Thursday, April 28, 2011

Global Volunteers: The New Program

I got this information today in an email from Global Volunteers.  Since the closing of the Tutova clinic, the GV program has moved to Barlad where there will be different opportunities to serve.

First, Dr. Magdalena Cozma, director of Barlad's St. Nicholas Children's Hospital , has invited Global Volunteers to continue our work with at-risk children at her hospital. This is essentially the same work assignment as at Tutova -- holding, feeding and nurturing babies who need care. (As is so often the case, "when one door closes another one opens,"and some of the babies and toddlers on the other side of that door are from Tutova -- still counting on your love.) The children don't care that the door is different, just that you come through it!

Teaching Conversational . Volunteers are needed to teach conversational English to primary and middle school students during the school year at George Tutoveanu School and to middle and senior high students at English language summer camps. The focus is on conversation - visiting about everyday subjects and real-life situations so the students can increase their vocabulary and practice English language skills. While you'll teach in classrooms, during the summer camps students also enjoy taking volunteers out to show them highlights of their city, such as museums, live theater, zoo, and public garden -- providing additional opportunities to interact while speaking English. This is a great new opportunity for your companions who may not be interested in care giving assignments.

Third, if you enjoy working with your hands - repairing, painting and renovating buildings -- you're needed to help improve apartments at the Elena Farago Center. This is a rewarding opportunity to work alongside some of the residents and the local carpenters and handymen to make these homes more livable. What's more, we hope to establish a community garden project as our new partnerships progress so students and young adults can join the worldwide movement to understand and practice better nutrition choices.

You can also offer psychosocial support to teens and young adults for all or part of your volunteer assignment. The Elena Farago Center in Barlad cares for some 40 teens and young adults from age 12 to mid-20s. (Photo on top) Most of the residents are orphans, abused children, or from families too poor to care for them. About 10 percent have mental disabilities, and 20 percent are HIV positive or have AIDS, mostly contracted from blood transfusions. The residents live together in apartments, three to five per unit, with guidance from local staff. This is a great opportunity to help young boys and girls who are preparing for a productive and independent life. Initially, volunteers will befriend the residents by working with them on arts and craft projects, teaching how to cook nutritious meals, helping with homework, communicating in English, playing sports and more. We'll also tutor teens and young adults in conversational English at the Elena Farago Center, although teaching English will not be a full-time assignment at this facility.

Finally, if you have experience or interest in assisting children with autism and/or Down syndrome, you can serve at Barlad Center for Children with Disabilities. This is a multi-unit complex that cares for children with mental disabilities as well as those who are blind and deaf. This project can be a full-time or secondary project, splitting your work with one of the above primary projects.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gypsies, aka the Roma

As I learn more about Romania -- and it's like peeling a huge onion, with a seemingly infinite number of layers, trying to get to the core truth -- I am also learning more about the Gypsies, also known as the Roma.  I thought I'd share some of the things I am learning, as I learn it.

The Gypsies are a distinct ethnicity in Romania, and can generally be identified by their darker coloring and their shorter-than-average stature.  The Gypsies often dress differently too, the women often in long, colorful skirts.  The Romani are comprised of two subgroups:  the Roma and the Sinti.  The Roma are the Gypsies originating in Romania.

What really interests me is the treatment of the Gypsies in Romania.  I have recently learned that many of the schools in Romania are still ethnically segregated, with the Gypsies going to far inferior schools.  (Sound familiar?)

Here's some information from Wikipedia:
There is a sizable minority of Romani people in Romania, of 535,140 people or 2.46% of the total population (2002 census). The Roma are the most socially-disadvantaged minority group in Romania, even though there are a variety of governmental and non-governmental programs for integration and social advancement, including the National Agency for the Roma and Romania's participation in the Decade of Roma Inclusion. As an officially-recognised ethnic minority, the Romani people also have guaranteed representation in Parliament and official recognition of their language in localities where they make up more than 20% of the population.
Here's a little factoid that a friend in Romania sent to me:
An additional problem is that many Gypsy (Roma) do not have birth certificates (it's a pain in the neck here in Romania and even worse if you try to get one several months or years after the fact --  another long story, but suffice it to say that it doesn't work like it does in the U.S.).  The kids are not allowed to go to school because they don't have a birth certificate (i.e., they don't exist).  Here in Romania, the "paper" MAKES the reality; it doesn't just confirm the reality. And yes, that's the law. 
I think that's a fascinating -- and disastrous -- notion:  that documents make the reality, they don't just confirm it.  So if you don't have a birth certificate, you don't exist.  You can imagine the problems that could create in this modern era, for people who live as much outside the system as they can.

I am of course thinking about how all this will affect Ion, the three year old Gypsy.  As mentioned before, adoption is impossible, even if someone wanted him, he's not going to get a foster family because of his ethnicity.  I wonder what the future holds for him in terms of education, etc.

Right now he's being bounced around.  Last week he was in the CPS home for disabled children, then he was moved to the Barlad Children's Hospital.  Yesterday he was sent back to the home for disabled children, along with Alina, Ionut, and Cristi.  And remember, Ion is NOT disabled, and he's not sick.  He doesn't belong in either the home or the hospital, but there is nowhere else to put him.  <<sigh>>

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

International Adoptions

A lot of people have asked me if it is possible to adopt a child from Romania.  Sadly, the answer is no.  International adoptions were banned in 2007, and the government has been vehement about affirming that ban.

Perhaps even more sadly, domestic adoption is rare in Romania, probably because of a procedure that can make it all but impossible.

I asked a contact in Romania whether it is true that, even with domestic adoptions, family members have to consent, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and attest that they do not want the child.  Here's his answer:

"Yes it is true. Also, the biological parents MUST show up in court (when and if they can be found) to give their personal consent at each stage of the adoption process (there are essentially 3 stages) and can decide to say, 'No!' at any one of those stages (including the final one). This requirement holds even for any person who has been 'stripped' of their parental rights, even if they don't want the child and have abandoned him. The family (and particularly the bio parents) retain the right to say, 'No!' to the child being adopted."

So, in short, international adoption is impossible, and domestic adoption is virtually impossible, even for children who have been abandoned and/or whose parent have had their rights terminated due to neglect or abuse, and even when there is nobody else in the world who wants that child.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hristos a inviat!

At midnight the bells began ringing, and I could hear some even out here at the airport.

The television is showing scenes from the Patriarhia Romana in Bucharest and the Manastirea Sucevita in Moldova (where I want to go next trip to Romania), as well as the basilica and churches in Constanta, Brasau, and elsewhere in Romania.

The priests are moving among the thousands and thousands of people standing outside the churches and light their individual candles from large candles, while other priests sing the Mass.

For the remainder of the Holy Season, instead of the usual greetings (good morning, etc.), Romanians will say "Hristos a Inviat" to which the person will respond "Adevarat a Inviat" --

"Christ is risen"
"Indeed He is risen."

Easter In Romania: Sarbatoarea Invierii Domnului (Google-translate it!)

I don't have any pictures to share, but I thought I'd say a word about Easter in Romania.  It's really quite interesting.

Easter here is like Christmas and New Years combined at home.  Church services start on Friday, and the bells ring throughout the afternoon.  Most people go to church briefly on Friday, and Saturday is spent preparing an elaborate feast for that evening and Sunday.

On Saturday, the big moment is at midnight, but most people show up at the church at eight o'clock or so.  If you want to get inside, however, you had better plan on arriving around two o'clock.  Notice I didn't say "get a seat inside," just "get inside" -- there are no seats in a Romanian Orthodox church (which is what perhaps 95% of the people belong to).

Prior to going to church, most of the food will have been prepared, except the eggs, which have been boiled but which will be dyed just before the family leaves for the church.

At midnight the celebrations start in earnest.  The bells ring, and people head to the cemetery to visit relatives' gravesites and celebrate their resurrection.

Teenagers are allowed to stay out and party throughout the evening, though of course excessive carousing is frowned upon.  (I was told that this tradition of letting the young people stay out and party started during Communist days, when there were so few outlets for the young people and so few ways for them to have fun.)

I am watching the TV now, at 11:36pm Romanian time, and the major stations all have live coverage of the scene in front of various Orthodox holy places, including Patriaria Romana, Catedrala St. Josif, and the basilica in Moscova, in split screen.  It's like the New Year's Eve countdown, where they show you the scene at Times Square and elsewhere in the world as people wait for the clock to strike midnight.

After the gravesite visit, the family returns home to crack open the eggs.  The person whose egg has the strongest shell will live the longest, so the family makes sure a child gets that egg.  They eat the bread, the name of which I've forgotten, but which is kind of a babka.

Sunday it's back to church and then back home for more eating and celebrating.

The whole weekend shows you the centrality of religion and family in the lives of most Romanians, and it's very interesting, and touching . . .

11:47pm and counting . . .

Barlad Children's Hospital -- equipment and supplies

The staff at the Barlad Children's Hospital is, almost without exception, very kind and caring, and they work with very limited supplies and outmoded equipment.  They have some strange ideas -- drafts cause fever, that kind of thing -- but they do their best to keep the place clean and comfortable.

Below are some pictures of the rooms and equipment.

"Salon Urgente"
(Intensive Care Unit)

Typical bed in a typical room

Nurses' Station

The babies are fed herbal tea between bottles of formula, if they're
hungry; note that the bottles are glass.  These bottles are only
half-full because they are for Delia Ayana, Gabriela, and Ana Maria,
all newborns

One thing I don't have a picture of is the lunch room.  Mothers generally stay with their children while they are hospitalized, and at mealtime everyone troops down to the ground floor where they are served for lunch and dinner, on a typical day, soup, chicken, mashed potatoes, bread and water.  No special diets; everyone eats the same thing, from what I could see.  The mothers sit at four long tables with their children on their laps and feed them while they chat with the other mothers.  It's really very cozy.

Another child, another Delia

Global Volunteers employs Dan and Mihaela as our "country leaders" here in Romania.  Dan and Mihaela have a seven year old daughter, Delia, and she is just a delight.  She's beautiful, funny, and very stylish, as you can see from these photos.  (She also speaks a little English.)

Other Children in the Hospital

While here I have had the pleasure of meeting other Romanian children in the Barlad Children's Hospital, besides the children we serve.


I am not sure that I am spelling this boy's name correctly, but I think his name is Iolani.  He was so helpful in the Tutova rooms, playing with the children, chasing the more active ones down the hall, etc.  He spoke a little English, and is just a lovely young man.  I think he's about fourteen years old.

Katirini & Iolani

After a couple of days an older boy started showing up in the Tutova rooms, ostensibly to check on Iolani, but I think because he wanted to help with the children too, if only to pass the time.  There is absolutely nothing for these children to do in the hospital:  no television, no video games, no board games, nothing.  Mostly they just lie in their beds staring at the ceiling, so the chance to chase a three year old down the hall, or hold an infant, doesn't look like such a bad deal!

The Tutova rooms are on the same hallway with the Psychiatric ward and the Neurology ward, and I am not sure which ward these boys were with.  (They didn't look like either psychiatric or neurology patients!)

I thought it was interesting that all the psychiatric and neurology patients, except Nadia, were gone by Thursday afternoon, presumably to spend the Easter weekend at home.  They have an amazing cure rate here!  :)

Friday, April 22, 2011


With the exception of Raul and the newborns Delia, Ana-Maria and Gabriella, our children are on the 3rd floor of the Barlad Children's Hospital (which is really the fourth floor, because the ground floor doesn't count).  Each floor of the hospital has a balcony, as you can see in this picture:

The weather has been just beautiful this week/  I am something of a fresh-air fiend, and that, plus the thought of these kids trapped inside this non-airconditioned hospital all summer, gave me what I thought was a brilliant idea:  let's turn the balcony into an outdoor playroom!  It's plenty big, and we could put plastic netting, the kind you see at construction sites, inside the railing so no one could fall out, or throw anything out.  (I am thinking of you, Ion!)

Who could possibly go wrong with this idea?  But to be sure, I brought some of the interlocking rubber mats that we had bought for the playroom out to the balcony, to help me think it through.

I had no sooner laid out the mats than one of the nurses came rushing out, to make it clear to me, though neither of us spoke the other's language, that this was not acceptable.  She brought me into the office of an English-speaking doctor so she could explain it to me.

You see, Romania has been known to have earthquakes, and Barlad is on a fault line.  If there is an earthquake, the first part of the hospital to collapse would be the balconies, and no one would expect the children to be there, so no one would save them.

See, each of the rooms has a large circle on the door so that emergency personnel, in the event of an earthquake, know exactly what to do:  green means the kids in this room are mobile and you just have to send them toward an exit, red means the kids are non-mobile and must be carried, and yellow means there is a mixture of both.  At the exits other teams of emergency personnel will meet the children and calmly walk them to designated safe areas.

Gee, what could possibly go wrong with this plan?  Well, Nadia -- the completely bedridden 15 year old with (apparently) muscular dystrophy, who can't even wiggle a toe -- has a green circle on her door.

And as long as we are talking about safety measures, how about not locking the doors from the inside, with a key, so that they can't be opened from either the inside or the outside unless someone can find the key, which they often can't?  (There are no "panic bars" here.)  Because that happens all the time here.  In fact, my teammates were locked in the other day and had to wait for someone to return with the key before they could get out of the third floor.

So my beautiful balcony play yard idea has to be scuttled, and if we want to get the kids some fresh air, we'll just have to haul them down from the fourth floor -- remember, no elevators! -- along with their strollers, toys, etc.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Raul's New Wheels

Because of his skin disease, Raul is being kept in "isolation" at the Barlad Children's Hospital ("isolation" being a relative term:  the refrigerator for all the mothers staying with their sick babies is in his room, so they are trooping in and out of the "isolation" room all day).

And because we can't put him on the floor, Raul is either flat on his back in his crib (he can't sit unassisted yet), or on a volunteer's lap in the rocking chair.  I thought that Raul needed to be upright more often, and also that he needs to be able to see what's going on out in the hallway (he's a very curious little guy).

So I bought him a new walker last night, and he really loves it!  We didn't put the wheels on -- he couldn't push it by himself, but we're not taking any chances -- but I park it right inside his doorway, and he can watch everyone go past his room as he plays with the toys on the tray.

Reunited and it feels so good . . .

Sinatra & Martin . . . Hope & Crosby . . . McCartney & Lennon . . . and Ion & Petre.  

Petre, Ion, & Andreea, at Tutova, January 2011

Like so many of history's great partnerships, they were cruelly ripped apart by fate.  After the clinic closed earlier this month, Petre was sent home to his parents, and Ion was sent to the center for disabled children in Barlad.

Fast forward to today, and a joyous reunion at the Barlad Children's Hospital.  Ion had been moved to the hospital last week, and Petre came in today to see the doctor.  And when they saw each other, the old magic was back!

Ion was so happy he kissed Petre right on the lips, and then Petre gave Ion a big hug.  It just about brought tears to my eyes.  (Remember, these little guys are just two years old!)

But, sadly, they were not at the hospital for happy reasons.  When Petre was sent home to his parents last week, we all feared for him.  Sure enough, he was taken into custody earlier this week, apparently for neglect; both his parents are alcoolics and mentally ill.  He is now being kept at the center for abused and neglected children, pending placement with a foster family.  He is being fast-tracked for foster placement as an emergency case, so he was at the hospital for a medical evaluation.

Ion is now residing at the hospital, because he is not disabled (except for an allegedly-repaired heart condition), so it wasn't appropriate to keep him at a home for disabled children, most of whom are profoundly disabled.

Ion is not being fast-tracked for foster placement like Petre, however.  In fact, Ion is not considered "placeable" in a foster family at all . . . because he is a Gypsy.
(Note:  Petre and Ion's friend Andreea had found a foster family immediately after the clinic closing.)

Highs and Lows: Nadia and Paola

The time I spent with these two girls shows the wide swing between really connecting with a child, and  somehow not connecting at all.


Nadia is bedridden, horrifically thin, and utterly tragic.  I have been sitting with her for parts of each day, and I can't tell what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong.  It seems that if I stroke her face and head and talk softly to her, she's pleased.  But I seem to have hurt her somehow too.

Today I brought her another lollipop, and she seemed to enjoy it for maybe a minute, but then she started crying, and Nadia crying is terribly heartbreaking.  She makes a low wailing sound, and her face contorts like she is crying, but there are no tears.  I tried comforting her, but that only seemed to make it worse for her.  I was so upset that I couldn't do anything for her, and may in fact have made her unhappy.  I really don't know what to do.


In contrast, Paola surprised me by being affectionate, interactive, and funny.  Paola doesn't speak, and at Tutova she was always difficult.  She'd grab the hand of an adult and pull in the direction she wanted to go.  Sometimes she would try out each crib before she found the one she wanted.  So I had little interaction with Paola, because she didn't seem at all interested in me, and because her behavior made me want to avoid her.

But Paola has somehow been transformed since I last saw her in January.  She's much less volatile and seems happy, and, to my amazement, was downright physically affection with me.  I spent about an hour just blowing kisses into her hand, which fascinated her, and she even sat on my lap and kissed me on the cheek and rested her head on my shoulder!  I didn't think Paola was capable of affection but now I see I was wrong.  In any event, it was so nice to really connect with her.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Bathrooms of Barlad

Few things concern American travelers more than the bathrooms at their destinations.  I have therefore assembled this little photo essay on the bathrooms of Barlad.

Bathroom in our room at the Hotel Occident
(by the way, I found out what that smell is, and it's not backed-up sewers;
it's the high sulphur content of the water.  So I bought some air freshener, and we're fine.)

First floor bathroom in the Children's Hospital:
old but adequate
(sorry I don't know how to turn pictures around!)

Sinks this morning in the hospital first floor bathroom
(but they were fixed later in the day)

Third floor bathroom
(employee lounge?)

The Third-Floor Bathroom, aka the "Squatty Potty"


I spent a good part of the day with Raul, the boy with Epidermolysis Bullosa, a condition in which the skin is as delicate as a butterfly's wings, and peels off at the slightest touch.  People with EB develop open sores, lesions, and blisters all over their bodies.

There are five levels of EB.  Raul's twin apparently had the most lethal level, because she died in infancy.  Raul apparently does not, because he is still alive, at 18 months of age.  EB is incurable, though there is a clinical trial involving bone marrow transplantation at the Colorado Children's Hospital, and one of my teammates is hoping to get Raul a medical visa and bring him there.

In the morning Coca, a nursing aide from the Tutova Clinic, came to the Barlad Children's Hospital to show the staff how to change Raul's bandages.  It's an arduous process that can be incredibly painful for Raul, but it has to be done every day, and done right, because of the possibility of infection.

Since he hadn't had a bath in at least a week, Coca decided to give him a bath too, and show the hospital staff how to do that.  Only one nurse's aide showed any real interest in learning how to bathe Raul and bandage him, but we are hoping that Coca will come on staff at the hospital so she'll be there for Raul.

The blisters have to be popped with a hypodermic needle, and lots of salve and ointment applied, before the bandages are applied.

I am not going to show the more grisly pictures here, but suffice it to say that this poor little guy has nasty sores all over his body, including one large  open sore that covers most of the right side of his abdomen, front and back.

After the bath and bandage-changing, Raul took a nap.  In the afternoon I took him for a walk in the hallway, because he is so bored.  He's a very intelligent child, but in the hospital he's only allowed out of his crib if he's on someone's lap in the rocking chair.  It's really not a great life for an active, intelligent 18 month old.  So when we got to the end of the hallway, I thought, I am taking him out on the balcony, so he can watch the world go by.

I had a blanket with me, but when my teammates saw where we were, they brought out a hat and a fleece jacket.  The Romanians sincerely believe that a draft can give you a cold and kill you, and they didn't want the staff to get upset with me for taking Raul outside, even though it was a lovely spring day and he was wrapped in a blanket.  But the staff were all very kind, and said they know he's a very intelligent boy who needs some stimulation.

This is what he got to see . . . .

La Revedere, Celine

As many of you know, I had hoped to bring Celine to the USA for treatment and therapy.  She has spina bifida, and I had located a doctor at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia who was willing to work for free or for a greatly reduced rate.

You may also recall that Larisa, Celine's mother, was initially enthusiastic about the idea, but chilled considerably after her Cold Warrior grandmother went to work on her, telling her not to trust "filthy Americans," and after the rest of the family convinced her that they would help her get Celine the care she needed right in Romania.  Never mind that all these people had ignored Celine's very existence for the entire three years she's been alive; now they are going to take care of everything, in a country that has little to offer a child in Celine's condition.

Larisa had taken Celine to Bucharest for more tests on April 4th (something that wasn't even contemplated until I said I'd pay for everything).  We hadn't heard anything about Celine since then, and with the Tutova clinic now closed, we were all anxious to learn where she was, whether she had gone home with Larisa or to a CPS facility, etc., so I asked Mihaela to call Larisa.

Mihaela did call her today, and Larisa said that Celine was home with her, where Larisa lives with her grandparents and some cousins, and that she was keeping her home and would take care of everything herself.  

Mihaela said Larisa made it clear that she didn't want help from any of us, and that Larisa was practically rude.  This is such a drastic turn-about from when Larisa and I first talked, when she was warm, cheerful, and enthusiastic.

I am heartbroken.  I love that kid, and it's really hard to know that I will likely never hear anything about Celine.  Please pray that she does well, and that her mother can give her everything she deserves.

 La Revedere, Celine.