Nicolae Ceaucescu was President of Romania from 1967 to 1989. His domestic policy was Stalinist in
character, reinforcing the powers of his secret police and ruthlessly disposing of all opponents.
Towards the end of his time in power Ceaucescu became obsessed by the idea of creating a perfect race.
Families were ordered to have at least five children and were taxed severely or suffered from loss of
privileges if they were not on course to do so. Abortion and contraception were outlawed. Ceaucescu boasted
that there were no handicapped people in Romania, therefore babies with obvious handicap were disposed of or
After Ceaucescu's death in 1990 over 120,000 children were discovered living in grim institutions and,
despite a far more open regime, more children are being added to those numbers daily.
In the county of Jud Bihor in Western Romania children who were assessed to be mentally retarded at the age
of three were sent to an institution in the country village of Cadea. They were housed in grim, old buildings
that had broken windows and no heating or plumbing. It was dark and dirty and for the majority of the time the
children were confined to their cots. Most of them were tied to the bars by strips of cloth tied tightly around
their wrists and ankles.
The children were always dirty, hungry and cold - sixty to seventy died every winter. Their original
retardation was the result of early illness such as pneumonia and bronchitis and years of confinement at Cadea
only compounded the problem. When they were finally released in January 1991 many could neither walk nor speak.
All of the children rocked backwards and forwards in their distress and their eyes were glazed and unseeing. On
release many of the children were sent to hospital buildings in the mountain villages of Remeti and Bratca. It
is here that the White Cross is assisting the local Romanian staff in their care.
All the children in the Sectille de Neuropsihatrie Infantila at Remeti and Bratca are committed mental
patients. They are all in the care of a Health Department that has little money to spare and the only
provision, until recently, for their future is to transfer them at the age of 18 to the adult mental hospital
Two boys have already gone. Both have run away. One is now living rough on the streets of Ordea. This is not
an acceptable future!
Adult mental patients are frequently sedated and often physically abused. The White Cross is trying to find
an alternative way ahead and this may well be possible for the more intelligent and socially integrated
children. The most difficult problem is to know what to do with the children who are still either too
traumatised, too handicapped or too institutionalised to manage life in the outside world.
Nowhere To Go and Nothing To Do
Suddenly in 1997, all those children who were 16 years old were taken out of our care and shipped back to
Cadea. Physically they are now looked after well and the old buildings have been renovated, so there is now
little to remind them of the horrors they once knew.
The White Cross has, since that time, built up a good relationship with the Director of Cadea, Vasile
Negrut, and we do our best to visit the youngsters whenever we can.
With sewing machines donated by the people of Cornwall one of the rooms in the out buildings has been turned
into a needlework room, where the youngsters have been taught to make their own clothes as well as embroidery
and other fine needle crafts. They were even commissioned to make trousers and cassocks for a nearby
With money donated specifically for that purpose the White Cross has helped to renovate another of the
outbuilding rooms as a workshop for making brooms. They hope to sell these at local markets and, if sufficient
can be produced, perhaps even export to the UK.
Those youngsters who are not occupied in these 2 workshops work on the farm or in the kitchen or
Even though they are now learning skills we still do not know what the future holds for them. They are still
committed mental patients and do not have the freedom to go outside the institution.
We have been able to offer two of them a home in our farm houses but would like to see more young people
released from these institutions.
Since the White Cross has been working with the children over 600 people have travelled with the Mission to
Romania. Some have only been able to give a few days of concentrated work, most average two months and one
stayed for four years! Some work with the children, others repair the buildings and yet others deliver goods.
Every volunteer is special. They raise their own money for air and train fares, insurance, food and electricity
and more than half of them do it all over again and go out for a second or even third time. Old or young, with
or without qualifications, the combined work and presence of these many different people has had an amazing
impact on the children.
Children with blank, unseeing eyes, rocking in a world of their own are now healthy, laughing and
boisterous. The accumulative effect of the White Cross volunteers with their mixture of naivety and experience,
their energy, their perseverance, their hopes, their dreams and their many different ways of showing love has
created a rainbow effect of bouncy, confident and individual children.
The Maintenance Programme
On the whole the volunteers who travel to Romania to maintain the buildings travel overland carrying their
equipment and supplies with them. This is a long arduous journey and these men and women generally give up
their annual leave in order to make the trip. Their work has transformed the hosptial building, orphanage
school, and village school at Remeti, the volunteer accommodation at Remeti and Bratca, hospital 6 in Ordea and
the first two family homes.
They have painted and decorated, fitted toilets and showers, re-plumbed complete buildings, dug septic
tanks, fitted central heating boilers, washingmachines and renewed all electrics. They have constructed
playgrounds and have delivered food, clothing and equipment. The practical assistance they have given has been
absolutely vital. No work can be done in a cold and dirty enviroment. Their contribution has made the programme
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