Iulie-Septembrie 2014 / The Business Woman Magazine / Costinela Caraene
It is believed that fairies are born at the first laughter of a child. Or from an apple blossom. They are beautiful, kind and immortal and always help the hero on their way to initiation.
The story flows beautifully through mother’s voice. The young human is either a princess in Cinderella clothes or a fatherless lad looking for the apples from the red apple tree. In the cool summer twilight, from under lavender smelling sheets, breathless and with gleaming eyes, the young human is waiting for the ball dress and the carriage with six white horses or for precious wise advice on how to kill the cunning dragon.
The children from the Orphanage-Hospital no. 8, now the Neuropsychiatric Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre no. 1, were never told a fairy-tale. They never heard of fairies from books. But they met a real one. They have their own fairy. Her name is Linda. Linda Alison Barr. And year after year, for more than 25 years, she comes from Dumfries, Scotland just for them. And in Scotland she lives and works just for them. She has known them since they were very young. The children took their first steps with her, grew up with her and their only happy moments in life were made possible by her. “Lindaaaaa!” cry in a domino-like wave, on 40 voices, her children-now-adults, when they see her.
She met them all shortly after ’89. She came to Romania as a volunteer to help orphans in difficulty, abandoned in institutions. She came intrigued by the photographs from the Romanian orphanages, that were spread all over Europe. Just like most of the foreign volunteers. She returned in shock – the reality was much worse than the photos left to be seen – but determined to do something for the children, more than our decision-makers had ever been. She was only 27.
The orphans from the Centre had severe mental and physical health problems combined. They still have. They are not the most coherent or attractive young people in the world. On the contrary. The illness, the suffering and their living left deep marks on their bodies and in their eyes. “Severely handicapped”, “irrecoverable” – quick labels in closed circles, freed from the “burden” of political correctness. Linda saw in them only the humans. Equal to us but not lucky enough to have been born healthy and to have lived in a loving family.
And she did what she knew best, for them. In ’89 she set up, in Scotland, the Dumfries Hospitals Romanian Support Group through which she raised money and clothes. By attracting various professionals – Linda herself is a paediatric nurse – Dumfries Hospitals Romanian Support Group became RAP Foundation which still does the same thing: raises money for the young people in the centre in Bucharest. Now, most of them are over 20. Some are almost 40. But they are all “Linda’s children”. With the money raised in Scotland, Linda buys them clothes and pays for medical services. She accompanies many of them to the dentist. And no summer has passed without taking them all to a seaside camp or out to dinner at least once.
In 2006 she launched a challenge. She knew that there are young people in the centre who, given the opportunity and support, can become independent and autonomous adults. She placed a wager on the power of professional involvement, closeness, profound understanding, motivation and hard work. She also placed a wager on the magic of love and humanity.
The project “First steps to independence” was implemented with the help of the Romanian Angle Appeal Foundation and the General Direction for Social Care and Child Protection of Sector 2 in Bucharest, the authority managing the Centre. Four young people with high abilities of personal and social autonomy were selected as beneficiaries. From the funds raised by RAP Foundation, Linda bought an apartment in Bucharest, furnished and equipped it, then moved the young people there, determined to teach them take care of themselves, to find a job, to deal with the papers for the authorities and to go alone to the doctor.
It was not easy at all. For more than 20 years, some even 30, the young people had lived and functioned only strictly assisted in an institution. Their diseases and status as abandoned children in the orphanage had made them people with low self-confidence, fearful, denial, unable to express emotions and to communicate in general. People completely helpless but having, in addition, and bizarre and aggressive reactions and behaviour.
Hard work has been done with them. For nearly four years, psychologist, educator and nurse helped them make the transition to the human dignity that fate deprived them of. They did psychotherapy, learned intensively about the process by which meat and vegetables get from the market on the plate, they learned what market and supermarket are and how to go shopping, what a family physician is and how to get to him, how to use the equipment in the house, how to travel by bus or subway. Later on, how to manage the communication and relationships with people – that is if they slam and smash plates, they might be considered aggressive and weird, when they actually are just angry and frustrated about situations they feel they can’t manage.
When they were ready, they were helped to find jobs. For two of them, Linda found temporary jobs at the British Embassy in the summers of 2008 and 2009. Nowadays, one works as a janitor, another does various administrative tasks at BauMax and the other two clean dishes in two La Mama Restaurants. And they are appreciated at their jobs. Because they are steadfast and willing to do the job well and to please.
In the apartment, they learned how to take care of themselves, and if at the beginning they were always assisted by three people working in shifts, now only one caretaker supervises them. And in the summer of 2009, one of the young people left the assistance program, being very well integrated both at work and among peers. He asked to leave the program and the General Direction approved the request. He still lives in the apartment, together with his life friends.
Looking back, from the outside, it may not seem magic. But it is. It is the magic of Linda’s confidence in these young people, in their potential, especially in the potential and huge chance that the human spirit and will provide. Was it difficult to do beautiful things for them? Yes, it was. But not harder than fight barriers and mentalities in Romania, that had a different view of things or not at all.
In June 2014, Linda once again managed to take out for lunch 20 of “her children” from the Neuropsychiatric Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre no. 1 from Bucharest. It was an unexpected success and a huge surprise for them. “Lindaaaa!” they all, in a domino-like wave, cried when they saw her coming into the restaurant.
Maybe fairies never cry, but Linda hardly managed to hide her tears and sighs when it was all over and she saw them going away. But Linda is not like other fairies.