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In Romania, children do not count

06/07/2010: Romania

Marist Brother Juan Carlos Sanz is coordinator of several family-style residences found on the campus of Saint Marcellin Champagnat Center, located in Bucharest, Romania. Over several days at the Cardinal Cisneros University, Brother Sanz spoke of his experiences in Romania.

How did this initiative get started?
It was a reaction to the situation that we saw before us in Bucharest when we first arrived in l998. We saw young boys and girls whose only place of residence was in government-run orphanages; no alternative existed. Our undertaking has been to provide a family atmosphere for these children.
What is the typical sort of youngster you receive at the Center?
In some cases we meet children who have been altogether cut off from their families. In other cases the families do not have the minimal conditions for survival nor can they provide for basic needs of the child. The children come to us from situations of great poverty or from complicated family environments. Many are caught up with parents who have separated, as a result of which the children have become an obstacle for their parents’ future plans.

Is this neglect of children a widespread issue in Romania?
It’s a very complex issue. Children don’t count. UNICEF figures present some nine thousand cases in which children have been abandoned: four thousand upon being born, and five thousand in the course of the first year of life.

What about the government-run orphanages? What do they lack?
They are very large operations, in which the child is merely a number, where there is no
provision for positive contact with adults. The buildings are quite obsolete, very old. So too is the people’s mental disposition, which is something complex to change. The orphanages do have large staffs, but they are poorly paid. A professional worker might receive 100€ a month.

Might one say, then, that Romania is a “failed State” in regard to it children?
Yes, because during the Ceaucescu era, the president’s wife was pushing the following idea: “Let us make Romania great, a nation with many people. Give birth to many children. We as the State guarantee that if you are not able to take care of them, we will look after them in our orphanages.” Therefore any woman who would not have at least three children was looked down upon as is she were an enemy of the Romanian Communist Party. This idea of the “Great Romania” - great for its high population still remains operative today.

How do the children go about getting admitted to the Center where they are working?
When an opening arises in the Center because a child has returned to its family or has left the program upon reaching maximum age, we inform the General Protection Office for Children. We are not allowed to admit any child on our own. All the children who come to us are received by way of assuring proper protection of minors.

Are there street children who remain outside the State network?
No. Romania really does give attention to all abandoned children. The problem is that the services offered are so poor that the children prefer to remain on the streets rather than enter an institution. At present the phenomenon of street children is actually increasing as a result of immigration. Fathers and mothers leave for another country, in principle to find a better life; but they leave the children behind – in the best case scenario with the grand-parents, aunts and uncles, other family members, sometimes simply with an acquaintance. The children get used to spending a lot of time without having their parents present, and then, when the parents do come back and start to pick up family life again, it is their very children who reject them. You can readily see how great conflicts will get started.

What sort of programs do you run at the Saint Marcellin Champagnat Center?
Our guiding principle is that we work on all aspects of education. The young people go to various schools in the neighborhood because we feel that we must not create a ghetto mentality in our young people. Our wish is that the young people get to the highest possible school level. We also put a lot of effort into encouraging the young people to form normal relationships. We make all possible use of leisure and free moments to form the young people: cultural activities, excursions, movies, supervised games, theatre: these and other similar activities fill the weekends and the vacation time. In addition, we do our utmost to see that the boys and girls maintain contact with their families to the greatest extent possible.

Hogares de Esperanza, p. 6
nº 18. Junio, 2010. Edición española
Hermanos Maristas de Rumanía. Centro “San Marcelino Champagnat”

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