“We were more than 200 boys. From very young children to 20-years-old young men. I remember it all. The fear, the sadness, the lack of affection, the insecurity. But most of all I remember the lack of food. And the shaming. The beating from the older ones, the exploitation. I was always bruised, battered, my clothes torn and dirty. I was hungry all the time. I would hide the bread under the radiator and at night, when I went to the bathroom, I would eat it furtively, dry as it was. We only got fries for Christmas and they were on ratio. Even now I tend to eat fast and too much, for fear that someone might take my food. I try to bring back a happy memory of those days. But I have none. Nothing to cling to. I was a few years old. And I cannot forget. There’s no way. In spite of all this, I am proud of what I have become. I did not get here alone. I am grateful for everything life has taught me and given me. I have learned from those special people who showed that they cared, who did not abandon me even in my darkest moments, which I am not proud of”.

This is the testimonial of Nicolae, a former system child. He was abandoned at birth, and at two years old he was transferred to a cradle home. The same happened to his younger sister, of whose existence he only became aware when he was seven. It was around the same age that something finally brought him some joy, a change in his miserable childhood.

His memories are still sharp. He remembers his mother who, although suffering from mental issues, visited him quite often. They even spent time together, but not in a suitable manner. There were times when he would come with her into town, where they often begged or slept on the street. He was not safe with her, but he wanted to protect her. He still loves and respects her. His father was always absent.

The year of change

It was in early 1998, when Hope and Homes for Children made a visible mark in everything related to orphanage life and centres for abandoned children. It was the turning point for everything that followed. A different life, a life full of hope and light for the children and young people in the system. Nicolae is one of them.

“I can still picture the day when some people came to see us. We were looking out the windows and we were surprised to see the cars outside. Back then, we didn’t know what Hope and Homes for Children was, but, after they came, a lot changed in our orphanage. In a short period of time we, the younger boys, experienced something we didn’t even believe could be real. A colourful room full of toys replaced the huge hall where 200 boys had been sleeping in rows. The metal beds that screeched, with dirty mattresses reeking of urine, were replaced by new, comfortable beds with brightly covered bed linen. It was then that I experienced the joy of my first toy cars”.

Life enriched with a sister

The carers told him that he had a younger sister and, in order to know her and be with her, he was going to move to a new town, in a new home. He was anxious to know her.

“I was curious and somewhat happy. They showed me a picture of her and told me she was five. I liked her and looked at her for minutes on end. She had rosy cheeks and dark hair. I was counting the days, the weeks until I would see her. Shortly afterwards, the time came for me to go. I had been excited about it, but then I was suddenly overwhelmed by sadness. I cried. I found it hard to be separated from the bright room full of toys, from my new bed, from my new toy cars. I left full of regret for being separated from the few people I had grown fond of: a lady carer, the doorman and a few children of my age, who were my friends”.

The year 2000 was going to be the year of changes. He moved with his sister in another small group home, one of the first that the Foundation opened in Baia Mare. It was something else. Only groups of siblings trying to be like a family together. 12 children in total. The day of his transfer is a happy memory.

“I was very nervous. First of all because I was finally meeting my sister, but especially because I felt very important. Mrs. Delia Pop, a name I will never forget, took me in her car and spoke very kindly to me”.

Crossroads

Then there followed the wonderful holidays at the seaside and in Italy, but also spells of behavioural problems. He admits that these were mainly his fault. He ganged up with other troubled teenagers and this first brought about problems at school, then he was transferred to the Rehabilitation Centre for Minors. It was a turning point in his life. He was only 16. He confesses that in those moments he acutely felt his father’s absence. Although he visited him, he was greeted only with accusations and harsh words, which only made things worse. It was not what he needed.  

“There was a time when I was a dedicated pupil. I slowly turned into a teenager. I fell in love a few times, including with my class mistress, who was very young and beautiful, then I fell in with a bad crowd from other small group homes and together we did not really behave. In spite of the efforts of my carers at the small group home, my school results dropped. And not only that. I ended up in a place where I realized I didn’t want to be. The Rehabilitation Centre. I was sorry, I was ashamed of what I had done and I felt trapped. It was the first time when I feld scared. I realized then the importance of the advice received from one of the ladies, the key carer to me, and the head of our home. I lost a great deal by not listening to them”.

In those decisive moments, salvation came through one of the Hope and Homes for Children specialists, Mrs.  Gabi. 

“She came to see me daily. She never judged, which gave me hope. She listened to me and understood me. She helped me get through the time I had to spend there. She helped me learn from everything I had done, good or bad. Everything changed afterwards. I started working hard in school again, I graduated high school and I was much more responsible, I was determined to have a life that would make me proud. It’s so important to have by your side people who know how to talk to you. Who understand you. Who can help you overcome the difficulties so that you can move on!”. 

“The Transit Centre, my greatest support”

After finishing his studies, Nicolae found a stable job. He asked the Foundation for help when he left the small group home and he found a house. It was quite hard to take on his new status, as an independent young man, but he received advice and encouragement. Hope and Homes for Children paid for the rent guarantee and covered the rent for a few months, purchased the furniture (an expendable sofa, a carpet, a table, a washing machine, as well as food whenever he needed it). A new opportunity arrived with the opening of the new Transit, Assistance and Counselling Centre in the fall of 2016.

“I am extremely glad to have this opportunity. A new modern room, fully furbished. What’s more, I can save the money I need to buy my own home. The Transit Centre is my greatest source of support at the moment. And I can only be grateful. Through their people, Hope and Homes for Children have miraculously lent a helping hand. It’s like having a parent. I thank Mrs. Ileana for all her encouragement and support, which I needed and still need, for her affection and advice on my way in life. I still fear the judgement of others. The thought that I have nothing of my own yet scares me. I want to have a beautiful family and children, to offer them everything I never had, although I would have wanted to. I want to hold my child as I was never held. I will give them everything. Everything I feel I would have needed. I badly want to achieve all this”.  

Nicolae is now 27 years old and is a model to follow, especially for the young people leaving the protection system. He has known suffering, but he has learned to go on. He knows he would have never made it without the people around him and he has learned to be grateful. He has ideals and looks on to his future responsibly. He is trustworthy, including at his job. He is a telling example that even people like him can make it.