A Travellerspoint blog

Weekend Away

sunny 20 °C

A weekend away in Brasov was exactly what we needed after a long week in Keresztur. The five hour journey took us much longer than expected, but was definitely worth it. Brasov is an old and beautiful city, surrounded by mountains, one of which features a Hollywood style sign saying ‘Brasov’. After checking into our hotel, we went to explore the old city, which was packed with locals and tourists alike. It seemed that we had arrived during a festival, so stalls were set up all over the main square, and a massive stage belted music at the enthusiastic audience. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant off the square (wonderfully Western steaks!) and then found an outdoor bar to have a drink.
Today we woke up early, ate the hotel’s 5 euro breakfast (MASSIVE ripoff, especially as it was all pork) and checked out. We got a taxi to the town of Bran, about half an hour’s joinery away, where Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, stands. Our tour of the Castle left us well-informed about Romania’s history since the 1300’s, Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his thriller Dracula, and, of-course, Dracula himself. After the Castle, we walked around the picturesque market, tempted by the traditional Romanian food and attire, before getting a taxi back to the train station.
Whilst in the bar on Saturday evening, we befriended a group of Canadians who had been working in Brasov for the past two years. Amongst them were a few of their Romanian friends, who helpfully advised us on where to go during in Romania, and where we shouldn’t bother going. As the conversation progressed, we unsurprisingly got onto the topic of Communism. During our time here, we have been cautious about broaching this subject with people we’ve met, worried that they may take offence or simply not want to speak about such a contentious topic. However, this group had no qualms about sharing their views with us, and we provoked them as much as we could. Doreen is a 29 year old from Romania, and having lived the first few years of his life under Ceausescu, but grown up in a democratic though undeniably flawed country, his views were extremely interesting to hear. Doreen appeared in two minds about Communism; he accepted the problems that the country faced under the regime, however his criticisms of democracy were truly eye-opening for us. In brief, Doreen claimed that Ceausescu had made just two mistakes; firstly, he had not listened to the people’s needs, and in turn they revolted. Secondly, he did not ‘ship the gypsies out of Romania’. The latter ‘mistake’ proved once again to us that racism towards the Roma Gypsy population is still prominent in Romanian society. Interestingly, Doreen also had many positive thoughts the dictator, the most significant being full employment and job security. Furthermore, Ceausescu had plans to open a bank that would lend to other countries. Doreen recognise the ruler’s faults, particularly when we reminded him of the insensitivity towards orphans and the disabled, however he does not accept that democracy as it stands is the best form of government. He used the analogy of a spring to explain to us the aftermath of the revolution in 1989. The spring had been pushed down for a long time, and when released it sprung around uncontrollably. Similarly, the Romanian population had been repressed for almost half a century; the sudden revolution caused chaos and panic. People’s savings, previously worth nothing, now had value, and spending was out of control. People knew very little about the workings of a capitalist society, and soon many were struggling without the aid of the state. Listening to Romanians speak about their own history has given us an invaluable insight into the way Communism is viewed today by a selection of the population. Indeed, when asked if they would return to Communism tomorrow if they could, we were told that many of their parents would.

Sally and Emily xx

Posted by sallyandemily 09:09 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

19.09.14

sunny 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

Posted by sallyandemily 08:50 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Photo update

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The famous climbing frame

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Paloma flying!

Posted by sallyandemily 15:00 Comments (0)

18.09.14

sunny 23 °C

We have decided to focus our blog tonight on the issues that we have noticed since our arrival in Romania, but have been truly highlighted today. Whilst playing outside this afternoon, 8 year olds Lotze and Andras were running after a pigeon, and we laughingly egged them on. However, upon glancing back moments later, we discovered to our horror that the boys had picked up the pigeon and were throwing it around, squeezing it and violently dropping it on the floor. Of-course, we immediately ran over and reproached them, whisking them inside to wash their hands and handing round the hand sanitiser. The events may sound harmless enough, but they left us shaken. This disregard for the bird as a living being, by both the boys and laughing onlookers, seemed barbaric to us, two middle-class British girls; perhaps our reaction actually reflects how sheltered and privileged we have been. Nevertheless, not only did the children not recognise the harm they were posing to themselves by playing with a dirty pigeon, but the moral sphere of the situation was also lost on them. Although easy enough to shout at the children for their cruelty, the question must be posed to what extent two 8 year olds can be blamed. As of yet, we know very little about the children's backgrounds, but can only assume that each story is an unhappy one. Knowing a bit about the children's background, often involving abuse and abandonment, it's not difficult to imagine why these kids struggle to feel empathy or compassion towards one another, never mind pigeons. We hope to go into further depth about the history of the care homes, orphanages and older generation of Romania in a later post, in order to understand the deeper problems within Romanian society.
On a lighter note, a major difference we have noticed between children in North-West London and children in Keresztur is the independence of the latter. Naturally, the kids here are given huge amounts of freedom, a privilege that many British parents don't allow their children until they are in their early teens. We do think that British children could learn a thing or two from here, such as taking responsibility for themselves and their younger siblings, getting themselves home safely and on time, and generally staying out of trouble. Similarly, spending the bulk of the day playing outside with children from the local community can also be admired, as the youngsters are forced to create their own entrainment together. However, can this independence be described as a 'privilege' when it comes solely from a lack of care or guidance?

Posted by sallyandemily 13:46 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Photo Update

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Playing Hungarian clapping games

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The inside of our guest-house

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The town's highstreet!

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Posters to improve the children's English

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Apple bobbing was a massive hit!

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Playing in the park

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Olga did Sally's hair...

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Paloma's drawing- there's no escaping Bieber fever!

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A Hungarian delicacy we don't want to try!

Posted by sallyandemily 13:15 Comments (0)

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