21.09.2014 20 °C
Last year we spent two weeks in Drobeta-Turnu Severin, a small town in the South West of Romania, working with Roma Gypsy communities. The charity ‘Hands of Hope’, who organised our trip, focus mainly on the children within this community. Our aim was to give these children the attention that they deserved, but often did not get from their own families. Our short trip opened our eyes to some of the serious social problems that still face Romania today, and we have seen these again since we’ve returned. The first of these issues is the explicit racism towards the Roma communities. Cut off from the majority of society, due to a language barrier and major cultural differences, many of these communities struggle to integrate with the majority of the Romanian population and to progress both socially and financially. Furthermore the Roma Gypsy community usually have dark skin and features in contrast with the lighter features of most Romanians and Hungarians, which heightens the racism. Because of these barriers, many of the Roma Gypsy families are living in poverty. From the few communities that we saw, houses are often hastily put together, made up of a single small room where up to 20 people can live. Water comes from an unsanitary well and food is scarce. Many of the children are sent out to beg or work, and consequentially cannot go to school. Furthermore, the communities are often segregated from the rest of the town meaning they don’t have easy access to schools or hospitals. Attitudes towards women were shocking to us, as they are often denied an education and treated as inferiors. Access to necessities such as sanitary towels and soap is limited. Girls are often married at the age of 13 and have many children, despite being children themselves. Their children are denied the right to have a childhood, as their level of poverty is so severe. Alcoholism exasperates this poverty, and also has consequences for the children. Not only is the money that should be spent on essential items spent on alcohol, meaning that the children have little to wear and often don’t have shoes, but also this creates an unhealthy environment for the children to grow up in. Problems such as neglect, physical and mental abuse are rife. We noticed a lack of compassion from the parents towards the children, and some of the stories we were told by the charity were incomprehensible. Many of the children are being brought up by grandparents or other family members due to their own parents looking for work elsewhere, or being unfit to raise children. Hands for Hope attempts to break this cycle of poverty and neglect; without help this generation of children may grow up to be the same as their parents. Many of the children we are working with this year come from Roma Gypsy backgrounds, as many as 85%, and although we don’t know their own specific stories, we can speculate about the way they were treated in their early childhood.
However, Romania as a whole also faces a number of issues. The wider Romanian community has been struggling for many years, most recently during the Communist regime under the rule of Ceausescu, and since its collapse. Joining the EU may have lessened these problems slightly, but they are still alive and well. A few nights ago, we watched a documentary broadcast in the 1990s about the Romanian orphanages. We were appalled by what we saw; children tied to their beds, naked and starving, sitting in their faeces as they were fed watery soup, packed in their hundreds. In Keresztur an orphanage still stands, now the local school, which would have held 500 children only 20 years ago. When the orphanages were closed down, as a condition for joining the EU, many children were not rehoused, but thrown out into the street to fend for themselves. Another documentary that we watched uncovered Bucharest’s underground drug dens, where many of these children have unsurprisingly ended up. With no guidance or property, a whole generation of orphans grew up with little knowledge of a ‘normal’ upbringing and being scarred by their experiences, leading to mental health problems. Many people of this generation consequentially had trouble bringing up their own children.
In Keresztur and it’s surrounding villages, there are 15 Care Homes set up by the government. These are only a few of the many around the country. Having briefly explored Romania’s recent history, we struggle less to understand why so many children have been abandoned or taken away from their parents. Our aim is once again to break the cycle which haunts Romania, by treating the children with respect and love. In turn they may grow up to lead healthy, happy lives, and treat their own children in the same way.
Sally and Emily xx
Here are the links to some of the documentaries we watched:
Original 20/20 News Report
John Upton Discovers the Need of Romanian Orphans - Part 1
John Upton Discovers the Need of Romanian Orphans - Part 2
John Upton Discovers the Need of Romanian Orphans - Part 3
Documentary on Bucharest's underground community