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Posts Tagged ‘HUG’

The root of the problem

It’s probably time for a history lesson on Romania. In fact, it’s probably time for several. So why not start from the beginning?

Once upon a time there was a communist dictator named Nicolae Ceausescu. In 1966, one year after he took control of Romania, he made abortion and birth control illegal. He thought by boosting Romania’s population he would be strengthening the nation. [Check out Chapter 4 in Steve Levitt’s Freakonomics for a very interesting take on the effects of the ban.]

Needless to say, the Romanian birth rate doubled a year after the ban was introduced and an enormous amount of children were born into conditions of national destitution. So mothers opted to abandon their children at birth. According to an article in The Guardian, “By the time the Ceausescus were put before a firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989 there were around 100,000 children in appalling conditions in the country’s orphanages.”

That is when the international media descended on Romania and horrid tales of children tied to beds and left without food made the country infamous.

Increase in adoptions

As a result, aid sent to Romania increased, and the ’90s saw a surge in adoptions. But as adoptions became increasingly popular in Romania, they also became increasingly more profitable. Arranging adoptions turned into a corrupt child-trafficking service that experts say hindered the development of social services and child protection policies.

Responding to the criticism of foreign nations (especially the European Union, which Romania was eager to join), the Romanian government temporarily halted all adoptions in 2001. The adoption law was altered and made permanent in 2004. The ban was occasionally eased to allow grandparents and siblings in foreign countries to adopt the children and in some cases foreign families.

The government said the pause gave it time to reform the adoption system in response to EU criticism. Romania entered the EU on Jan. 1, 2007 but has not lifted its ban on international adoption.

Several western European countries and the United States have lobbied against the ban, and the fate of Romania’s abandoned children has become an issue of global interest (hence our interest).

Get the story straight

Media coverage over the past 20 years has been interestingly inconsistent. Articles like that in The Guardian in December 2005 praised Romanian efforts to clean up their act. And packages like that featured on ABC News’ Nightline in May 2006 highlight the government’s failures, especially in reference to the orphanages assigned to handicapped children.

Judy Broom, president of HUG, says the ABC package left the Romanian government and state caregivers skeptical of American media. According to Judy, the report did not accurately capture the conditions of the Braila handicapped children’s orphanages (Judy has traveled to Braila on nearly all of her 54 service trips because HUG sponsors children in a handicapped orphanage in Braila).

HUG was founded by Judy in 1990 and she has been working in Romania from the beginning (read a profile I wrote about Judy and HUG’s birth and struggles). She has traveled to Romania two to three times a year for nearly the past 20 years. She’s seen things change. She knows what’s stayed the same. And she’s going to show us (and in turn, we’re going to show you).

And so there you have it. A little bit of background on a very complex story and a little bit of insight on what we plan to report. More to come.

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We’re honestly not sure how it got to this point, but we’re less than one month away from leaving for Romania.

That’s not completely true. We know exactly how we got here. But I guess in the midst of preparing we’re sometimes overwhelmed, and it suddenly seems like this all came at us out of nowhere.

Subconsciously, though, I think Lindsey and I have been planning this trip since the day we met freshman year of high school. We’ve repeatedly joked about taking over the world through our writing and our photos. I’m not so sure we’ll be successful at taking anything over, but I do think there is hope for our plan to help bring the world to life. We are going to travel to Romania and tell the stories that will make their world a part of our world (because last time I checked, we’re all sharing one world).

Two years ago, I was a Maguire Center for Ethics summer intern. I worked with Humanity United in Giving (HUG) Internationally, an organization that aids Romanian orphanages. I was fortunate enough to travel to Romania and spend two weeks working with the children. Instantly I recognized there are stories to be told. And we’re going to tell them.

This trip is happening for several reasons. Lindsey and I are journalists. We’re not studying to be journalists. We don’t want to be journalists when we grow up. We’re journalists and we want to report on what we know is a newsworthy region with newsworthy events. Plus, we love adventure (an addiction nourished by Lindsey’s time in Copenhagen and my time in London). And it might just be me—but two weeks in a foreign land with not much more than paper, pens (and pencils in case it rains) and a camera sounds pretty damn adventurous. And we applied and received a grant from the SMU Meadows Exploration Fund that will partially finance our trip. All of that—plus our overly ambitious, youthful natures—has brought us to this point. 23 days to departure.

On my trip two years ago, I bought one souvenir for myself. It was a t-shirt that read “Sail right into the storm across the ocean.” Honestly, I doubt the random Romanian T-shirt shop owner had any idea what the words on the shirt meant, but Lindsey and I thought the expression “sail right into the storm” was fitting. We’re sailing right into all of this.

Luckily, we both know how to swim.

–sommer

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