Street Kids

Street Kids
PA boy, center, stares off into space after inhaling glue fumes from the bag he holds. Street kids often inhale solvents to deaden their hunger pangs. Melanie Stengel/Register.
PA boy, center, stares off into space after inhaling glue fumes from the bag he holds. Street kids often inhale solvents to deaden their hunger pangs. Melanie Stengel/Register.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-story series on a West Haven woman’s efforts to help Romanian children.

BUCHAREST, Romania — The stench in the city’s overheated sewers is so wretched, particularly in one tunnel of the Grozavesti-Radio neighborhood, that someone unfamiliar with the smell must lunge outside for fresh air.

In the sewer’s dim recesses, filthy children huddle with adults — all considered "street kids" — and breathe in the dizzying narcotic fumes of a solvent-based glue through plastic bags clutched to their mouths.

For Gabi, 31, who resorted to sewer life when he ran away from a state orphanage at age 14, the fumes kill his hunger pangs, or in the plain English he’s learned in an Internet cafe, are used "instead of meals."

Gabi and some of his 14 other sewer mates — either orphans or abused runaways — acknowledge in their native Romanian tongue conveyed through a translator that life should have more to offer than stealing or begging.

They then regroup on a rank mattress to inhale more glue.

These sewer-dwelling street kids are where Susan V. Booth of West Haven, who runs a private orphanage in Bucharest, wants to now direct her energy.

No matter how many times Booth, 56, climbs into the sewers and sees such destitution, she is determined her nonprofit child protection agency, Archway Inc., will eventually persuade the street kids to leave the sewers behind.

After all, Booth said if they can endure their hellish conditions, a stable existence of showers and meals may appear enticing if she can convince them to tap into the emotions many of them tuned out years ago.

"These kids are so resilient. It just amazes me," said Booth, who a ddecade ago turned the porch of her West Haven home into a donation area brimming with clothes and medicine for Archway’s outreach programs.

"I don’t know if I could have done what they have done. I would have been dead," said Booth, who has been mugged, robbed and falsely imprisoned since a television news program inspired the Metro-North railroad conductor to help Romania’s less fortunate children. Since 2001, she has plucked nearly two dozen kids out of the sewers to live at Archway Inc.’s orphanage.

Archway’s staff spends $10,000 per month to provide the children with basic necessities, including obtaining identification papers all Romanians need to be eligible for school and work.

But with Archway’s financial situation uncertain, Booth is concerned about the future of street children like Gabi or the pregnant teenage mothers. Financial troubles have already forced her to end the sewer outreach clothing and food programs last fall.

"I’m so excited," said Booth, who intends to become an unpaid consultant to the Romanian government as it attempts to restructure its social service system.

SETTING PRIORITIES

Finger by finger, Booth lists her plan’s main priorities: sell the orphanage building; use the money to buy a larger building or get the government to donate an abandoned building; relocate her orphans to that building and open up a social services facility that would serve as a model in post-Communist Romania.

The facility would double the size of the 25-bed Archway orphanage. More children need help because Romania banned international adoption, except by close relatives, in 2001. Booth would also tap former Archway employee and social worker Mirabela Mahu, who forged deep relationships with the street kids and is godmother to one of Booth’s orphans, to run a child day care center so street parents can work.

Booth also wants to outfit the facility with a center for missing and exploited children.

"I can’t imagine doing anything else, and the thing is now, if I don’t do it, then there are not a lot of people over (in Romania) that will," Booth said.

If all goes as planned, Booth proposed the government assume responsibility of the building after one year of operation so she can climb back into the sewers like she did on a regular basis when she arrived in Romania in 1997.

Romania’s National Authority for Protection of Children’s Rights in Bucharest has yet to learn of her plans.

However, Ioana Nedelcu, chief of services for its Strategies, Programs and Training Department said the government envisions a closer working relationship between local government and nongovernmental authorities, like Archway, to expand its current social services for the street kids. The government now offers them upgraded orphanages (now called placement centers), housing programs and medical aid for newborns.

Nedelcu said the government plans to launch any new programs first on the local level and then bring in private agencies. The country has 1,140 state placement centers and 405 private orphanages.

One such new program will target drug treatment for street kids, which the national authority wants to implement in the near future to further decrease the country’s street kid population. In the 1990s, there were an estimated 2,000 homeless children. Now there are 400, said Cosmina Simiean, the national authority’s street kids project manager and the child protect
ion minister’s senior counsel. She attributed the decline to aging street children, government’s social services and the aggressive efforts of the private agencies like Archway.

She said a coordination of efforts will take time, not only because it’s difficult to convince long-term street kids to resume another lifestyle, but because the government needs to restructure social services from scratch.

"We are not there yet to have a full closed-circle of social services, but we are on the right path," said Simiean.

Laurenteu, 33, who spent the last 15 years in the sewers following his release from a state orphanage, does not have much faith in the government.

"If the government said they are so involved in so many programs, (we) should be getting help," he said via a translator.

Nearby in the Grozavesti-Metrou neighborhood, Elena, 18, covers dozens of intravenous drug scars with a jacket and then crawls out of a sewer to breastfeed her daughter, one-year-old Bianca. Unlike Laurenteu, the runaway said she wants to believe in the government’s promises and Booth’s commitment to help street kids because she wants to finish night classes.

Perhaps then, she said she can rent an apartment and buy the $200 train ticket to send her child to be raised by Elena’s parents in Moldova.

"(I) will always prefer to have a place to stay, a stable place," she said before returning to the stifling hot sewer she and her "husband" decorated to resemble a living room, right down to the jury-rigged television.

To learn more about Archway, Inc., visit www.archwaykids.org.

Helping street kids is child’s play

POVERTY STRICKEN: A Romanian street child, like many that Street Kids Matter helps,  peers through a food shop window
POVERTY STRICKEN: A Romanian street child, like many that Street Kids Matter helps, peers through a food shop window

THREE schoolchildren have sold their toys to help poor children in Romania.

Siblings Callum, 10, Antonia, and Isabella Chadwick, both nine, decided to raise money for poverty-stricken and homeless youngsters in the Romanian town of Comanesti after their parents told them about their plight.

Martin and Carol Chadwick, of Hazel Street, Rising Bridge, (Lancashire, UK) spoke to their children after Vic Brown, from Street Kids Matter, sent an email asking for help in raising funds.

Vic, of Reedsholme, helped to set up the Street Kids Matter organisation several years ago, to raise awareness of the social problems in Romania, and the work of non-profit organisations that seek to provide shelter, care, education, and a new life for the hundreds of poor, homeless young people.

Vic, who has been passionate about the plight since he began visiting the country five years ago, said: " We desperately need to raise funds to pay for a 40 ton truck with aid to reach these youngsters.

"When Martin and Carol approached me and said they would ask their children how they felt they could help in some way, I was delighted.

"Every penny counts."

Martin said: "We sat with our children and made them aware of Romania’s children’s plight and asked them how they felt they could help.

"They came up with the idea of selling all their old toys at a car boot. So they sorted all their toys out, priced them up and on Easter Sunday at Ramsbottom’s car boot, they made an incredible £75.’ Vic said: "I am absolutely delighted, and when I went to meet them on the market I was really surprised at how well they looked after their stall. It was lovely to see their commitment and enthusiasm."

Martin added: "We would also like to say a really great big thank you to everyone who supported the children and the stall."

For more information, or if you would like to help Street Kids Matter, contact Vic on 01706 226533.

NOBLE CAUSE: PTJH PALS to support Romania’s street children

NOBLE CAUSE: PTJH PALS to support Romania’s street children

[Pictured: Pine Tree Junior High PALS group sponsors backpacks for Jacob Shelley (center front) who will take blankets, clothes, stuffed animals, etc., to
Romania street children.]

21-Year-old Gladewater resident Jacob Shelley plans to take 500 backpacks next June to children who live in the streets of Romania. The Pine Tree Junior High PALS group is helping to sponsor Shelley’s noble cause. Several girls even donated their collections of stuffed animals. PALS (Peer Assistance and Leadership) is a service organization with teacher Karen Darby as its sponsor.

Shelley is being sponsored by the Rock Hill Christian Fellowship in White Oak and needs more sponsors for his backpack project. He founded “Packs of Love Outreach” and will need about $8,000 to buy blankets, gloves, socks, hats, stuffed animals, toiletry items, etc., for the backpacks. He plans to work with the Mission to Serve ministry as he distributes the backpacks in several cities of Romania. Shelley will pay his own travel expenses but needs more backpack item donations. He currently attends Kilgore College and can be reached at 903-736-6446.

Big heart, hundreds of shoes

Big heart, hundreds of shoes

The corners of the storage rooms at the Educational Advance Inc. offices located on Schenkel Lane boast stacks of boxes, some housing computers, others waiting to be filled with blankets, shoes and other necessities.
To hear Linda Nallia describe it, only a month ago the building was stuffed with loaded boxes creating a maze when it came to navigating the office.
Linda Nallia, vice president of Education Advance Inc., and husband Bill Nallia, president of Educational Advance Inc., edit videos and provide other services from the offices.
While they create and edit video presentations for outside organizations such as the Kentucky Housing Authority and translate videos into languages to send to countries such as Russia, their primary focus, particularly Bill Nallias, is helping children who live on the streets in Romania.
"He really does have such a big heart," Linda Nallia said. "He has seen what they dont have and how they live."
How it started
Bill Nallias first experience with homeless children in Romania came as a videographer on a mission trip to the country 12 years ago.
He was drawn to the children and knew immediately he wanted to help them.
"I told Linda ‘weve got to do something for these kids," he recalled.
Nallia said the children were doing anything to survive, including prostitution, begging and stealing.
"Whatever it took to be able to make it," he said.
In 1998, after several trips to the country, Bill Nallia created the Lonely Voices Childrens Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Frankfort with a mission to assist children living on the streets of Romania.
The foundation teamed up with the Bethel Foundation located in Romania; the two act as partners to meet the needs of the street children in the country.
Three full-time workers from the foundations walk the streets of the country providing food, clothing and medical attention to more than 2,000 homeless children.
In November Lonely Voices shipped 1,000 pairs of shoes, 1,600 pairs of socks and hundreds of blankets to the country before the harsh Romanian winter set in.
Donations to Lonely Voices come from organizations and individuals across three or four states Nallia said.
The shoes were made possible by a Dallas, Texas based organization called Buckner Orphan Care International Shoes for Orphans Souls, while personal hygiene supplies such as shampoo and insect repellent came from Avon.
Aside from meeting basic needs, the foundation builds facilities to house churches, schools and training programs in the hopes of educating the children so they may get jobs, flats (housing) and independence.
Major accomplishments
Nallia said Lonely Voices does a number of things to aid the long-term needs of children in Romania.
He said recently the foundation sent sewing machines to the country so full-time workers in the Lonely Voices and Bethel Foundations training center can use the machine to teach girls how to sew, which would make girls more marketable to Romanias booming garment production industry.
Donations of computers from the local organization, Salvation PC, allow Romanian children to develop skills in technology another way to make them more employable.
Another project Lonely Voices is participating in is developing a soccer league for the children.
"Were trying to get the children connected to something other than begging," he said.
According to Nallia, who visits the country one to three times each year, the street children are escapees from the countrys poor orphanage system, or sent away by parents unable to care for them, or runaways from abusers.
He said many of them slip into the sex industry, either as prostitutes or are sold to pedophiles as a way to make money. He said the children often form gang-like groups known as "surviving families" which leads to second and third generations of street children.
Lonely Voices main goal is to change these circumstances.
"We try to convince them that theres a better way," Nallia said. "Were able to turn some of them around."
Nallia recounts several success stories during the foundations eight-year span, including that of a 14-year-old girl who was wrongly jailed but now at age 16, is free, has a job and mentors other street children as a spokesperson for the foundation.
Another tale of success comes from a small village in Romania. Nallia said five years ago children would run nude during warm months and only three people in the 3,000-citizen village could read.
"I was blown away when I walked into that village," he said.
Through Lonely Voices, Nallia was able to build a school building and provide clothing to the children.
"The turnaround has just been amazing," he said.
Now more than three people can read.
"When Im there, they love to demonstrate to me they can read," he said.
A few obstacles
He said the Romanian government makes it difficult to provide housing to children, especially at the already established Bethel Shelter, because officials are more concerned about keeping up a good image, rather than helping the children.
"The government doesnt want us to do anything that would encourage street children," Nallia said.
But, he added, through the work of the foundation the children are able to get jobs and become taxpayers, which in turn benefits the government.
Despite issues with the government, Nallia said the biggest challenge is funding.
"Were always short on money," he said.
But a lack of funding wont stop Nallia, whose desire to help children stems from working in education for three decades.
"The deep rooted concern is from being an educator for 30 years and seeing how poor some kids are," he said. "Everything I do day-to-day is something that will enhance Lonely Voices efforts with these children."
Nallia said he was called to be a missionary to Romania.
"Knowing the value of education, being born into an extremely poor family, the thing that pushes me more than anything else is my faith," he said.
Linda Nallia said she stays behind the scenes while her husband follows his mission.
"He said in his lifetime he wants to help others," she said.
Larry Cave, who sits on the board of directors for Lonely Voices said Bill Nallias focus is what makes the foundation successful.
"Hes a very focused Christian," Cave said. "Hes a very humble gentleman."
Cave said while the organization faces many difficult obstacles, Nallias leadership and faith would enable it to continue doing work to serve the children of Romania.
"Obviously, the road is long, the mission is tough, theres a lot of needs we cant get to yet," Cave said.
Nallia said he doesnt worry about the near impossible task of reaching all of the thousands of children living on Romanian streets.
"We just accept the basic premise one child at a time," he said.

U.S. offers help to street children

U.S. offers help to street children

BUCHAREST DAILY NEWS: "

USAID Director Rodger Garner transported a food donation delivery from the International Partnership for Human Development (IPHD) to the street children of Sfanta Macrina. The Sfanta Macrina center is a residential and day hub that provides social, educational, medical and counseling support to street children, as well as job counseling to young adults who grew up in group homes or institutions. This year’s IPHD donation offered 75 metric tons of food to more than 80 organizations including soup kitchens, hospitals, children’s homes and HIV day centers throughout Romania.
Thus, 12,000 people in need will receive four meals from the total goods worth up to 150,000 dollars."

Romania’s blighted street children

By Glenda Cooper
BBC News, Bucharest


Romanian street child entering his underground home

Children have made a hot, foul-smelling tunnel their home

In a wasteland next to a main road in Bucharest some of Romania’s street children – scraps of humanity – peer out from under a vandalised billboard.

Their home is in a tunnel running under the city that forms part of a network carrying hot water pipes.

There is no natural light – just a few candles on the walls. Rubbish is strewn across the floor.

And there are children who say they are 16, but look no older than 10, sniffing glue from bags.

These children say this "home" is their best option.

It is an option taken by 2,000 children in Romania, according to official statistics. But children’s charities believe the figure is a woeful underestimate.

‘A tragedy’

In the economic chaos following the collapse of communism, poverty has forced many onto the street to beg, steal and survive in any way they can.

Group leader Joby, 21, says he has lived in the tunnel for nine years.

"I do not wish anyone to be in this situation," he said.

"Everyone here would like to have their own family and home. The children on the street are my family – they are my brothers."

Romanian street children

The children sniff glue for relief from their misery

But poverty is joined by another factor. Romania is in the midst of great change and is aiming to end its reputation for neglect and abuse of children.

The large orphanages – which stand as infamous remnants of former leader Nicolai Ceausescu’s era – are to be closed. International adoption has effectively been banned.

These measures must be achieved by 2007 if Romania wants to join the European Union.

The goals are admirable.

But corruption is rife and the infrastructure is shaky to non-existent in Romania. And charity workers say the measures result in many children being turned out of orphanages.

They are returning to violent homes or entering badly monitored foster care – and then ending up on the streets, charities say.

"From my point of view… it is a tragedy that we don’t find the right way of doing it," said Marian Zaharia of City of Hope.

‘Sold like animals’

City of Hope was set up a decade ago. It says it deals with 200 street children in this district of Bucharest alone.

Mr Zaharia estimates that 90% of children are raped on their first night – and older children use the younger ones to beg and steal for them.

They are taken in a car and sold like an animal, and used for prostitution in different houses

Marian Zaharia, charity worker

But he is most concerned by the increased targeting of these children by traffickers and paedophiles.

"They are taken in a car and sold like an animal, and used for prostitution in different houses," he said.

He did not believe how bad the problem was until he discovered an illegal brothel near his sister’s house.

"He had girls, starting with eight- or nine-year-olds – most of them coming up off the street," Mr Zaharia said.

Vulnerable girls

The Romanian government acknowledges the problem of child sex abuse, but it says the situation is worse in other countries.

It also says the numbers of street children are going down.

United Nations rapporteur on child prostitution and trafficking Juan Miguel Petit disagrees.

Romanian street children

The children face the constant risks of violence and prostitution

He has just finished a two-week fact-finding tour of Romania, where he says he was shocked to find that girls were being
kidnapped by force.

"Many of them were vulnerable girls who were told lies and were told they were going to France or Spain," he said.

"This is a desperate situation.

"You can imagine the future of these kids in months, weeks or even years."

He says that praise is due to the government for its efforts to reform, but he is far from convinced that the new methods of care are working.

"Romania is still in a risk situation because the basic transformations haven’t happened," he said.

Hunger pangs

Back in the tunnel, all but one of the candles have blown out. The heat and stench of the glue used by the children is unbearable.

Toughness is all in this world – a momentary lapse can mean perpetual victimhood

Christian, 16, says the street children use this drug because it suppresses hunger pangs.

He ended up on the street after leaving an orphanage where he was beaten and forced to beg by an older gang.

"I told the directors of the orphanage, but they didn’t help me because the gang gave them money and drink," he said.

Toughness is all in this world. A momentary lapse can mean perpetual victimhood.

Geena, who is 16 and dressed like a boy, lets slip that she used to get beaten up when she was first on the street. She quickly recovers herself.

"I’ve never been harmed. Just one time I fell over in the street, but that’s just because I fainted," she said.

The Romanian government says past action to help street children has been ineffective, but there are now better co-ordinated programmes.

But what worries charities like City of Hope is that of the 36,000 children currently in orphanages, a third are due to be moved out in the next year alone to keep Romania on course in child reform.

If the infrastructure for good foster care and smaller homes is not there – and with international adoption about to be banned – they fear many more Geenas, Christians and Jobys could arrive on the street.