Romanian is unfortunately often remembered for two horrors; Dracula and orphanages. After the fall of communism, over 100,000 children resided in state-ran institutions, which often did not give children the emotional support to grow into healthy adults. Having heard of horrible conditions, I wasn’t sure what to expect this September when I would start volunteering at two orphanages. Romania has made large strides in changing institutionalized facilities into smaller “family” like homes. The staff, facilities, and children that I’ve met so far are all wonderful, yet I can’t help but to feel sad thinking about these places.
My first impression of the orphanages was how quickly the children accepted my colleague and I. We were greeted with hugs and then immediately pulled away by several different hands trying to show us around. It was the unstructured times like these that I personally felt the most connected with the kids. However, majority of the time was spent trying to lead games and an evening bible study. The language barrier was a huge hindrance when it came to trying to facilitate meaningful activities. As sweet as the children are, the brother-sister relationships and the rough-housing that follows often took place during our time with them. Children would get upset at one another, and I felt unable to help them communicate with each other when I couldn’t even communicate to them in their language. Seeing the frustration within the children, and not being able to do much to help them cope was definitely challenging for me to come to terms with.
It all leads into that despite visiting the children on a weekly basis, so much of them was still a mystery. Probably one of the most frustrating things when working with the children was the inability to get to know and fully understand them. To talk with them, and to truly listen to them was nearly impossible. Realizing all this really crushed me. At the same time, I realize that my time spent there was not a lost. Even though I can’t fully understand them, I can still love them. I really believe that our patience, kindness, and goofiness didn’t go to waste. I like to think that our time spent with them was a gentle reminder that they are important to us. What makes me sad about the orphanages in Romania today is that the children have to really fight to be known and receive quality time with an adult. They grow up in a safe environment with loving people around them but even all of that doesn’t compare to the attention one needs from parents.