The Romanian Scene – Christmas 1998

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Copyright: Credit: Mike Abrahams / Alamy Stock Photo

As promised, I’m keeping you in touch with the Romanian scene.  Apologies for the long delay.  It takes me a long time to be able to put what I saw I heard on paper.  Even after been there, I find it difficult to convince myself that I’m not dreaming – it is all so different from, our world!.

I went out to visit there, last July and each time Romania shows me a different ‘face’.  The weather was beautiful – temp 30′ +.

This time I was met at the airport in a vanette – paid for by Irish money.  This is used to collect some street-children each morning.  Some are too small to make their way to the, shelter’.  They are as young as 4 months old, with no one to care for them.  Most of the very young ones live in the sewers as it is safe there.  Because the weather was so warm some were sleeping outdoors.  The night before I returned home, a few of us went out to a cafe and on our way home we passed by some little ones, sleeping on the footpaths.  Even though it was a beautiful night, there was something terribly wrong about it all.

Thanks to you, we have bought a site to build a proper ‘shelter’ for these children.  Presently they are in a rented one, paid by Irish money – again – for 6 months and we will have to rent it for another 6. Three weeks ago, I was speaking to John Nolan, a builder (New Ross), who had just returned from there.  He told me that we have erected a concrete safety fence, around this site and the plans are been ‘drawn up’.  The original plans wouldn’t suit, due to the earthquake tremors, which occur there.  We hope to have planning permission for the ‘shelter’ by Feb./March – life moves painfully slowly in Romania.  We will be collecting / buying the materials as their own are inferior.  So many of these children die each winter, from beatings; cold; hunger; suffocation in the sewers and accidents.  The survivors survive!

Creator: Mike Abrahams | Credit: Mike Abrahams

Of course, I went to visit my little friends in Gradinari orphanage – 200 there now. The children I worked with and knew so well are now 9 – 16 years of age.  Some have learned to walk and are being taught movement to music, etc. others are just sitting there, on the floor, or wherever, rocking backwards and forwards, all day.  Sad to say, there are still some in their cots or lying on mats – these cannot sit up – not even move.  I found a 9 – year – old, child, whom I had cared for so much, lying on his right side.  As I bent down to lift him up a, gush of black liquid shot from his mouth.  The ‘carer’ told me he was very ill.  We called Dr. Rodice (a very good lady)’ who told us he was going to hospital.  Two “carers” just took him by the head and feet, carried him out and put him into the back of a van.  Dr. Rodice told me that she had little medicine and not even one syringe and due to the heat etc., a lot were ill.  We left there soon afterwards, as friends who were with me couldn’t bear the stench anymore and had gone outside.  I didn’t bother to tell them that life is wonderful for them now compared to when we (volunteers) went there in Oct.’92. To be honest with you, I don’t know what makes sense any more but I cannot give up on them.

The following day, we drove to another orphanage, near Bacon.  This too, is home to 200 + boys and girls, aged 13 – 18 years.  There weren’t any volunteers there and Comber was asked to help.  The authorities there knew we were coming, so all was ready!!

We were escorted around by a young Romanian girl, who spoke English well.  She showed us approximately 100 children.  My friends asked me to ask her ‘where were the others?’. I declined, as we – the Comber organisation – were hoping to move in soon afterwards – we didn’t want to cause any problems.  Who knows where they were! – the same story in most orphanages, you will be glad to know that since then, we have installed heat and painted some of the rooms.  We may be asked to help with the food there, at least they will have some small comforts this winter

From there we went to the mental institution for adults, which I had been told about.  The journey there was ‘weird’.  We drove for miles – through the woods – even the trees seemed like monsters.  Then we came to a ‘clearing’ we were lost!  There were two women talking and we asked them for directions.  Even the look on their faces, as they directed us seemed strange.  It was like driving into another world.  Eventually, we came on a huge building, on a hillside, surrounded by a high wall.

After introducing ourselves to a ‘gateman’, he let us through.  The initial scene is a blur.  We were advised to drive around the back, for safety. I will only tell you a little about the place; it is home to 690 men and women Some were dressed-in rags, some not dressed at all.  Two of Mother Teresa’s Sisters work there and they took us up to there little ‘treehouse’-Soon afterwards, the only doctor in this institution arrived- a lady.  She is there because her husband is ill and because they haven’t any medicine, he is going a ‘little crazy’.  He will probably end up there and she wants to be there, to take care of him. Her main occupation is performing abortions.  They showed us through the building.  We counted approximately 100 beds.  The others sleep on straw – if they have some.  This is cleaned out – whenever.  There are other scenes that I saw that day. 1 cannot tell you or anyone else – about – it would be betrayal.  Please understand.  We left, we managed to dance around, outside, with some of them – to music they had blaring through the window.  It was all so unreal. I think I saw hell, last summer, in the sunshine, I don’t believe I will ever find sense in this world anyone.

For these unfortunate adults, I’m afraid we cannot do anything.  For the moment, 1 don’t even want to think of them – just that they come before my eyes fairly often.  Last week, I was told that due to lack of funds, we would have to ‘cut’ our (Comber) financial – food help from $500 per month to $250. I was shocked into reality, when I heard this. 1 told them (Comber) not to do this, – that I would help.  Also, we (Heart to Hand), hope to take food to the street – children in the ‘shelter’.  Unfortunately, we will not be able to take anything to the children in Bacau, it is too far away and the weather will be bad – down to -15 and snow. I often wonder and think about them – are they sleeping, are they cold, are they hungry? (On a little personal note – I get so tired when thinking or trying to write about these children. I have moments of near despair and wonder is there any sense, but deep down, 1 know that they are depending on me).

I’m going there again on Dec. 23 – Jan. 4. This Christmas, like the others, I hope to help feed them – and Dec. 24 and 25, to take each of the ‘little ones’, in my arms for 10 – 15 minutes.  This is the Christmas present I take from Ireland.

1 wonder if you could help me to help them?  Thanks very much to those who raised funds during the past few years – those who couldn’t or didn’t know their story, maybe you might consider a little this time.  Every little adds to a lot.  Who knows maybe someday you may see these children.  From the moment I looked at them I can never look away.

Thanks for listening again to part of their story.

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About this record

Written by Sr Imelda Walsh

Published here 19 Apr 2023 and originally published Christmas 1998

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