Girl painting with watercolours at the nursery school in Bucuresti, Bucharest, Romania…
An interesting tale from SOS Children's Village Bucharest, and a story from SOS Children's Village Kandalaksha in Russia
Girl painting with watercolours at the nursery school in Bucuresti, Bucharest, Romania
Three years ago SOS Children's Villages Romania first started to offer families support in the capital Bucharest. Up to now the programme has assisted over 200 children in 60 families. This is a story of two families who not only benefited from the programme, but also helped others in need of assistance.
Staying together and giving back
On the outskirts of Bucharest, in the slumbers of sector one, Fortuna had long forgotten to spin her wheel upwards. Drowning in trash and rubble, many a family had lost hope in a better tomorrow fighting for mere survival day by day. In 2004 SOS Children's Villages slowly began pushing Fortuna's rusty wheel forward.
Helped family become helpers
In her late thirties, Alina appears older than she really is. Nine childbirths and eighteen years under the leaking roof of her two-room home wrinkled the face and soul of this mother. Her husband, Nicolae, with four classes of primary school as education, is bent under the strain of manual labour which he performs for a poor day's wage in the heat and in the cold. Nicolae and Alina Davidescu* have nine children aged one to 17.
Leaky roofs above, rock bottom below
For a very long time the family has lived off the miserable salaries Nicolae would bring home. Alina took care of the children and the shabby household. The rusty stove was the only source of heat but only in the freezing months. They had to save the low amount of wood gathered during the summer.
One day, the roof in one of the rooms cracked making it impossible for the children to sleep and do their homework there any longer. The few young Davidescus who did attend school stopped going relieved for a moment that the verbal abuse and contempt from their peers had come to an end. The girls much rather stayed at home helping their mother with the housework, while the boys left the house at the crack of dawn looking for work together with their father.
The first encounter
SOS Children's Villages first came into the life of the Davidescus in 2004 through the recommendation of the Child Protection Department of Bucharest's Sector 1. "The situation we encountered was alarming," says Marcela, the programme's coordinator. "Eight children, the father and the then pregnant mother all cramped in one room covered in dirt.
Among their peers, the children were stigmatized as unworthy because of being poor. None of the school-age children attended school. Their last results were very poor. The smaller ones didn't go to kindergarten. Other children stayed away from the Davidescus or made abusive remarks regarding their dirty smelly clothes. The critical family immediately became beneficiary of the family strengthening programme.
Basic needs first
"We began with material support of food and hygienic supplies and started counselling for the parents," continues Marcela. "We managed to convince the father not to take the boys with him to work anymore and agreed to send them back to school in a short time. Through donations we supplied them with second hand clothes and footwear. The two family doctors who are partners in the programme performed medical checks and ensured the necessary medications for the ones who needed them."
Marcela and Adina, the second social worker of the programme, advised and assisted Nicolae with finding a new job through the local employment agency. Shortly after, he was employed as a night guard in a local company. This brought an unexpected problem to the troubled family. Nicolae would come home in the mornings tired, so the children had to tiptoe around the one room and the small yard to let their father have his rest. Something had to be done about that second room. But, funds were short.
New roof, new hope
In agreement with Nicolae and Alina, Marcela invited a popular magazine to do a story on the Davidescus. As a result, people immediately started to offer assistance. One local construction company provided material for mending the ceiling and improving the conditions in general. By autumn of 2004, the Davidescus had their home in good shape. "When we visited them after the construction was finished, we found the home in a completely new light," says Marcela. "They have cleaned and varnished the rooms, the place looked like a real home, modest, but a home."
That autumn all the school-going Davidescus went back to class with new books from the school and stationery provided through donations. The younger ones were enrolled in a state kindergarten through a social assistance programme for the poor of which the parents had never heard before. "Completing two big goals didn't mean that the case was closed. Apart from the regular evaluations, through the counselling we began teaching them to economize their income," continues Marcela.
Savings buy a washing machine
At that time, the food and hygienic packages were replaced with social tickets in the value of 35 lei [app. ten Euros] which the beneficiaries could exchange at one supermarket chain. "We were concerned that the beneficiaries, not just the Davidescus, would not use the tickets properly, so at first we asked for the receipts or accompanied them in their shopping. We taught them to buy their monthly supplies in bulk and pointed to discounted items. That way they could make savings and later purchase an item of greater need."
For the Davidescus an item of greater need was a washing machine. For years Alina did the laundry by hand in the freezing outdoors often assisted by her older daughters. In one year's time, with enough savings the Davidescus could afford their very own washing machine. "Her ninth and youngest was just a baby then," remembers Marcela. "The look of happiness on Alina's face when she saw the washing machine being installed I will never forget."
Back on their feet
During 2006, the Davidescus showed good signs of being back on their feet. The eldest boy finished primary school and found a steady job making an additional contribution to the family budget. "His options are still limited with the education he has, but he still has much better chances of finding better work than manual labour," explains Marcela.
Just about that time the family doctor began discussing family planning with Nicolae and Alina. Despite his efforts and the reality they were aware of, both Nicolae and Alina refused the suggested use of birth control for religious reasons. "Of course, we all respected their decision, but asked Alina to let her older girls attend family planning counselling. Surprisingly, she did and even contributed positively by talking to them at home," says Marcela.
Extending a helping hand
Near the end of 2006, the Davidescus filled in a self-evaluation questionnaire where they stated their opinion of the programme. "We read nothing but positive things," adds Marcela with a smile. "They stated how the programme helped them build self-confidence, taught them how to claim their rights and find their way in the complicated system. They were thankful immensely and at the end wrote that they feel they can carry on by themselves and were willing to help others who go through similar problems like theirs."
The Davidescus' file was closed in December 2006. Still that one note at the end remained in Marcela's mind. "One Friday in March 2007 I got a call from the Child Protection Department asking for help for one single mother who had just given birth to her fourth child. She wanted to abandon her child at the hospital and was considering finding alternative care for the remaining three. She told them she could not care for three children and a baby in the dirty shabby shack she was living in."
Knowing the relatively stable financial situation of this single mother, the social workers were certain that she would never abandon her children. But, they were afraid that she was going through a difficult postpartum period in which she could make a decision she'd later regret.
Marcela hung up the phone promising to call back and went to visit the Davidescus. "I explained the case and before I even asked for their help, they offered to go over to her house to clean it top to bottom, mend whatever needs mending and wash the sheets and blankets." The next day the entire family was there. They spent the weekend working hard, managing to bring the woman's house in a decent order.
When the mother got out of the hospital she couldn't believe her eyes. "She was crying with joy," says Marcela. "She said that what the Davidescus had done gave her hope and that she was not going to give up her children. Alina and Nicolae kept contact with her and began teaching her what we taught them. They helped her with applications for child welfare, baby registration, family doctors, pre-school education, economizing..."
A portrait of a girl in her room at the SOS Children's Village Tiquipaya Cochabamba, Bolivia.
In Bolivia, the reasons for abandonment can somehow differ from region to region. This is the case of a little baby girl - now living at SOS Children's Village Cochabamba-Jordán - who was neglected the chance to have a mother and a family due to the rather unfair traditions practiced in her community.
The baby was born in a small, poor rural town of the Andes. By then, her father was a 65-year-old widower and her mother, a young 17-year-old woman. Soon, the age gap between the man and the woman raised concern in the community and the father of the child was accused of having abused the young woman. However, nobody could establish the guilt. Anyhow, the community gathered together to make justice.
"Communitarian Justice" is a very common practice in the Andean region. Usually, it is the "Jilakata" (a rural authority named for a year) who is called to solve the conflict. Often, offenses which are not so serious are compensated with moral sanctions or paid back with communitarian work. The serious ones, though, are punished by exile.
This time, there was an agreement. The mother would take care of the child for a year, and then the baby would become the father's entire responsibility. Additionally, the father had to make amends to the young lady with two llamas and a lamb for the family.
When the baby turned one, the mother gave her to the father, despite his asking the mother to keep the baby. Attaching herself to the agreement, she refused his plead, and so did her family.
Facing the situation and holding the baby in his arms, the old man moved to the city, looking for a way to cover their basic needs. Living in the city was much harder than he thought, though. The father and the little girl slept on the streets for several days, begging for charity. A man saw them and sympathized. He took them to his house, in a very poor suburban neighborhood, and offered him a job, selling "tostado" (roasted beans). This way, he was able to earn some money to survive.
While the father was out during the day, there was an old woman from the neighborhood who took care of the little girl. Some other times, the little girl stayed with the landlord's children. She was two already and used to eat a little bread with tea and, from time to time, rice or noodles alone. She was terribly undernourished, so one day she felt ill.
In the face of their destiny, they fortunately came across another person who also extended them a hand of support. She was an "SOS co-worker" from Cochabamba, the person who brought them to SOS Children's Village Cochabamba-Jordán and facilitated the little girl's admission in the organization.
Today, the little girl lives under the protection of the organization. In this place, the little girl found the committed care and love of an SOS mother, some brothers and sisters of different ages, and the coziness of a house: all in one, an SOS family. The biological mother has never showed up. Only the father, in spite of his age, is the one who never forgets to visit his beloved daughter in the village. That is great for her, because, in this way, she keeps in touch with her roots and the love of her father.
* SOS Children's Villages is convinced that maintaining ties to family members is crucial when it comes to a child's well being and promoting his/her further development if the SOS child still has natural parents and/or close relatives and if there are positive emotional connections between the SOS child and his/her relatives. This is why we support SOS children in keeping in touch with their relatives.