Because of strict confidentiality policies I was not able to know much about the children’s background situations and how they came to the center. But there was one group of siblings that I got to follow closely their transition from begging on the streets to living at the center, only coincidentally. I distinctly remember on our first day of walking around Lupeni, while a group of my friends were waiting in line to pay for their food I was standing off to the side and watched as a sad, tired looking little boy walked up to them asking for money. My friends, as foreigners and unaccustomed to know how to handle such a situation, talked amongst each other as to what they should do and in the end tried their best to ignore the little boy. It was hard to watch, as the boy slowly walked away looking pained but also numbed to what probably wasn’t his first time being rejected. A few weeks later when I started going to the Residential Center I recognized this same boy but he looked altogether like a different child. His face and clothes were clean, but most notable was that he was considerably happier and freer. He now possessed a childlike freedom, and boyishness that was not present the last time I had seen him.
I learned that his name was Raul and he had two other siblings an older sister named Ana and a little sister Elena. Apparently these children were well known throughout the community as they were often seen begging. One person told me how sad they looked as Anna used to carry her little sister on her back, walking around town begging for food and money. I could tell from Anna’s mannerisms that she had to grow up rather quickly and was the primary caretaker for her two younger siblings. She was fifteen years old yet she was extremely petite and frail looking. In spite of the fact that she is far behind in her schooling, you would never suspect it because of how young she looks. The first thing that you will notice about both the two sisters is that their hair is cut extremely short, like a boys, because they had such bad lice before entering the center.
I can’t imagine how difficult their lives must have been prior to entering the center, yet Ana was undoubtedly one of the most active and vocal children in the IMPACT club. It’s hard to say if any of the children loved IMPACT as much as she did, it was obvious how much she enjoyed the games and the projects. I was later told by one of the staff at the center, that since entering the center and participating in IMPACT they saw a big change in her. She seemed less angry and was much less aggressive towards her younger siblings. I was also told that these siblings also had a baby sister, who was with their mother, and they had father, but who was extremely ill, and it was an obvious case of extreme neglect. I later found out that upon entering the center their father had recently died.
Elena, the youngest, was around 5 years old, and was probably everyone’s favorite at IMPACT. Our IMPACT club leader, Cosmin, rightfully nicknamed her “Sunshine”. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a little girl that smiled as much as this little one did. She was also a busy body, always running around playing with someone, a bundle of love and energy this little girl was.
While Anna and Elena were extremely friendly and outgoing Raul, the younger brother was a bit more reserved. At first he was rather shy, but after a few visits one day as I was saying goodbye to the children and giving hugs, after I had already walked out the door Raul ran after me and gave me a hug and I returned his hug and kissed him on the head. He grinned from ear to ear and from then on he opened up to me, he hung around me during the club meetings, and always gave me hugs whenever I came and left.
Raul soon became one of my favorites especially when I got to interview him for my project for my internship, asking the kids questions about their experiences with IMPACT. Raul must be only 7 years old, but was very smart and seemed to give well thought out answers. My favorite response that he gave was when I asked him what trust means. He responded saying, “trust is when you let someone have something and you know that they will give it back.” When I asked him who he trusts he said that he trusts God, and his mom.
I will never forget all of the children and the many beautiful memories that they gave me, the lessons that they taught me, and the love that they shared. There is no greater feeling then walking into a room and being ambushed with hugs and kisses from the sweetest and purest love of a child. I will never cease to be amazed by a child’s strength of heart to press through, to laugh, and to love in spite of facing more suffering and hardships then any child ever should.