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Romania’s Hardships: Orphanages of Oradea

We are all products of our own imagination. I knew this was true when I looked into the dingy window of the Oradea orphanage. The cool mist surrounding the farm fields had dissipated and what lay before me was a hard reality, the problematic situation of a poor country trying to enter the European Union on faulty statistics.

Oradea was a city drained of opportunity. Along with many building projects, The Smiles Foundation sent workers to infiltrate the sterilized hospital rooms of the orphanage, bringing extra food, toys and, most importantly, a human touch.  It was imperative that the locals working for the organization stayed covert, and when I went as a volunteer I had to pretend I didn’t know them. They were spies behind stone walls where children were kept, youngsters who never felt the chilled summer breezes through closed windows.

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Prior to their work, the babies were developing mental and physical issues from not being held, turned over, or receiving any contact. When the food ran out, some went hungry. I had a few weeks to interact with them, engage them in the typical activities like games and songs, language barrier aside. I was alone in their closed quarters, with a woman I had to pretend that I’d never met and the stories they couldn’t tell me. Some had never left the orphanage, while others left and returned every month when their families couldn’t feed them.

What I found most interesting was that many had been cast away, but weren’t put up for adoption until they’d been there for two years. Statistically, they were labeled as patients in the hospital, with no opportunity to leave, while wealthy Romanians fought over the two or three little ones available. In order to enter the EU, the Romanian government reduced the number of abandoned children in an attempt to show a decrease in economic hardship in the country. The ones who suffered were the youth left behind, growing up with various forms of autism, speech impediments, malnutrition, and a lost connection with humanity.

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