November 27, 2002

Children bring us together

THIS YEAR I WAS in Burlingame for the commemoration of 9/11, but during the events of last year I was in Sibiu, a city at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania. In these moments of doubt and insecurity, I would like to share with the American people my experience of 9/11 in Romania, because the attitude of Romanians towards this country was and continues to be very positive.

For me personally, it was tremendously important to receive so much sympathy and support, and feel such genuine sorrow. A year later, controversial United States policies cause the dislike of many countries, including some of our traditional allies. However, it is important for us to know that Romanians still have a very deep respect for Americans as a people. And rightly so, because many ordinary Americans with a kind and generous heart have come to Romania and done incredibly significant work with children.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the big news only hit Romania at 9 p.m. From that moment on, people from all over the country called me to express their deep personal sorrow, and everyone seemed genuinely deeply affected by this tragedy.

Friends kept streaming into my apartment, showing their sympathy, and bringing food and various items, as the Romanian custom calls for when there is a death in the family. It was very intense indeed to see these people regarding the victims of 9/11 as their own family.

The next day, every segment of the media contacted me for interviews, and members of the religious community invited me to services dedicated to the American people in all the churches of Sibiu. The entire town seemed to be mourning, along with the American people.

From my experience in the past 11 years in Romania, it seems that the Romanians have always had a deep respect for Americans. After the fall of communism in 1989, this positive attitude has been augmented, partly because of the significant work with children by many Americans.

When gruesome pictures from Romanian orphanages shocked the Western world, volunteers from many European countries went there to make a difference. Volunteers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), individuals and families going to work with Romanian orphanages started one of the greatest Romanian-American collaborative efforts in this field.

Numerous organizations were founded to work with children in Romania. ProChild is a federation of Romanian NGOs dedicated to improving the well-being of children and families, while actively supporting child welfare reform in Romania

Out of the 28 member organizations of ProChild and its many more associates, at least two-thirds have been founded by Americans or are in collaboration with Americans. I am the founder and president (on a full-time volunteer basis) of ARAPAMESU, the Romanian-American Association for the Promotion of Health, Education and Human Services. All these groups are involved in many areas of child protection, from working with orphanages to working with street children and assisting families that are at risk of giving their children away to institutions.

Although there still is a long road ahead, a lot has been achieved already, and much more continues to be done. On a larger scale, the work in this area has been and continues to be morally supported by the official U.S. presence in Romania, be it the U.S. Embassy, the consulate or USAID.

Much of this work was and continues to be stimulated by American citizens. On days such as Sept. 11, it is good to know that despite the political quagmires our nation might be dragged into, ordinary American citizens have improved the lives of many children in Romania, and helped establish a presence that Romanians will always look up to.

Sister Mary Rose Christy is a 79-year-old Sister of Mercy of the Americas from Burlingame, California. She has lived in Romania, and worked with children, and families since June, 1991.

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