Girl standing on swing, playing children in the background at…
A little girl playing at SOS Children's Village Bucharest, Romania.
A little girl playing at Children's Village Bucharest, Romania.
As well as an SOS Children's Village to care for children who would otherwise be in a horrible situation, SOS Bucharest also offers support to keep families together. I have found a heart warming story from two families being supported, who not only benefited themselves, but also helped others. To start though, here is a fact about the family support. Romania began family support in the capital Bucharest and up to now the support has helped over 200 children in 60 families. Now here is the story:
The families Ciobanu and the Dinu* have both been part of the family support of SOS Children's Villages Romania since 2005 and 2004 respectively. Their life stories entwined a year ago at the intervention of the social workers of the programme.
The Ciobanus have always been a quite modest family who seldom asked for help. The parents, father Radu and mother Maria, are deeply religious people who raised their eight children in strict accordance with the bible. The family hit rock bottom in the early years of this century, but never told anyone.
"We first learned of the Ciobanus through the Child Protection Department of Bucharest," explains Marcela, the programme's coordinator. One of their neighbours was so shocked with how the Ciobanus lived that he went to the department to report the case and ask them to help the family. He said that the ten-member-family was eating nothing but stew made of wheat grains which they crumbled at home.
Marcela and Adina, her colleague social worker of the programme, were equally shocked when they walked into the front yard of the large family. "Radu, the father, is a carpenter, but has never been employed. Instead he used his humble collection of worn-out tools to make small furniture and other wooden items at orders. His workshop was in fact the living room where most of the children slept."
The other room was the kitchen and ancillary room for the parents and the younger children. "Saw dust, splinters and spikes covered the room from floor to ceiling. The furniture was covered with sheets they'd take off at night, but dust remained in the air no matter how long they left the windows open," Marcela explains.
Like in many families in the programme, the older boys worked with the father and the girls helped the mother with the household. None went to school. "The first thing we did when they became beneficiaries was to convince Radu and Maria to let the children go back to school," says Marcela. "The school books for primary education are given by the state free of charge. We helped with stationary and second-hand clothes." The family also received monthly value tickets for food and soap and other cleaning supplies and regular counselling.
"We urged Radu and Maria to take the children to one of the family doctors" continues Marcela. "He did thorough check-ups and prescribed treatments for several of the children. Together we managed to procure the necessary medicaments free of charge and register the children for the monthly benefit of 25 lei provided to each child in Romania."
"It was obvious we had to do something about Radu's working conditions since on the one hand he needed to continue working and bring the sole income of the family, but on the other hand the dirty room was a serious threat to the children's health." Due to lack of funds, Marcela and Adina began a small fundraising campaign by sending letters to different companies asking for help in kind to assist Radu in making a small workshop.
After a short time, the owner of a local construction warehouse offered material and manpower for Radu's workshop. "They used part of the front yard and one supporting wall of the house to erect a workshop. They even donated him some additional tools which he could use and once the owner saw his crafty works he told Radu he'd recommend him to his clients."
With the children back to school and Radu's workshop in place, the Ciobanus were slowly getting back on their feet, but will be given support until all goals set in the mutually agreed family development plan are achieved. "Radu and Maria were deeply grateful for the assistance and followed every given instruction. Shyly, Radu offered his skills for any matter we might need in the future," says Marcela.
Little did Radu know that just a few blocks away lived a family whose ordeals kept them in desperation for years. The torment of the Dinu family began in the year 2000 with the birth of their third son. Once a modest, middle-class family, the coming of the newborn turned their life around in the worst possible way.
Mircea and Andrea Dinu* once owned a house in the suburbs of Bucharest, had solid jobs and looked forward to the enlargement of their four-member family. Sadly, little Andrei was born with severe brain damage which influenced his physical and psychological development as well.
"Andrei was three when we first met with the Dinus," says Marcela. The boy didn't walk nor speak, he was constantly crying if not being held and rocked. The other two older boys looked exhausted and tormented and the parents were constantly fighting. "We walked amidst an urgent crisis. The family was literally breaking apart," explains Marcela.
Two years prior, Mircea and Andrea sold their house to pay for their son's operation. The operation didn't improve Andrei's condition. Andrea had to quit her job to take care of her youngest son. The Dinus moved in with relatives who could only afford to let them have one room and a small kitchen. The family now lived near the train station, the noise of which additionally irritated little Andrei.
Both older boys were going to school with devastating results. Teachers informed the Child Protection Department that they'd often fall asleep during class, but knowing of their family circumstances they'd let them sleep to at least get some rest. Hungry for attention and constantly having to make sacrifices for their little brother, the boys were shutting in themselves afraid to make friends.
Mircea kept his job in the construction field, but most of his salary went to Andrei's medicaments and treatments. The never-ending tour in different hospitals and shifting from one doctor to another has thinned the nerves and hopes of both parents and were threatening to ruin the once happy family.
"The Dinus have been in the programme since the very start in 2004," explains Marcela. "We help them with food and hygienic supplies, counselling for the parents, the older boys attend many activities of the "SOS Playbus" and in the SOS Children's Village Bucharest." Still, something had to be done for little Andrei.
In agreement with the parents, Marcela contacted a local magazine asking them if they'd do a story on the Dinus. The sad family story and plea of the devastated mother touched many hearts in Romania. Within days of its publishing, one doctor offered to pay for a surgery which helped little Andrei walk. "Families and individuals donated money for the expensive medicaments and many other called asking how they could help the boy," explains Marcela who then took a bold step.
"I was hesitating at first, but then I asked one potential donor if he'd be willing to somehow helping the other two boys, too. He immediately agreed and asked if a personal computer would be OK. I was stunned and mechanically agreed," remembers Marcela. When the donor brought the new PC to the boys, both were beside themselves. Mircea and Andrea couldn't find words to express the thankfulness for the item which they could never afford but brought such joy to their children.
Then during the summer the older boys spent two weeks in the SOS Summer Camp in Cisnadie. They came back refreshed, with rosy cheeks and big smiles. "They couldn't stop talking about the first proper vacation they have had in years," says Marcela. Both Mircea and Andrea confined that they have been aware of the neglect their older children were experiencing, but that they were hopeless and didn't know what to do. Meanwhile, new friendship was on the horizon.
One day Radu Ciobanu stopped by the programme's office to tend to some pending matter. By chance he saw the article in the magazine and read through it. He turned to Marcela and Adina with a proposition. The Ciobanus had an old worn out bed which they weren't using. He could remodel it into a rocking bed for Andrei. That way, Andrea could at least have a rest from having to carry him all the time.
Radu went back home and got to work. His skilful hands soon finished the bed, while his wife Maria and the children repaired an old mattress with bed sheets. When the rocking bed was finished, at Christmas of 2006, the Ciobanus and Marcela paid the Dinus a visit.
When they walked into the room they found Andrea in tears. Someone has brought new clothes for Andrei. Since he was born, he never owned anything new inheriting instead his older brothers' already second-hand clothes. When she saw the rocking bed, she almost fainted. While Mircea and Radu were making room for the bed, Maria helped Andrea in bathing Andrei and getting him in the new clothes.
Two of the Ciobanu children who accompanied their parents quickly became interested in the computer and the games on which the Dinu brothers were happy to share. Once little Andrei was placed in his new rocking bed, he immediately went to sleep. His mother had the first opportunity in years to relax with her guests and new friends.
"'I thought my life was hard,' Radu said to the Dinus. 'I see now that there is far greater hardship. I pray for your son's health and for you to find strength to endure,'" Marcela remembers his words.
Little Andrei still needs more treatments and medicaments. His parents are not giving up at any cost. They started working on their relationship and seeking better ways of communicating with each other and their older sons. The family grows stronger with every day as do their ties with the Ciobanus.
Both the Ciobanu family and the Dinu family still remain beneficiaries of the family strengthening programme. They are still in contact and help each other whenever possible.
* For privacy reasons, the names of all beneficiaries have been changed. ** Sources: Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Commission of Romania and CIA World Factbook.
A girl celebrating her 10th birthday with her special birthday cake at Children's Village Cochabamba, Bolivia.
In Bolivia another birthday is celebrated in a different style. Victoria, an SOS mother at SOS Children's Village Sucre in Bolivia, celebrated her birthday in August. As generous as she is, she asked for one wish - not for her, but for her 14 SOS children.
Fernando Espinoza, who works at SOS Children's Villages Bolivia was visiting Victoria in Bolivia and remembers:
"The day after her birthday, I saw Victoria enjoy the sunshine with two of her children, sitting on a bench in the small garden in front of her house. I joined her and had a little chat with her."
"Good morning Victoria! How did you enjoy your birthday?"
She replied "As soon as my children left for school, the phone rang for almost the whole morning. I received calls from my five children who have now left to village to continue their studying in La Paz and Cochabamba. It was quite touching to listen to my children telling me that they would love to give me a big hug. I also recieved several calls from friends."
"And how do you feel about all these calls?" I asked.
"Overwhelmingly happy!" Victoria almost exclaimed.
"How many children do you have?" I enquired.
"14 boys and girls. Three of them are already professional and two are about to finish a technical career. Those living in the village with me attend primary and secondary school in Sucre."
"Did you ask for any special wishes?" I asked to conclude our birthday conversation.
"I asked for one wish," she answered with a smile. "that my children continue being good kids; that they keep on fighting to achieve their goals and when they get married, they provide well for their children."