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Update from Romania

May 23, 2008

I have been here about two months. It is an interesting combination between South America and Europe A lot of things here remind me of Peru. I am learning more about the Gypsies. Romania is the home of most of the Gypsies in Europe. Many of them live like, and even look like, South Americans. The most writing I did in South America was about Peru.

In any case, there is a lot of work to be done here. They need a lot of help. Many Romanians are sick and tired of being robbed, etc. by the Gypsies, so there is now a lot of discrimination. I have heard people say "I hate Gypsies. We should kill them all." I have also heard many people say that violence, stealing, begging and being lazy is "in their blood." I haven't had a lot of bad experiences with them yet so I still feel optimistic I can personally make a difference in a few of their lives, and also possibly change some people's attitudes and beliefs a little bit (though I know it is VERY difficult to change someone's beliefs).

I have started a new website called "Let's Help Bianca." It shows a few pictures and tells a little of the story. I have created a good relationship with many of the kids and teens in the small town called Sighisoara (pronounced Siggy show ara). I feel motivated by the kids and teens to do something to help them. I have done a little already, but I want to do a lot more. I like to make them happy, to make them laugh, to make them smile and to teach them a little bit each time I see them. I like to show them that someone cares at least a little. I have a very touching story about a girl who gave me a tomato when I was leaving Sighisoara but I won't write the whole thing now. I will just say it means about as much to me as a Nobel Peace Prize.

Actually I think I could stand a good chance of earning that honor at some point, if I haven't done enough to earn it already. One of my best ideas might be the English Teachers for Peace idea, but there are also many others. I am not trying to earn or win any prizes, though, I am just following my own heart or feelings, whichever you want to call it. I like helping people, especially children and teenagers and I like and need to feel appreciated and satisfied that I have done something I feel good about. The kids and teens in Siggy appreciate me, or at least let's say I feel appreciated by them. I know they don't have people who really care about them, and I know they don't have good role models for fathers so they look up to me as something like a father figure. It works out for me because these particular kids and teens do have places to sleep at night, and someone feeding them, at least most of the time, even if inadequately. So I can still travel but come back to see them to keep in touch with them and I will feel mostly secure knowing they will be there. They don't have great lives, but for the most part they are still pretty happy.

I guess you could say my overall goal is to help keep them happy and smiling. I want to teach them things, but not at the expense of them losing the happiness and smiles they now have. Therefore I would always keep making learning from me fun and interesting and I would always allow them to decide when they have had enough and they want to do something else.

I have already proven to myself that many of the stereotypes I have heard about the Gypsies are not true in every case. For example, many people told me "They only want money," but when I let the children and young teens take pictures with my camera and when I let them look at the pictures on my laptop, they forget about money. I also took two of the children to an Internet cafe and showed them how to look up pictures of horses and they were fascinated and delighted. One day, one of the girls, named Jova, also asked me if she could practice writing, I didn't even suggest it to her. So things like this have helped me feel encouraged. But the best thing was the tomato. (Jan 2012 note - Her name was Mihaela I wrote about it on another site but I see now that I let that site expire. The file was mihaela.htm)

I have also learned more about the history of Europe, the wars etc. For example, how after the first world war the victors decided to reward Romania by being on their side so they cut off piece of Hungary and gave it to Romania! That part of Hungary is now called Transylvania and is still controlled by Romania. I also learned the Hungarians tried to have a revolution and throw out the Communists in 1965, but the Russians sent in tanks, soldiers etc. and killed a lot of Hungarians to keep it under their control. Where I am now a lot of people speak Hungarian and call themselves Hungarians. It hurts me to think about these things. I wonder if we will ever learn to live in peace and share the planet cooperatively (and give up power peacefully.)

This reminds me that I have been visiting a special needs school and watching them prepare for a dance competition. (You can see some videos from the school on the youtube channel "eqivideos". Just search "special needs school")

I have started to wonder if the teenagers in the school I have been visiting would prefer to compete with the teenagers in the other schools, or make friends with them. I am pretty sure they would prefer to make frriends with them.

I also wonder about the relative priorities children, teenagers and adults place on things like love, friendships, relationships, money, competition, tradition etc. From my experience, it seems children and teenagers actually have a healthier and more sustainable value system.

In any case, I have met a lot of very nice people here in Romania. I am getting more support and help for my ideas than anywhere else I have been to. I have met some people in the Ministry of Education here, for example, who gave me permission to visit the special needs schools and take some pictures and make some videos so I could show people what they are doing. In general I was favorably impressed with what they are doing in these special needs schools and I see that they would be excellent places to receive volunteers. I am thinking about ways to organize a volunteer program or a website which would list volunteer opportunities in Romania and possibly also serve as something like a watchdog organization because many NGO's etc. are just taking money without helping people.

I put some ads in the local papers here for someone to work for me and have had good results. It looks like I might have my first full time assistant. She just took off for a week or so to Holland, but I feel pretty optimistic she will work for me when she comes back. We worked together one full day and it went very well. I also met someone else who speaks Hungarian who has been helping me and supporting me. She might spend some time with me in Hungary soon. Because of the visa laws I can only stay in Romania 90 days on my tourist visa, so I will have to leave soon whether I am ready to or not. I feel very frustrated by these laws, but in a way they serve to keep me traveling and learning new things, having new experiences, meeting new people, getting new ideas etc. I feel pretty focused right now.

Last night I also met someone who has her own small NGO and she seems very sincere. Her name is Mihaela (not the same as the one who gave me the tomato). She has been doing a lot of work with a very small amount of money. So now I see three very real ways to help people here. 1) The special needs schools, 2) the kids and teens in Sighisoara and 3) Mihaela's NGO. (Later I found out Mihaela is too controlled by the religion which runs the NGO)

As I said there is a LOT of work to do here in Romania. For the teens who are still teen prisoners, I encourage you to think about things you can do without having to get stressed over getting into a university. Not only do a lot of organizations need volunteers, but a lot of places that work with children can use some help in the form of assistants to help take care of children. You definitely don't need a university degree or even a high school degree to be able to help change diapers in a nursery or to help a child with Downs Syndrome learn how to paint.

I mention a nursery because the girl who speaks Hungarian works in a nursery and she confirmed that there are lots of things a teenager could do to help which don't require even a high school degree. You won't get rich, but 1) you don't have to stay there all your life 2) you could learn enough to help start a private nursery or day care center on your own, and 3) your recovery and mental health is more important than making money right now.

The girl who works in the nursery has had her own share of problems and she said the same thing I have discovered: working with children, hugging them, playing with them, caring for them etc. is healthy and therapeutic. Children are better "treatment" than drugs and medication for depression. Especially when you are free to hug them and show them you love them.

There is still a lot of freedom left in Romania. It is definitely much more free than many so called "developed" countries which are suppressing the expression of emotions through rules like no hugging in schools - not even between friends. (As is happening in the United States.)

My plan now is to

- help the people who have helped me here by helping them get some funding and some volunteers

- keep looking for ways to help the kids and teens I met in Sighisoarsa

- start speaking more about my life, my experiences etc. as I travel around Europe

I have also decided to pay someone to help me write my "memoirs". I have decided my life is worth writing about and investing in. And I am planning to look for some journalist type people who want to travel with me and help me write stories. I have decided I will pay someone to write for me and this site. I also got new camera yesterday which takes videos so now I will need someone to help me edit them. I feel confident there is enough money in the world and enough people who will support what I am doing to pay for the assistants I hire. I used to be afraid of running out of money but now I am starting to get more afraid of running out of time to do all the things I want to do. I also want to create an ongoing organization so people like Heath for example, can feel pretty secure knowing there is a real life for them as soon as they are out of what I call "Teen Prison." (2012 note - Heath was 16 or 17 when I wrote this. I stopped hearing from him shortly after he turned 18- which has happened many times with other teens I have helped so I feel discouraged and at times used by that.)

This makes me think of what I have heard both here and in Bulgaria. I have heard that orphans are basically kicked out of the orphanage at age 18. Many of them then become instantly homeless. Many end up in jail. A teen here in Romania named Vlad told me that he thought many teenagers with parents are actually also orphans and I agree. They are emotionally orphans. Often their parents have not saved enough money for them to be free to do what they want with their lives either. Here in Romania it is almost impossible for anyone to save actually. Even if they would like their 18 year old to be totally free, they usually feel obliged to send them to a university for four more years of being stressed, following rules, being controlled by people whose highest priority is not caring about them, etc.

I want to create jobs for teenagers which do not require either a high school degree or a university degree. I know that teenagers have a lot to offer the world which doesn't depend on them giving up so much of their lives to get those pieces of paper. I also want to help them create their own jobs and organizations, businesses etc. I see lots of possibilities here. For example, in tourism and health food (since nearly everyone still eats meat daily). I am not sure how many jobs I can create, but if I can create even two or three, I will feel pretty satisfied. A few of the teens have been supportive of my work and writing for several years now. I want to show them that their support was not in vain. And I want to show them that I believe in them. And, of course, that I believe in children.

S. Hein
May 23, 2008
Targu Mures, Romania

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