LAUGHING MIHAI has been known to us since we first worked inside Podriga Psychiatric Hospital in 1990. He was immediately recognisable to us because each day when we turned up at the locked gates and institutional barbed wire for volunteer work he would be waiting for us. He was always cheerful despite the debilitating conditions there and got his name because he would just laugh and chuckle his way through the days – a great greeting for us – and he would assist us by carrying our bags of goods and medical supplies into the horrendous conditions which we found at Podriga. Over the years he never seemed to change, but once we started our day centre at Podriga he took to visiting every couple of weeks and he gradually found his voice and his reason. He found his true identity. He still visits us but through patience and language he has discovered what it means to be a human being. We never cease to be amazed at how these miracles happen.
LILI has also been known to us for at least twenty years. We first met her when she was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital where she had been placed when she was just three years old. She was both troubled and troublesome but we warmed to her. We could hardly believe that she had been written off by the state from such a young age. An American charity visiting the region once a year had also come across her and asked if Agents of Change could support her with visits and items she might need, and they offered some financial assistance in this. We agreed and have been involved with her ever since. Lili has been in and out of a number of institutions over the years. She gets rejected, runs away, tries to live on the streets, stays with strangers or sleeps in the town park if the weather is reasonable. Some of her problems seem to come from the fact that she was born with a hare lip and cleft palate. She has had endless operations, including with the American charity who have been doing surgery every so often in our region. Lili was apparently rejected by her mother because of this condition seen at birth.
This cruel life has been harder because Lili is frequently ill, particularly because her respiratory system is so damaged. She still needs further surgical intervention but the Romanian authorities will not help.
We keep up with her on a frequent basis but we never know where she will be going next and we have to search her out. Every so often we take her out for a pizza and listen to all her woes. We buy her urgent necessities and shoes and second-hand clothes, particularly for the winter months. She has a wicked sense of humour and has learnt to survive whatever happens to her – but it is at a high cost to her mentally and physically.
Recently she was fostered by a local family through the state, although she is an adult. Sadly she has left this placement and is staying wherever she can. She is one of our “revolving door” beneficiaries and the future will continue as in the past. We remain committed to her whatever the situation but we need money to support her.
The one spark of good news in her life is that several years ago she met a girl in town who bore a strong resemblance to her. They talked and discovered they were sisters, both called Lili. They discovered that the younger sister, born 18 months later, was kept by her mother because she was born healthy and beautiful. She used the same name for this second daughter as if to block out the existence of the first.
The two sisters adore each other and are so happy to be a “family” together because later the mother rejected the younger Lili so she also lives in appalling conditions. She is a slave to a family that she stays with, but receives neither money nor items she needs personally. When she can she joins us to share a pizza as well and we also support her with essential necessities and clothes etc.
These young women will need continuing support, and we’re committed to being a presence in their lives.
IOANA IRINA is fortunate to have a mother who cares. However she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth in its most severe form. She is not able to do anything and she just lies on a bed all day with very little stimulus. The husband left his wife and daughter in the early days and they live on the bare minimum allowance from the State. They live in a third floor one room apartment. They have very few visitors and the mother suffers from depression due to her isolation. Neighbours and others have said from the early days that the mother should put Ioana into a state institution and just get on with her life. They tell her that if she had done this to start with the father would not have left, and that she could have had other children to replace Ioana.
When Ioana was about seven years old we arranged for a special wheelchair (adjustable for all ages and sizes as Ioana grew) to be made in England for her so that her mother could take her out. It was to cost over £3,000 but the company who made it gave us a 50% discount, and the money was raised entirely by a school in Hampstead, London. It was built with the utmost care and we even measured the tiny lift to the apartment block to ensure that the mum and Ioana in her chair could travel in it and then get out to the town, market and park. However, the increasing severity of Ioana’s contractures (largely due to the fact that there is no physiotherapy programme) now mean that she can no longer be placed in her chair so she just stays at home. She is twenty years old and the same size as her mother, who has to care for her every hour of the day with no help. This is putting a severe strain on the mother’s physical and mental health. We visit whenever we can and support is provided to the mother who is desperate for someone to listen to her.