Department of Education
Posted on 9 November 2016
A friend, who is a teacher at a secondary school, mentioned to me that she was taking a group of sixth formers on a trip to Romania. I was curious about this as I recalled learning in early psychology lessons of the impact of neglect many Romanian orphans suffered in the years of communism. Two of these sixth formers had been on this trip two years ago and was keen to go again.
The organisation we volunteered with is called Cry in the Dark. It was founded around thirty years ago by a British electrician who had been to several charity organisations in communist Europe as a volunteer. Among one of the places he visited was Romania. He came across an institutions packed full of orphans who were neglected, even by those who were there to look after them. He told us the story of when he went for the first time there were rooms where the windows had been sealed by covers so that it was dark and the children could not see out and that there were children lying in their own excretions. He felt that he needed to help them.
He gathered support from many in the UK to open a house (named Casa Lumina, meaning Light House) for around 27 of those children, with enough full time workers to look after them. Unfortunately, the neglect had been so severe that the effects were too late to be reversed. As part of our role there, we spent some time with these children (who are now adults) and we could see that they are thriving in the place. In contrast, we visited a state institution where there were similar aged orphans who are still living in packed conditions (although the care from the nurses has reportedly improved).
Here I was able to connect what I had learned in theory, about developmental disorders, to reality and see how important care and nurturing is in the early days of a child. Having no nurture, these adults now are unable to function outside of their home as they need constant help and attention. Even as strangers entering their home, they welcomed us by attaching themselves to us as they could. We saw constant rocking and repetitive movements which is characteristic of neglect.
We also visited a Roma village (gypsy village) where we were part of a building project, building an extension onto a hut-of-a-house of one of the families. One of the most shocking things for us was the water these families had access to. They had no running tap water so they had to walk to a well, however the water was not really water, but more like thin mud. This was hard for us to comprehend because Romania is a European country, and as part of the EU, we expected the standards to be implemented to all so we did not expect such conditions for these people.
The third activity was visiting the homes of families who had children with disabilities. This was interesting because we visited some with the same diagnosis label but along the spectrum of their disorder, they were very different. With some, we could interact with by blowing bubbles or talking to, however others were only comfortable with the TV sound or radio music that they had as interaction was too stressful.
This experience, for me, has opened my eyes to how different another country can be and understand why it is so different, because of its own culture and political background. Being in Romania has helped me realise that I can hear about places and situations until I know everything but it is when I experience it that it becomes real and puts a whole new perspective on fact. It has made me want to be a position where I can be qualified to help others who have disabilities or are needing psychological help; especially children, as that’s where life starts.