A Hug for Romania
by Seana Kelly-Coffin
Don't try telling these four seniors from Notre Dame Preparatory School they can't change the world.
They know they can't.
But that doesn't keep them from trying to change whatever they can.
So when their classmates are off for Senior Week at the beach, Carly Amato, Ashley Anderson, Lauren Moore and Lauren Young will be on a flight to Romania to try to put a dent in the chronic and ever increasing need for clothing, medicine and most of all love to the orphans left behind by parents unable to care for them.
"There is so much horrible stuff going on in the world," said Moore who will head to St. Mary's College in the fall. "I needed a way to make a difference."
She wasn't alone.
NDP's ongoing mission to address the deplorable conditions of the Romanian orphans began after graphic television reports stirred an outcry for reform.
But the need continues, even after the exposure the TV crews brought to the problem and prompted NDP teachers and alumnae to journey to Romania as volunteers for the first time four years ago.
So when the four seniors step on a plane from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York this June, they won't be the only volunteers making the journey.
Nor will they be empty-handed.
They will be carrying clothes, medicine, diapers, wipes and cream to the orphanages who care for babies from birth until age 3-years-old as volunteers for HUG (Humanity United in Giving).
As HUG volunteers, the girls will deliver the every day comforts most babies in our country know.
But they will also help train orphanage workers to show how a little love and interaction with the children can help them develop cognitively.
"They will be training the staff all about brain development," said Lucy Strausbaugh, an NDP religion teacher who has helped to coordinate the trip for the students with HUG, a Texas-based nonprofit which supports hospitals in poor or war-ravaged areas. "And HUG is there monitoring to make sure the training is used and nothing disappears from the donations."
What the students will encounter is unimaginable, Strausbaugh said.
She thinks the problem is as great, if not greater, since the violent and vilified Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted and executed more than a decade ago.
Strausbaugh attributes the current demise in care to the fact that the communists have regained control of the Romanian government and have made it difficult for volunteers to work with the children.
There was also a question as to whether the donations were making it to the children who need it most, said Strausbaugh who adopted a teenage daughter from the Siret orphanage visited by NDP colleagues.
"It is no better," said Strausbaugh, who is also a counselor with an expertise in dissociative behavior. "This is not going away. The need is still staggering."
But once Strausbaugh learned about HUG's commitment and vigilance in the country, NDP signed on once more to help.
A repetitive horror
For the children who were left at the orphanages, the fate was almost worst than death, says Strausbaugh.
Children were never held. Their growth was stunted because of the lack of nutrition. And their intellect never developed because there wasn't any schooling or interaction between the children and hospital staff.
But since the initial exposure brought relief and aid to the orphanages, many thought the problem had been addressed.
It wasn't until another television report aired in 1998 which showed the situation once again turned sour, Strausbaugh said.
That prompted NDP teachers and alumnae to return a handful of times, helping to build a group home for older orphans whose age precluded them from staying. Eleven lucky children were adopted out, including a 15-year-old named Nadia who became Nadia Strausbaugh.
But the volunteer effort was curtailed after the Communists rose to power. It wasn't until Strausbaugh heard about HUG that the mission was resumed.
When HUG founder Judy Broom came to NDP a few months ago, the supportive response from the school was immediate and much beyond what was initially discussed.
After hearing of the horrific conditions, the students wanted to do more than simply send money or gifts.
A large number of the senior class wanted to go.
And the underclassmen wanted to throw numerous baby showers with all the presents to be shipped overseas.
"I have been here for 25 years," Strausbaugh said. "I have never seen anything like this. I am so inspired by their giving. That is charity. The spirit is moving us."
As Strausbaugh said, the orphans will be the best dressed in the country.
The four seniors going will fill two suitcases and a duffel bag with medicines, food, diapers and other necessities and take them on the plane.
The thousand or so pieces of clothing, stuffed animals, bottles, pacifiers, diapers and other baby paraphernalia will be shipped by the school.
"I couldn't go into this with my eyes shut," said Carly Amato, a Carney resident. "I know I'm going to be affected by this."
She and the others were deeply bothered by the HUG videos - especially Lauren Young who organized the effort including the baby showers.
Though they have all the things the children could want, the students travelling with HUG still need to raise $2,000 to cover their expenses.
Both Laurens have received donations from their home church, St. Margaret's in Bel Air. And Ashley Anderson hopes her church, St. Joseph's Church in Cockeysville, will also make a donation. But her neighborhood in Timonium is already stepping up to the plate. This past Saturday, a community yard sale was held with all funds being donated towards the trip.
All four seniors and their teacher hope that this isn't the last time a delegation of students is sent to Romania. And the girls have a feeling it won't be their only trip.
"There is the will to connect," Strausbaugh said. "The most dangerous part of going is knowing you will have the need to return."
For more information on donating to the mission, call Lucy Strausbaugh at 410-825-6202, ext. 1635.
E-mail Seana-Kelly Coffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.