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Posts Tagged ‘orphanages’

When we postponed the trip, Lindsey and I set a goal to expand our Romanian network. We want to reach out to all of our connections. So I sent a message to Arwen Kidd who worked on a documentary with a colleague of mine from University College London. She has spent a considerable amount of time in Romania working on a lot of different projects (did her journalism thesis project there on the changing media landscape since communism to joining the EU; was originally hired to co-write a book about a rock band in Bucharest, ended up as the Marketing & Communications Manager for the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation; did photos for a number of Romanian-based magazines and NGOs; was communications coordinator for an international film festival based there; helped organize a human rights documentary fest with the Czech embassy and more).

From her resume, we decided she MIGHT know a thing or two about Romania. Maybe.

Her words of advice were helpful and some points got me thinking.

First she said responded to our blog by saying, “Number one thing to keep in mind is that Romania is very much a developed country. Although it’s not England, it is highly capitalistic, it is full of culture and entertainment (Bucharest and its ‘mall’ fixation is something in its own right, to be sure – plus great cafes and night-life), over all very business-minded, and really changing rapidly – even since I started going there back in early 2006.”

I’ve heard from a couple of people looking over our blog that they’ve gathered the impression we might think Romania is a very down-trodden third world country. We don’t. And Lindsey and I are making it a point not to try to peg a story into a hole sized to our perceptions (if our perceptions do not reflect the reality). We’re going with an open-mind and we’re going to investigate. We’re also researching, and I am pulling from my first-hand experiences from my trip in 2006.

Arwen also voiced a pretty reasonable question to the premise of our trip: The orphanage story is an old (and covered) one. What’s the new angle?
Our answer: Yes, it’s been covered. But not a lot has been written recently. And we’re going after the “then and now” stories no one else has covered. We know the conditions the orphans faced right after communism collapsed. But what sort of system did the kids grow up in? And what are their options now?

And here are some random comments and tips she gave that I thought were interesting:

  • The countryside is gorgeous. Mountains and beaches, and vineyard country too – it’s all there.
  • Romanians are thoroughly hospitable (once you get past their sometimes cold first impression exteriors…), and friendly people.
  • Watch out for a drink pronounced ‘Polinkah’ however…. known to kill that one is. Tsuica is the lesser version. Both are offered widely and drunk with hosts. Sometimes early in the morning. Romanians like to sip.

Thanks, Arwen, for the great feedback.

And to everyone else: feel free to share more tips. Our goal is to be practically Romanian by the time we get there. (Lindsey is working on a Romanian tan as we speak.)

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The importance of respect in our life was reinforced to me twice last Wednesday. Once in lecture form from my negotiations professor and then later tonight at the ASMP/DSVC event, where internationally known Chicago-based photographer Sandro spoke.

My professor can be summed up in one word: badass. He is a very experienced negotiator so when he speaks, my classmates and I listen. I immediately got ready to take notes today when he started discussing negotiating abroad. He told us that the number one thing you can do when dealing with people from other cultures is learn how to show respect. Even if you botch it up, your actions–just the attempt–creates goodwill. I remember traveling around Europe last year and finding that people were more willing to work with me if I attempted to speak their language, no matter how badly I was butchering it. Even though I’ve traveled to foreign countries before, I feel like I’m coming to Romania with a different purpose, which means that I will need to be more aware of these differences. While what my professor said is common sense, I’m glad I heard it before we leave.

For respect lesson #2, I turn to Sandro. He talked a little bit about how he builds trust with his subjects and shows them respect. When taking pictures of people on the streets, he will begin to photograph them from a distance and slowly get closer until he gets all of the shots he wants. If people indicate to him that they want their photo taken, he stops and apologizes. But when the people allow him to continue his work, he thanks them for sharing an intimate moment with him at the end of his shooting. Such a small gesture goes a long way. His awareness of respect was even present during the lecture. After answering a question from the crowd, he more often than not would thank the person for asking the question. The humbleness exhibited by Sandro was quite refreshing. He’s talented and successful but still down to earth. And I’m willing to bet that the importance of respect in his work is probably one of the reasons that he is successful.

These are all things that Sommer and I need to keep in mind when we’re abroad. Not only are we trying to interview people that speak another language, but they also have a different culture with different traditions. If we forget this, there’s very little chance that we’ll be able to accomplish our goal of reporting the current conditions of the orphanages in Romania.

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Here are several reasons we’re doing this whole project:

  1. We know that there are good stories surrounding the Romanian orphanages, stories that need to be heard.
  2. We have a contact that can introduce us to the people there (and Sommer’s already met some of them).
  3. We received some financial help from SMU. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the funds to do a project of this magnitude.
  4. This experience will be invaluable no matter what happens. We will be better journalists by the end of it, even if everything goes wrong once we get there. I’ve already learned a lot, and we haven’t even left! Experience really is the best learning tool.
  5. We love to travel.
  6. We hope to get our names out there and network. Maybe there’s even a job in our future (I can dream, right?). At the very least, we’ll take a “I need a reporter/photographer an assignment. What about those girls that went to Romania? I wonder what they’re up to…”
  7. We would like to get published in major publications, too (a common goal among journalists). Can you say crash course in freelancing?
  8. It will be fun.
  9. Why not?

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The New York Times just published an article about Romanian parents leaving their children to work in other countries. Some parents can’t earn enough financial support through work in Romania. The trend particularly increased after Romania joined the European Union in January 2007.

While the article doesn’t talk about orphanages, it gives a sense of the current conditions in Romania and how difficult it still is for parents there who decide they cannot keep their children. Similarly, some of the children in the orphanages we plan to visit are not orphans in the true sense of the word (both parents deceased) but rather orphans because both parents are absent.

-lindsey

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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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