Last week we started excerpts from the diary of one of our researchers who spent time working in a Romanian orphanage. Here's more.
The volunteer day in Bratca is split into two sections. We worked roughly from 10am-1pm, and then 3pm-5pm. These may seem, as has been pointed out to me since my return, short hours, but the work while not physically demanding, is emotionally draining and exhausting. In the mornings we would work with the children on the volunteer programme, especially Adam, Luci and Jeni who tend to work with one particular volunteer. In the afternoons,if the weather was good, we would take some of the more advanced and well-behaved children out for a walk and perhaps a treat. If it was not nice we would work in our art room and sensory room with them. If there were only a few volunteers working in the Spital (at one point there was only myself, Shell and Angie in Bratca) then we would often spend the afternoons working with the volunteer children as well.
Volunteers are given a rough list of children for them to work with, and are generally eased in by working with the 'easier' children first. Children like Adam, Lucian or Vlad, rather than those who tend to self abuse more and communicate less such as Jeni and Iolanda. It is common for children and volunteers to form special bonds, as I did with Adam, so there is a flexibility to the system, and Lucian who I originally worked with came to spend more time with Ruth, and later and more particularly with Celia. On my first afternoon I was introduced to Sebi, later to become my favourite little boy, as we took him and some of the other school children
for a walk by the river.
I spent my first couple of weeks in Bratca getting to know the children, the people, the life and the language. Living in Romania is profoundly different to living in the Western world. It is like stepping back in history to a time when the women are the homemaker, and the men are the dominant force in the sociey. Life in Bratca tends to depend on subsistence farming, and although there is some industry in the larger cities, the Romanian economy is slowly collapsing as the value of the Lei (currency) decreases against western currencys. So the prices go up, but the wages remain the same, and it is not uncommon to find people who long for the time of Ceaucescu when,although there was less to buy, the money had value and the country had standing abroad.
I began slowly to understand the life in Bratca, and the language and to form special bonds with certain children, particularly Adam. Later I came to work particularly with Iolanda, a little girl who used to spend all day in her cot with her hands tied up to stop her from hitting herself. A few years ago an aid worker was caught trying to smuggle Iolanda, then a fairly normal little girl, out of the country, and she was sent to Bratca and began to regress. He is now married to a Romanian girl and wants to adopt Iolanda. Carol had done a lot of work with Iolanda and she now spends all day with the other children, although she tends to isolate herself from them. She is also self-abusing less, although she still loves to womble around picking up rubbish. I began to work with her alongside Carol, and then by myself when Carol returned to England for a short holiday. She came to recognise me and run to me when I came to the holding
room to fetch her. She loves to wrap you around her to stop her from
self-abusing and she likes to paint - putting it everywhere she can.
Then there was Sebi, my little boy, who I fell in love with over a pair of red, kitten-heeled sandals...
We took Sebi out for a walk along with some of the other children about a week after I arrived in Bratca, and when we fetched him he was wearing a pair of red, kitten-heeled sandals that were of course far too big for him. However, he was immensely proud of his shoes, as the kids did not tend to have shoes at this time, and nothing of their own, and when he could not find one on our return he was distraught. So we searched for it high and low, eventually finding it in the toy box, and his delight was a treat to see. He put them on and trotted back to the Spital in them, a too small jumper and a pair of short tracksuit trousers that had lost the elastic and hung round his bum. But he was perfectly happy in the knowledge that he had his shoes back, and he was so adorable with it.