.

Ilie remembers that they were gathered in the central square when they heard the news at some loud speakers. “The Ceausescus were caught in Targoviste. They are being held at the Military Section number…from Targoviste. Please stay calm, there will be a law suit”.  He tells it exactly how he heard it that day, using the present tense, like it would happen now. Those were words with such a great impact, words he has never forgotten and have stayed with him for 25 years. The heroes of the day in the small city of Zalau were the figures talking to the people gathered in the central square. They were different factory managers, professors, mostly people who had the power to influence, to capture trust, to assure their place in the new order. Patriotic songs, flags with the communist symbol cut out showed everywhere, loud speakers bringing news, this was the 2-hour gathering in the central square and the short Revolution in Romania’s smallest county residence, Zalau. Then people returned to their houses and followed the Revolution on TV.

The TV is the central character in the memories of those days. Ilie remembers that he couldn’t move away from the TV, being mesmerised, incapable of reacting to any other stimulus. „What was happening there was hugely important. We could not afford to skip any information, any image,” recalls Ilie. Viorica was constantly moving between the TV, the kitchen and their 2-year old baby. It was only two days before Christmas and she had to prepare ‘sarmale’, the traditional Romanian food. “Our little girl was crying all the time, maybe she felt in some way the tension and pressure, my husband was effectively stuck in front of the TV, I asked him many times to help me, but he didn’t react, he did not move from there”.

The news, the rumours, the figures were pouring from TV amidst the preparations for the Christmas, the cooking, the cleaning, and taking care of the child  The rumours were the most tormenting thing, because nobody could tell what was true and what was false. „They were telling us not to drink water because it may be poisoned, that there were terrorists  shooting  everybody, we were so afraid a civil war would break out,” recounts Viorica.

And then on December 25, the things finally settled down. It was the Christmas day and after a short lawsuit, which was broadcasted on TV, Ceausescu and his wife were shot to death by a military squad.

Both Viorica and Ilie still remember the noise of the guns shooting at the Ceausescus, and still recall some images of Ceausescu and his wife lying on the ground and then in their coffins, dressed in their winters coats.

„Kids, kids, please behave, people, please” and „I refuse to talk to anybody else except for the Great National Assembly” were the words of Elena and Nicoale Ceausescu during the trial. Words that Ilie still recalls at the present tense. He thinks it was very wrong to kill them.
„First of all it was the Christmas day and you don’t do something like this on Christmas day. Secondly they were not alone, there were so many people beside them that should have been also judged and only afterwards a sentence to be passed,”  comments Ilie.

”It was suddenly all silence. I am being honest to you, I felt relief, I too was afraid a civil war would break out. I may be wrong, but I guess the majority wanted them killed. We felt they were bad people. Or maybe they made us believe that way through the images they were showing us on TV,” recounts Viorica.

New heroes were proclaimed or maybe proclaimed themselves that way. Ilie and Viorica were watching on TV how a new world was settling in. The Ceausescu trial, the foundation of the new party, the new leaders. Some of them were familiar. Most of the things that confused them and brought about fear in those days were never resolved. „Nothing could be proven. Everything remains a mistery,” comments Ilie.  Nobody has discovered any single terrorist. A few Army Commanders were prosecuted but almost everybody escaped. The people that talked in the central square of the small city Zalau did find a place in the new order.  And the TV got and more important with every day more.

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

(the two  main characters of this feature are the writer’s parents

The New Zealander Who Went Through Hell To Adopt

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By Diana Mesesan.

The New Zealander who went through post-communism hell twenty-five years ago to adopt a Romanian baby.

Adele wrote in her memoir, ”The Promise I Kept”; You wake up one morning to the sound of history knocking loudly, impatiently, persistently at your door. To answer it is to take a leap of faith into your future.

 

Adele Rickerby went through the hell of early post-communism to adopt a girl from Romania.

As the plane was flying over Brisbane, an Australian city set on a wide, beautiful river, one of the mothers gathered at the playgroup pointed out to the plane and told her little daughter: “We came on a plane like this one when we returned from Romania.”

The woman was one of Australians who adopted a kid from Romania in the early 90s. Several people living in Brisbane, whose kids were born in Romania, started a playgroup, so that the children would get together regularly. They’ve never kept it a secret from them that they were adopted.

Adele Rickerby, a New Zealander who moved to Australia after she got married, would also bring her daughter to these playgroups. She felt like she had a special bond with the couples that went through the same experience. They were an extended family for each other. For Adele, adopting a child from Romania was not an event from the past that simply went forgotten as years went by. Instead she would think every single day about her six weeks in Bucharest in the early spring of 1991, as she was struggling to adopt a baby girl. After she semi-retired, due to a surgery on her back, she found the peace and time to sit at a table and write down her thoughts. This is how “The Promise I Kept”, her book on adopting a baby girl from Romania, was born.

Romania allowed international adoptions until 2001, when it placed a moratorium on the practice. It officially banned these adoptions four years later. But even domestic adoptions go through only with great difficulty. Last year, only 840 children were adopted in Romania, despite that fact that the country had over 58,100 children in the special protection system at the end of March this year. The big problem lies in the complicated laws which define when a child is “adoptable.”

Adele Rickerby herself had to overcome a number of limitations to adopt the baby, she tells me during our first Skype discussion. Her voice is very warm and a bit nervous. It is the end of summer here in Bucharest, but the beginning of spring in Australia. Her Romanian-born daughter, who is now in her 20s, helped her install Skype. Adele laughed about it. “I have a reputation for being bad with technology.”

When Adele came to Romania to adopt the baby, after she had seen the terrible images of Romanians kids in orphanages, it was late winter. Bucharest, which had just come out of the Communism era, was gray and felt unsafe. Many kids were sold illegally in those early days of freedom, and the rumours about a moratorium were everywhere. Adele was afraid that she would not be able to get through with the adoption. But spring was slowly making its way.

April 1991: The winter train ride between Budapest and Bucharest

In April 1991, Adele Rickerby took the plane from Australia to Frankfurt. She had a luggage full of documents, which were necessary for the adoption. Back in Brisbane, she left her 6-year old daughter, which she hugely missed, and her husband. Their marriage was kind of falling apart. She was planning to take the plane from Frankfurt to Romania, but when she arrived in Germany, there were no free seats for that weekend. Instead of waiting a few days for the next flight, she booked a train from Germany, which passed through Austria, Hungary and then reached Romania. She had this strong sense of urgency, that she needed to get faster to Bucharest.

Everything went well through Germany and Austria. However, soon after the border with Hungary, Hungarian soldiers got on the train and asked for her passport. Then they ordered her off the train and threw her luggage out of the window. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and she didn’t wasn’t sure where she was.

Adele had no choice but to get off the train, and the train left without her. “I was just standing there in the afternoon, not knowing what was going on.” She went to the wooden train station and waited. Then a man who spoke English and was well-dressed approached her and told her that he was the local taxi driver. He could help her get a visa for Hungary, then take her to the train station in Budapest so she’d catch the same train. “We will get to the border and we will get a visa for you. The same train leaves Hungary at nine o’clock at night. I will make sure you are there on time,” the man told her. She then paid 350 dollars to this stranger to drive her across Hungary. She had the feeling that the man and the soldiers which got her off the train knew each other and were part of a scheme. But what could she do about it?

“I got in the taxi. It was getting dark and we started to drive through the back streets of this village. Where are we going, I asked him. I need to get petrol, he replied, which was fair enough. I had no choice but to trust him.” She sat in the back of the car. The man started talking about his wife and family, while Adele was looking out of the window. The Hungarian villages and town they were driving through looked particularly disheartening in the dim winter light. After she finished her nursing training in Australia, Adele did a lot of travelling around the continent with her husband. “I was like, I’ve done a lot of travelling, I can cope, but nothing could prepare me for the shock of Hungary and Romania.”

It was just getting darker and colder, but they made it and arrived at the railway station at Budapest. They found an empty carriage, the man threw her suitcases and her sleeping bag, and then he left. Within 15 minutes the train left too.

She spent all night just travelling the rest of the way into Bucharest. It was very dark, and every time the train passed through a little town, officials would get on the train, come to her carriage, look at her passport, at her visa, then go through her luggage, searching for contraband.

“We’d go through villages that were very poor; a light bulb in this village, a soldier with a rifle just walking on the platform. It was still a lot of snow on the ground, the end of winter; a peasant man’s jacket made out of of sheep’s skin.”

At about 8 o’clock, when the train was getting closer to Bucharest and Adele was tidying up her belongings, taking her sleeping bag off, three well-dressed man came into her carriage. One of them was an engineer for the railway station and was on his way to a meeting. He could speak English and asked her was what she doing there. “I said I was adopting a baby girl.”

She remembers the main saying: “Our country is poor, but our hearts are rich.” Then the train finally arrived at the Gara de Nord railway station. It was early in the morning.

May 1991: The promise
The only person Adele knew in Bucharest was a Catholic woman called Mihaela, who had hosted other couples from the US, New Zealand and Australia willing to adopt babies from Romania. Adele knew that going through the whole process would take about six weeks. The law gave the adoptive mother the opportunity to change her mind within this period. She was planning to do the adoption as a New Zealander, because the Australian Department of Immigration had rejected her request to adopt from Romania.

She phoned Mihaela, who was in holiday, but luckily hadn’t left Bucharest, so she picked Adele up from the railway station. After so many hours of uncertainty and fear, Adele felt desperate for a shower, a hot meal and conversation with English-speaking people. She found another couple from Australia in Mihaela’s house. Adele wrote in a diary during her six-week stay in Bucharest, describing her experiences. It later became the source of her book “The Promise I Kept.”

In those speculative days after the fall of communism, Romania had several people who worked as intermediaries between foreigners wanting to adopt kids and state institutions. Some were willing to intermediate sales of children. With 20,000 dollars one could buy a baby on the black market. Some were decent people, who spoke English and grabbed the opportunity to make some money. The man who helped Adele get through all the process was a doctor, who was well-educated and spoke English. She paid him a small fee. But these go-between persons weren’t the only ones asking for cash. Sometimes even the birth mothers would demand money, even if they had given up their children. However, Adele didn’t go through that. The mother of the girl she adopted was a very young girl herself, living in a small apartment in Ramnicu Valcea, with her parents, a brother and a sister. They had no money and no way of supporting the newly-born kid. It was also the stigma attached to being a single mother. Poverty and the blame passed on to single mothers forced many women to abandon their children during communism and afterwards.

Adele met the mother and her family in their apartment, where they had a meal. It was very emotional for both parts. Adele thinks that maybe the grandparents were even more distressed about the whole thing, because they understood the enormity of it, while the mother was still very young. But the girl did tell Adele that she wanted her daughter to have a future, so Adele promised her she’d give her daughter a future. “And that’s the promise I kept,” she said. “25 years later, the daughter is very beautiful, has a wonderful partner. She is a pharmacy assistant, and she has a lovely family and home.”

Then she met her future daughter, who was in an orphanage. A nurse held the baby up to the window. “She was four-month old and she was really cute,” Adele said. The judge, who had the final word on the adoption, said yes, and Adele finally had the little girl in her arms.

The Mother
One year after returning to Australia, Adele divorced and had to raise her two daughters by herself. “I had whole sentences that I wanted to write down, but I was really busy and I didn’t have the opportunity.” But two years ago, she had to give up work, due to a surgery on her back. She rented a little unit and went away by herself for several months to write her book. It was really difficult revisiting the whole experience, she said. “It was one stage where I couldn’t finish it. And I had to leave it for about 6 weeks before I ended it.”

After she finished the book, Adele was approached during book launches by Romanian adoptees, who didn’t understand why they were left and abandoned.

Several Romanian kids who were given for adoption are now trying to find their families. There are even Facebook groups, where they share their experiences. The media has immediately picked up the topic, searching for emotional stories. But for some of the adoptees, this can be a traumatic experience. They discover all sorts of terrible situations and they are tormented by the question of why they were given up for adoption. “They are trying to pull their lives together but in the meantime they also feel this burden of responsibility towards their birth families,” Adele said. Her own daughter was once approached by a newspaper interested in her experience. But she said no. “I’m not gonna do that so that they’re gonna have a story.”

Adele lives with her Romanian-born daughter, so she still gets to hear “Mom, can you do my washing?” or “What’s for dinner tonight, mom?”. The girl works a lot, but she has Fridays off and they go out and have coffee together. Her older daughter now lives in another city, but not too far away.

Adele shares a very close bond with the other adoptive couples from Brisbane. They’ve organized trainings about adoption, they’ve set up this playgroups for kids, they’ve spent Christmas together over the years. Adele was once talking with a couple from England, who also lived in Brisbane. “When do you get over Romania?” they asked themselves. “But you can’t get over Romania. You can’t have an experience like that and not change your life. You can’t live superficially,” Adele said.

Adele has now been living in Australia for 30 years. She is not very close to her family in New Zealand. “My mother died when I was not even 13. I don’t think we were close when we were growing up. I like to say that mothers have a glue that bind us together and when my mother died, the family fell apart. I think that’s the truth,” Adele says. Then she pauses for a while, and adds: “Maybe that’s why it meant so much to me to adopt a child. I know what it’s like not to have a mother.”

 

” The Promise I Kept” is available as a kindle edition from your Amazon.com store. https://www.amazon.com

 

Also available as a paperback from the Book Depository. https://www.bookdepository.com