SIRET, Romania – After 23 years, life is starting to look much better for a group of disabled Romanian orphans who were abandoned and brought to the small city of Siret in the years leading up to and during Romania’s bloody revolution in 1989.
The world only learned of the extreme poverty thousands of children experienced in Romania’s orphanages after the revolution, which overthrew the communist regime and executed 21-year dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. Nicolae had started to pay off foreign debt rather than give money to the social programs that needed it, leaving orphanages especially in dire conditions.
In the years following the revolution, foreign aid workers found children who hadn’t seen daylight in years, kids who constantly smelled of urine and sweat, and babies laying four to a bed without any attention. Disabled orphans, like the group in Siret, had been treated the worst – often being given medication in order to calm them down, and sent to the most remote areas of Romania so they wouldn’t be seen.
Foreign aid helped the situation. Some children have been adopted, and new shelter has been provided for a portion of the orphans. But as time passed, foreign attention drifted to other issues, leaving most of the orphans to grow into adults with an extreme lack of resources, and no ability to become self-sustainable.
But now, with the help of Tibi Rotaru, a Romanian man who was just 17 when he first worked as a translator for the volunteers helping the orphans, the group of more than 100 disabled young adults, now in their mid-20s, are doing better than ever. After leaving Siret to study psychology, Rotaru returned in order to take responsibility for the orphans.
He has helped raise money for a new, more spacious shelter, and has become a father figure for the orphans. The young adults now feel comfortable walking the streets on their own, conversing with other locals and doing minor jobs like sweeping the church steps.
For the orphans, even after a horrific childhood of abuse and sadness, there is still hope.
– Emma McKay