Children Thrive Once Again

Posted by Kate Lucas on May 26th 2009 in Organizations, Reader Involvement, Volunteers Edit

For Diane, it was Emma. For Elizabeth, it was Leaceline. For Tamera, Andrea. Each volunteer had a dear one by the time her two weeks were up.

Emma, Leaceline and Andrea were children living in an orphanage in Tutova, Romania, one of the poorest areas of Eastern Europe. Diane, Elizabeth and Tamera were among a group who spent two weeks caring for the children through Global Volunteers.

Called Failure to Thrive after the medical condition, the orphanage and clinic serve children who are underweight or disabled at birth because poverty prevented their mothers from getting adequate nutrition. Many children were sent to the clinic by a governmental child protection agency. Others were dropped off by their parents, particularly the migratory Roma, who knew they couldn’t provide sufficiently for their kids.

As the women described it, the poverty was vivid in the community and difficult to witness. Tamera remembers Roma children running along the road, covered in dust and dirt, stuffing handfuls of something bright red into their pockets. The red pieces spilled out of their pockets to the ground but the children kept running. They were sugar packets. The kids had stolen them from tables at an outdoor restaurant. They weren’t getting enough nutrients at home, and this was the best they could find.

The Failure to Thrive clinic presently houses 41 children under the age of four. Needless to say, the staff has their hands full running the clinic and providing for the children’s basic needs. Volunteers at the clinic provide the vital support role of giving individual or small-group nurturing and attention. “I think about how even adults like to be held,” said Diane. “It’s a pretty basic need, and if we’re not here to do it, they don’t get held.”

Speaking about their experience over lunch a few weeks ago, it was clear that the experience left indelible impressions on Diane, Elizabeth and Tamera. As an example, the three described the day when a young couple, parents of twins, visited their children at the clinic. They were very humbly dressed, and they had obviously walked a long way. When the mother saw her children, her cheeks filled with tears. The women very clearly observed that the children were not completely abandoned. “You saw how much [visiting parents] cared, and how hard they were trying,” said Elizabeth.

The women were also struck by the sensitivity of the clinic aides. Tamera describes the care Andrea received, the young girl whom she spent much of her time with. “You could see they just adored her,” said Tamera. “She was 35 lbs, paralyzed, and couldn’t talk. It would be so easy just to leave her there, lying on the floor. They had so much to do, but they held her.”

Diane remembers that some of the toddlers seemed fascinated with Don, an aide and the assistant team leader. “They were climbing all over him, looking at his big watch, his hair on his chest,” she said. At one point Don was repairing something, and the boys were all right there watching. Seeing how happy the kids were gave the volunteers hope. “That was surprising,” said Tamera, “when they don’t own a single thing.” Elizabeth added, “Kids are often our greatest teachers.”

The three travelers are eager to learn and give more. Six months after their trip, they are all planning for the next. Tamera would like to go to Central America with Global Volunteers, perhaps to Peru. Elizabeth plans to do outreach with her church. Diane will go back to Romania this fall, hopefully for three weeks this time.

Global Volunteers
Elizabeth Strom

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