Thursday, October 25, 2007

In Closing

Looking back over the past few weeks, I am so incredibly happy to have found ARCHWAY and been lucky enough to have been there the same time as Sue. The organization is amazing and the work they are doing is so very needed.

Now that I am back in the States, it has been time to start brainstorming on fundraising ideas. The entire ARCHWAY operation is run 100% on private funds. (Well, actually no, the government provides $10 per month per child, so $190 total per month. You can imagine how far that goes...)

To provide some history, for several years McDonald’s had provided ARCHWAY with grants to run the orphanage and the street programs. These grants came about after Sue was kicked out of several Bucharest area McDonald’s when she tried to bring some of the street children in with her to buy them food. She was appalled and wrote to McDonald’s to tell them about her experiences along with pictures of the children sitting out in front of the restaurants in the snow eating their food.

Fortunately McDonald’s responded positively by providing grant money, but sadly those grants are no longer coming through. That has left a severe gap in ARCHWAY’s finances, and it has become increasingly difficult for them to stay afloat.

In speaking with Sue, lack of finances has become a real concern, with the possibility that they will not be able to continue their operations there.

To keep the orphanage running, this past summer Sue sold her personal apartment in Bucharest. During my time volunteering this month, I stayed in a guest room at the orphanage, while she slept across the hall on a couch in the office.

Last week in Bucharest, it seemed like every time the topic of ARCHWAY’s diminishing finances came up we would always come back to the fact that so many people are generous and do want to give to a great cause. I can say with absolute certainty that this is in fact a tremendous cause.

If anyone is considering making a charitable donation personally or through a corporation, I ask that you please consider ARCHWAY. Donations can be made via paypal on their website or by mailing a check. See the link below.


You can also copy the link below into your browser to view more photo's.

More pics

True "tough guys" Marius and Claudiu watching tv together.

Claudiu and Elena. Sharing a little brother, sister time.

The girls showing off makeup kits Nora bought them from the piazza. That proved to be a disaster when nothing was there for the boys. Lesson learned...

Ana, Elena, and Ionut with their parents, over for a visit. Their mom helps out with cleaning during the week.

Ana and Marius.

Alex and Graziella catching up on some movie star gossip in our room.

Oana in her typical pose. Always hugging someone!

Ana sitting on her big sister.

Nico and Elena striking a pose with Poofy, the house dog.

Extra pictures. Clothing donation recipients.

Alex in his 18-24 month size jacket he fell in love with.

Me, Sue, Alex, and Nora.
Oana and her mother. Looking at some new warm clothes for her baby brother.
Oana, with her mother and two younger brothers.
These are a few pictures of the kids who received the clothing donated by Gymboree, and don't live at the orphanage .
Alex (aka Dennis the Menace) who is pictured with Sue, Nora, and I is a frequent visitor. His mother Aurelia works there and is awesome. He fell in love with the jacket he is wearing in the first picture and insisted it fit him. He is a small 5 year old and the jacket was 18-24 months. He got it zipped, but it looked like a half jacket with 3/4 sleeves.

Oana, who is one of the 10 year olds at the orphange has two smaller brothers at home who live with their mother. They came to visit and the baby was dressed in about 8 layers of clothes because he didn't have a jacket or heavier weight clothing. He left with a few sweaters, a sweat suit and a jacket.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Goodbyes. Saturday October 20

Woke up to a 7:27am wake up call from Rony. Tired doesn’t even start to describe it. We got to his game at 9am only to realize that his game wasn’t even starting until 10am, so we were there to root for his friends. I asked him if it would be ok if I went to the store and came back at 10, to which he said sure.

Watched his game, and then left Sue there to go back to the house and spend some time with the other kids before heading to the airport around noon. It was both fun and kind of emotional. Luckily some of the kids had gone home for the weekend, so it was a little bit quieter. Oana started to cry which then of course made me cry, but luckily little Ana and Dana, the 6 years olds, were there with the “nu plunge” (don’t cry), and Dana leaned up to wipe a tear off my face.
As we waited outside for the taxi the mood lightened as well as the kids pretended that they were leaving on a trip and we were staying. They were all geared up with our luggage and ready to go. Dana wanted to wear my big duffle like a backpack and it was so heavy she fell over. It was hilarious!

Hugs, kisses, and see you soons, and we were off to the airport.

Flight was nearly on time and capped off with my favorite thing about Otopeni airport. The beer machines by the gate. Made the departure and wait a little nicer to have a nice cold Ursus.

Yogurt for days. Friday October 19

Hard to believe that this is my last full day here. It breaks my heart to hear the kids say, “no, don’t go, stay here with me”. I would like nothing more. Especially for the ones who seem to have become a little more attached, I am dreading saying goodbye. Catalin who seems like such a little tough guy, yet everytime I see him he walks over and gives me the 30 second hug with his arms wrapped tight around me and says “my mom”. He is so sweet. Same for Oana and Elena who always say “you my mother. stay in Romania with me, yes?”, along with a big smile. They are all such great kids.

Gica’s brother works for Dannon and arranged a donation of 2,000 containers of yogurt. It is so great! We have about 500 cartons in the van and are off to distribute them.

First stop was the Moldova family. 4 kids whose parents have died and they are trying to make it on their own. Only one of them was home, and she was rather quiet. We dropped off yogurt for all the kids and on to the next stop.

We next visited the Dostosky family (I am sure that is not correct, I forgot to write down their name, but I think that might be close, although it is probably way off). 8 kids and 2 parents living in a 2 room “house” on a vacant lot. All 8 kids were unbelievably gorgeous. As they were all eating their containers of yogurt it made you realize that under different circumstances they would be doing Dannon tv ads and commercials rather than being the recipients of donations from them.

Then we were off to the canal area to see some of the street kids. It is great traveling with Gica and Sue because it is literally like having a free pass to go anywhere. You are just automatically accepted when you are with them. They are both so loved by the families and the kids. We were shown one of the canals, but there were a few of the kids bathing so we didn’t go down. I was curious as to what the living conditions were, but in hindsight it is probably best not to have been able to go down.

Last stop of the day was back to the Dubrovnic family. Up the winding staircase with two trays of yogurt is a feat under normal circumstances, but in the pitch black it was a miracle that no one took a header. Kids were cute as ever and started to dig right into the yogurt as they lit candles for our benefit. As we were leaving the one girl who is maybe 6 asked her mother for a candle and she then walked us down the stairs. As soon as we got to the bottom she blew it out as I am sure she knows those stairs like the back of her hand.

Once back we went for a quick dinner to Sombrero, a cool Mexican restaurant, that I am just realizing I haven’t mentioned before. This made about the 5th night in a row we were there. The owner, Armand, is a cool Romanian guy who lived in the States for 20 years, moved back to Bucharest 3 years ago to help his mother who was in poor health, and in his words “had a crazy idea to open a Mexican restaurant”. It is indoors, the food is good, and they serve cold beer which is a novelty in Romania.

Then back to the orphanage to pack and get to bed so I can go to Rony’s volleyball game in the morning. Luckily this one is just down the block so no 3 tram rides to get there.

The Metro. Thursday Oct 18

Food shopping at The Metro with Gica, Sue, and Dr. Toma. On the way there I asked Dr. Toma for a ballpark of what they would spend for the month’s food. She said approx 15 million old lei or 1,500 new lei.
We shopped for about an hour picking up three carts worth of food. The order was tallied and it came to 1,415 new lei. Needless to say I was rather impressed, since I often go to the grocery store thinking I will spend about $30 and walk out $130 later.

Bureucracy and Bare Minerals. Wednesday October 17

Today was an interesting day. There is a container of donated product being sent from America that is being held in Constanta because there is some random form missing. It was about an hour in the office just trying to figure out what they needed. Then in addition to that they needed all the papers translated into Romanian from English. Just a pain. I put in a call to Daniel to see if he could help on the translation. I know he is so swamped between his job and translating on the side, but of course being the guy he is his reply was “sure, why not, send them over”. It is so nice to not only have good friends, but also talented ones.

Next stop was one of the government offices to try and gain some support with getting a daycare built adjacent to the orphanage. The red tape is unbelievable. It seems like you need a permit to apply for the permit, then maybe you can get the permit, but not before you have an engineer assess the location, then an architect draw up the plan, then an engineer to approve it, then a final permit...

My head was spinning just trying to grasp the process.

I emailed my friend Esteban who works for the European Commission so hopefully he may know an engineer that he can recommend to at least get the ball rolling.

Once back at the house the girls were hanging out in my room, and got hold of my make-up. Before I knew it they were all sporting tons of bare minerals, pure radiance, and lip gloss.
They had also taken control of my digital camera so I only have pictures of Nico. She was looking good though and working it for the camera! I would have loved to have pictures of them all though. Super cute.

An Eye Opening and Sad Day. Tuesday October 16

Today we were off with Gica and Sue to visit some of the families they help out in the area.

First stop was at the home of a family about three blocks away. The mother helps out at the orphanage with cleaning, and ARCHWAY helps them out with whatever they can.
She came by one of the first days we were there to tell Sue that her electricity had been cut off because they hadn’t paid the bill. She has five daughters – the oldest two are school age, incredibly bright, and speak beautiful English. They had to do their homework by candle light since the electricity was cut. Susan asked for the bill and said that ARCHWAY would take care of it.
Their house is pretty tough. No window coverings, just open space, and two rooms. I can’t even imagine what they do in winter. I had clothes that Gymboree donated and we outfitted the baby with some good winter clothes. She was so grateful and thanked me over and over.

Next stop was to see a family living in what I can only describe as somewhat of a cave. It is a carved out section of rock that is behind the University, with a hot water pipe running through it. When we arrived there was one woman there with her toddler son. The conditions they live in are unbelievable. The little boy was standing on something behind the pipe, in a dirty t-shirt and nothing else. The surroundings were just absolute filth. It was really hard to see and take in.

Just to try and process the total shit hand that this poor little kid was dealt just can’t help but make me furious. When it comes down to it, what kind of shot does he have down the road, or even in the near future for that matter? It just doesn't make sense to me. Just really, really sad.

Thankfully, at least ARCHWAY can help some, but it seems like they are the only ones providing any assistance to them. Just hard all around.

Then we were off to visit the Dubrovnic family. To access their living space you have to go to the back of an apt building, in through a little walkway, then up 3 flights of super narrow windy steps to reach their 2 room place. They have no electricity or running water, and eleven children under the age of 9. Again, just unbelievable to see and realize that that is their life.

Back at the orphanage that night it was tough to process everything I saw that day. Especially when kids are involved it just breaks your heart. It would be hard enough for an adult to try to live in those conditions, but a child is inconceivable, although very much a reality.

As I was falling asleep I had my ipod on and it was playing some random travel mix I had made for the plane trip. Pink Floyds “Comfortably Numb” came on.
The last thing I remember were tears streaming down my face and then it was morning.

Finger Painting and Happy B-day Rony. Monday October 15

Today was filled with lots of kid time as Sue, Gica, Dr. Toma and most of the staff were in meetings most of the day. Over the weekend we went to the Carrefour shopping center and picked up some art supplies and books. It was a beautiful day so perfect to bust out the finger paints. They all came up with some pretty inventive creations and I think that everyone had a lot of fun.

The evening we celebrated Rony's 13th birthday with cake. It was a blast! He was first treated to the Romanian version and then the English version of Happy Birthday.

Spa Day and Pizza. Sunday October 14

Another fun day of hanging out with the kids. I was treated to some new hairstyles courtesy of Elena, Elena, and Oana. I never thought that pigtail French braids would be a good look for me, but I could not have been more wrong. Just thinking of all the years I missed out on that style just makes me sad. I also got a manicure from Elena and a massage. The manicure could use a little practice, but I think she has a future as a masseuse if she chooses it.

There were still some hurt feelings over the fact that Catalin got to come to McDonald’s on Saturday so we decided a trip to the pizza place which was a good compromise for all.

The poor folks there for a nice quiet dinner were sure in for a treat, when our group of about 15 rolled in. The kids were really good, but are still kids, so it was loud and chaotic.

Lots and lots of fun and so funny to watch them down the pizza. Little Ana is the smallest thing ever but has the best appetite. She is always eating up at all meals, requested more food, and then when she is being hurried along since she is the last one she always has her standard reply “Mi-e foame” (I’m hungry). It is hilarious to watch, especially since she generally cracks up about 20 times during the meal so there is always a mouth full of food to be seen.

Volleyball and the Mall. Saturday October 13

Awoke this morning to a punctual 8am wakeup call from Rony. He is such a cute kid – 12 yrs old, turning 13 next week. He reminded me about 5 times throughout the week about it and then said he would come to make sure I was awake. True to his word he was there at 8 on the nose, very unusual for a Romanian. Here, 8 generally means sometime around 9:30 or 10.

The game was a lot of fun. Susan, Nora, Rony, and Catalin (my little 12 yr old buddy, shown on the left in the pic of Rony's family) went to the game. About 3 tram rides and a walk later we were there. Afterwards two bus rides and more walking to get to Rony’s house. We arrived to find his Mom, Dad, and 4 siblings eating lunch in the one room they call home. His sister Dana who is 6 and also lives at the orphanage was there for the weekend. She is so cute.

After leaving Rony’s we walked to the Bucharest mall to look around and grab some lunch. Tons of great places and I am embarrassed to say we all opted for the easy route and went to McDonalds. Some hurt feelings when we got back to the house that Catalin had come to Mc Donalds, but I think all will be ok.

Painting and Fun. Friday October 12

More painting, and a day at the park with some of the kids. There is a great little shop in town with the two cutest ladies who run it. I was in last night and they had a tray of mini bouncy balls like you would get in a gumball machine here. They were laughing pretty hard at me as I just kept picking out more and more colors. All in, I think I ended up buying about 15 of them. Considering they cost the equivalent of about 10 cents each you really can’t go wrong.

After school we had Elena, Oana, Elena, Catalin, Nico, Ana, Ionut, and Poofy the house puppy head over to the park with us. The bouncy balls were a hit with everyone. Tomorrow we have a volleyball game to go to for Rony so that should be fun. I found out from Sue that his name is actually Marius, but he wanted to be called Ronaldo after the soccer player, so since then he is known as Ronaldo even to his family.

I had to post the picture of Ana and Dana in their little Holly Hobby outfits. One of the first days at school I saw a girl wearing it and thought it was kind of a unique look. Turns out they are actually the little girls school uniforms!

Victor Babes Hospital and Candy. Thursday October 11

Today we went to Victor Babes hospital and met with Mary, an American nurse who has been working in Bucharest for 14 years. Her focus and area of expertise is on AIDS. It was truly a gift to be a fly on the wall to hear the conversation between Susan and Mary. They have both been in the midst of it for so long, so they know the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to NGO’s, dealing with the government, and programs in the country.

I was dumbfounded to realize that to obtain a job where you would be in contact with foreigners you have to take an AIDS test. Therfore even someone who is now in their teens or twenties and has been on anti viral’s since childhood and is in very stable health can't even get a job as a maid at a hotel or cleaning at a McDonald’s.

Unbelievable to realize that discrimination at such a blatant level not only exists, but is the law. Doesn’t leave much hope for those infected….

On a happier note once we got back to the house we gave out some of the candy we brought with us. Talk about kids with a love for sweets! They could not get enough. I have a feeling we may have opened up the floodgates on this one.. Dr. Toma is not going to be happy with us.