Life in the orphanage is hard- a true 'dog eat dog' hierarchy where every kid fends for himself and fights for status and privileges. But there are a handful of extra-special kids living in the Romanian orphanage system that don't adhere to these cut-throat practices. I call them The Protectors. Their stories are incredible, sad, heroic, desperate, and ultimately rooted in love. The Protectors at the orphanage we were working in this past trip are kids who have gone through extraordinary measures to protect and deliver their brothers and sisters to safety.
While other kids steal food and clothing from their peers, the Protectors watch over their young siblings and make sure their needs are met. They comfort them when they are scared or hurt, visit them when they are sent to the hospital, and make sure they get to play with the ball when its their turn.
Here are very brief versions of a couple of their stories.
Flori and Ana
They arrived at the orphanage early in the Spring. Ana clung to Flori, hiding behind her legs and peering out fearfully. A few months passed and a group of Gypsies arrived at the orphanage claiming to be their family. The woman was dressed in flowing skirts and glistening gold chains. The men that accompanied her wore dirty shirts. One man- an uncle- leered at the girls and shifted his eyes around. Flori was careful to keep a close watch on Ana while the family visited. The girls' relief when their family finally left the orphanage was apparent.
We haven't yet heard the girls' whole story about what brought them to the orphanage, but its safe to say that their life and living situation has improved. Ana is now not the fearful urchin hiding behind her big sister, but the first kid waiting by the orphanage steps to greet us when we arrive. Flori, who had very little education upon her arrival, received the top award in her class this year, after only a few months on consistent schooling.
Flori continues to watch out for her little sister, spending hours by her bedside this summer while Ana was in the hospital with a minor cold. Flori missed out on fun activities with one of our teams to stay with her.
Ionut, Georgiana, and Iulica
Ionut was not yet 12 years old when he heard the screaming coming from his family's house. He rushed inside and gathered his little sister Georgiana and brother Iulica to his side. The gunshot that echoed through their village forever altered their lives and Ionut's childhood memories.
The three children arrived at the orphanage with the horrible memory of their father murdering their mother in front of their eyes. Its taken years for the kids to begin to reclaim their childhood.
Slowly but surely, Georgiana and Iulica have become the friendliest kids at the orphanage. They are eager to please, first in line to try a new game, and always offering hugs to our missionaries.
Ionut has had a harder time. While still a sweet kid, perhaps the memories are just too vivid to completely relax around adults. He still ferociously protects his little siblings- always making sure their needs are met before meeting his own.
Nicu and Vic
Nicu and Vic spent years on the streets with their Gypsy family. They moved from city to city begging and stealing. The had two older sisters. One mysteriously passed away. Who knows what kinds of horrors they faced. Nicu hated stealing, Vic hated begging. While they won't mention much about their parents, something finally set Nicu off enough to grab Vic and flee over 100 miles to where they thought their grandparents lived. Instead of finding grandparents, Nicu and Vic were eventually delivered to the orphanage. Nicu is extremely behind in school, finally passing 1st grade as a 12 year old. Vic was rescued from Nicu's same fate by his older brother and is doing much better at school.
Vic eagerly hugs and kisses our missionaries, is learning music and art, and loves to play. Nicu is the kid always in the back of the crowd.
He is cautious when it comes to trusting. However he rarely lets Vic out of his sights. Nicu and Vic still hate stealing and begging and stare are their peers with disdain when they crowd around our teams begging for candy or prizes.