was deeply saddened by Sunday’s editorial on the dire conditions
of Romania’s orphanages. Having visited Romania several times
during the past eight years, I am well aware of the incredible
challenges of caring for institutionalized children with too
little money and too few staff. However, it is not all bad.
like to call your attention to a "good news" story about ordinary
Americans who are truly making a difference for institutionalized
babies and toddlers in eastern Romania.
the past seven years, more than 1,000 volunteers – most of them
Americans – have built a lifeline of care and hope for vulnerable
children (birth to 3 years old) at the Tutova Failure to Thrive
Clinic in the Moldova region of Romania. These compassionate
individuals have participated on two- and three-week service
programs to provide vital care for the youngsters at this clinic.
programs – offered throughout the year to ensure a continuity
of care – are conducted by Global Volunteers, a St. Paul, Minn.-based
nonprofit international development organization that engages
volunteers – ordinary Americans – on short-term service projects
in 20 countries around the world.
a little background on the Romania project: The children are
brought to the Tutova clinic because they are failing to thrive
and, without intervention, many of them will die. Some are abandoned
or orphaned, others are from families that are too poor to feed
and care for a sickly child. Many of their birth moms had no
prenatal care and, thus, the babies were seriously underweight
Global Volunteers started sending volunteers and money to this
clinic, the babies were in desperate conditions. There were
35 of them and only three staff members working "24/7." The
staff, while loving and caring, was so shorthanded they could
do little more than feed and diaper the babies.
recall my first visit to the Tutova Clinic in 1998. The stench
of urine was overwhelming. The grey walls and dimly lit rooms
were only overshadowed by the vacant eyes and skinny bodies.
The children were lodged in iron cribs with virtually no toys
to keep them occupied. The staff had to tie the toddlers to
the corner of the cribs by their wrists to prevent them from
climbing out – you cannot have babies running around when there
is no one to look after them. All of the children were bottle-fed
because there were not enough hands to teach them how to eat
with a spoon – and the food was prepared in a blender so they
could drink the watered-down puree.
a result of that eye-opening visit, Global Volunteers began
sending regular teams of volunteers in 1999. Over the ensuing
years, the volunteers have made a dramatic difference in the
children’s lives and in the clinic’s physical facility.
the clinic is bright, clean, and freshly painted. There are
still around 35 infants and toddlers, but several additional
caregivers staff the facility. Necessary medicines are available
and food is abundant. After the sickly babies have been at the
clinic for a while, they become fat and happy. The new cribs
are made of wood and colorful mobiles hang over each. There
are many educational toys, and stuffed animals compete for space
in the cribs. They now have an industrial-sized washer, spinner,
and dryer to clean the soft cloth diapers. The smell of urine
has been replaced by fresh flowers and food cooking in the refurbished
kitchen. The children now have appropriate clothing so they
can go outside to be pushed in strollers or play on the swings.
Volunteers currently sends volunteers to Tutova clinic year
round – 17 three-week teams (more than 150 volunteers annually).
To date, 1,077 have served, with 80 individuals signed up and
ready to go yet this year. We also have initiated a child-sponsorship
program to ensure a steady flow of financial aid for the continued
health and wellbeing of the children.
as much as they give, the volunteers swear they receive abundantly
in return. Volunteer Pam Costa of Cupertino, Calif., shares
her thoughts: "We have so much to learn in our short lives,
and trips like this certainly help the process along. This experience
reminded me how important it is to volunteer and to be grateful
for the really important things in life – such as friends, family
and love. Working with special-needs kids can break your heart
with both sadness and joy. The hardships of a little girl with
severe acid reflux brought me to tears one day, while the laughter
of a 12-lb. 2 ˝ - year-old girl with brittle bone disease warmed
every part of my soul. And every time a child smiled made me
extremely happy. Though the staff at the clinic do not speak
English and I do not speak Romanian, love is a universal language,
and we were easily able to work together to feed and play with
clinic is just a stepping-stone to a better future for the most
fortunate of these babies. Depending on the circumstances, the
children are either returned to their birth parents when they
are strong enough or, if they are abandoned or orphaned, they
are placed with foster families at the age of 3. Clinic staff
and volunteers have kept detailed journals for each child as
they progress from failing-to-thrive to thriving.
there are millions of "throw-away" children in countries all
over the world. But, thanks to the compassion of these wonderful
American volunteers (we’re talking retirees, college students,
baby boomers, ordinary folks) and the loving clinic staff, the
babies at Tutova clinic in Romania are no longer counted among
in 1984 in St. Paul, MN, Global Volunteers is a nonprofit, nonsectarian
international development organization offering short-term service
opportunities – all locally directed – in 100 communities around
the world. Visit the website at www.globalvolunteers.org.
DeGroot, Media Relations Manager
Global Volunteers "Adventures in Service" Worldwide