While the new possibilities of jobs after the lift of visa restrictions for Romanians in the European Union’s Schengen area, parents economic burden has eased – however, with their absence at home comes a greater burden onto their children’s shoulders. This is only somewhat relievable by the care of NGOs in the country, like the ‘We grow up together’ program of Save the Children.
In the dilapidated District 5 neighborhood of Bucharest, sits an angular, blue old school building, where a class of fifteen children concentrates on the coloring-in of various Easter pictures. The 10-year-old Adriana Sarca speaks a little bit of English and is proud of the fact that she can say the English names of the colors she is using: blue for the flower and orange and green for the carrots that the bunnies are holding.
She has forgotten the word for the color she gave the bunnies, but when she hears ‘purple’ she reacts with ‘Aaah, yes!’ She knew that one. At first sight this is a bunch of children like you would find anywhere around the world: some curious, others shy, but all playful. But looks can be deceiving. “They smile, but you can see the sadness in their eyes,” social worker and local coordinator of the ‘We grow up together’ program Leonard Andreescu said.
He has been working as a social worker since 1995. For two years he has been coordinating the program for children that are left behind due to the economic migration of one or both of their parents.
“When parents move abroad without their children, these kids experience a negative, emotional impact,” Leonard Andreescu explained. “Our program aims at filling in the gap that arises as a result of the economic migration of the parents.”
The children experience emotional problems that can generate other problems, for example with their health or with school, Andreescu said. “Some of the kids feel guilty and think it is their fault the parents left. Others feel anger because their parents left them. We see sadness, depression and self-isolation. The children can be shy, aggressive or lack self-confidence. Sometimes that leads to dropping out of school, self-injury or even suicide.”
‘We grow up together’ tries to help abandoned children overcome the crisis they find themselves in. “We help them with school, to keep them up with their classmates by supporting their homework. We provide social activities to empower their social skills,” Andreescu explained, “We teach them the things they normally learn from their parents, for example how to dress up and how to manage conflicts. With those independent life skills, their confidence grows and that allows them to integrate better.”
The program makes a real difference, Andreescu states. He refers to the example of one the 10-year-olds. “He was so shy in the beginning, he didn’t want to talk to anybody and he was kind of aggressive. Today we had a newcomer. As he was experienced, he went up to the new kid and tried to protect and encourage him. That is a huge difference from when he stepped into the door four years ago.”
The kid’s father abandoned the family when he and his brother were young. Their mom moved to Italy, where she was fatally shot last week. He is still unaware.
This tragic situation, while coincidental, illustrates the hardships experienced by children who’s parents move abroad. The 10-year-old never had a change to say goodbye to his mother and is now essentially orphaned. His temporary arrangement of living with his grandparents has become permanent.
Growing up with grandparents also leads to problems, Andreescu said. “The grandparents grew up in a completely different society. They have a different mindset and are not able to offer the children the role model they need. With our program we are able to offer these children a healthy role model.”
While programs like ‘We grow up together’ may alleviate the distress experienced by the children, the issue highlights ongoing problems with Romania’s economic and employment situation, providing a band-aid fix instead of a cure.