Thursday, July 11, 2013

Moments to remember

Last night during the meeting with the Award Leaders, we had the pleasure of having among us Mr. Jordan Alan, a very experienced and knowledgeable gentleman when it comes to the Duke of Edinburgh program. He was very kind and patient to go through all levels of the program with us and address all our questions and concerns. Still, out of the entire meeting, one moment stood out for me, just because I've seen it happen so many times before in the people that do these kinds of jobs - helping others! And still, I never get tired of it and it always hits home to see the sensitivity in these gentle souls, who, many years after witnessing incredible moments involving amazing people, still shed a tear, out of utter respect and pride towards our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

That moment was when Mr. Jordan told us that at some point in his career, one of the participants in the Bronze level was a little girl (around 14-15 of age), in a wheel chair, completely paralyzed, “benefiting” only from an incredible slow and basic motion of her twisted arms and hands. Her goal in the Skills section of the level was to make a bracelet - one of those simple ones that you make by adding beads on a string. It took her a staggering nine months to be able to reach her goal. And this man cried remembering her incredible effort to slide a bead down that string with her stiff hands.

A while ago, I had lunch with Camelia Platt, the Executive Chief of Light into Europe and wife of the Founder, Mr. Stan Platt, two absolutely amazing warm people, extremely dedicated to this cause. It would be too much for me to start discussing the extent of their efforts and work in Romania, or the challenges posed by the actual beneficiaries of their activities, the sight and hearing impaired children. We were grabbing a cup of tea, on a late cold afternoon, and she started telling me about this project we’ve tried to put together for months, abut going to a local hospital to paint the walls in the kids’ rooms because the paint was chipped and their life in white was dull and austere. And, incredibly so, the hardest part wasn’t gathering volunteers to work for a weekend and paint those walls, but getting the authorizations for it, a supplier to give us the paints and to win the accord of the hospital management.

How can this happen? Why does this happen? If I were to run the hospital and someone would come to me saying they want to make a difference for my youngest patients, for free – which is a big issue in Romania! – I wouldn’t even blink! I would ask for certificates from the supplier to make sure the paints aren’t toxic for the kids, I would ask for a deployment plan of the works so I know time coordinates, names of participants to give them a security clearance and to know where to move the kids for the respective period. And I would thank those people and write a recommendation to them to the Ministry of Health and say these guys were really nice and I think I’m going to call them again! Perhaps they can bring some of the guide dogs in training to the hospital court yard and let the kids play with them one afternoon.

But that, my dear friends, is a dream! The project is stalling because we need to fight bureaucracy. And people’s egos. If we agree to do something and they agree to let us do it, the result is not a stamp on either foreheads saying I DID IT, I’m here to take the rewards, I want my name on a head line in the newspaper. We’re not the winners; our names won’t show up anywhere! Those kids are and if we’re to remember names, it should be theirs.

And so I see Cami cry as well, because of this and because of a visit she had made to a few very poor families with children with disabilities and she literally got the goose bumps seeing the living conditions they struggled with. Hearing devices and Braille books? What’s that? They can barely afford food and shelter. Anything beyond that is not even a dream; it’s mission impossible. So she stops for a moment to reach of a handkerchief in her purse and wipe those tears away. I see her lips tremble for a moment and I think, “Someone should put this on camera and show it to the world.” Not the speeches and the award ceremonies, not the fancy galas and silent auctions, but this. The hard work behind it and the emotional road such people have to overcome and still stay strong for the people they are trying to help. I look at Georgie, their beautiful four year old son, a vivid and tenacious little man whose baby sitter is a deaf woman. And still they get along.

This is my first time in my volunteering career that I’ve worked with people with disabilities; everything else was about youth culture and the integration of the Rroma in the society. But I did get in contact, on a personal level with a similar case. Not because he was born this way but because at 18 he fell off the 8th floor of a block if I’m not mistaken, on the inner stair case and was basically paralyzed from neck down. I’m amazed he was still alive. His name is Robert. When I first saw Robert (my mom agreed to do pressopuncture and massage for him), he was in a wheel chair, unable to speak, unable to move his arms or legs. He had undergone surgery and had metal plates from his knees all the way to his hips and his right hand – I had never seen anything like that before – was literally turned back so much that he could touch his forearm with his palm. And there was no way, even if you pulled on it, to make it go straight. His father fed him with a straw and through IVs. Also, he had gone back to the mind of a four year old, but doctors concluded that with the right speech and psychological training, he would recover his memory.

Years away, he walks on his own, utters words, entire sentences even, can write and draw and his right hand is almost straight and he can use his fingers. I visited him quite a few times in Valcea as well as in Bucharest when he was in hospital. Mom bought him a drawing board and he would write on that when he started getting his memory back. And he would tell me words in English he remembered from his English class and we’d make fun of his times with girlfriends. When I last saw him, he wanted to show me he can stand. I am literally down to his shoulder level so I was his support to get up and he grabbed on me like there was no tomorrow and he’s such a huge guy! But I stood my ground and he smiled that sweet crooked smile bouncing a bit back and forth. I was sooooo proud of him! He had a squeaky toy on a string around his neck to “call” for help if he needed something. We were hysterical about that and kept squeaking it to show the other patients that Robert was standing so he got lots of cheers and applauses!

I guess I’m bringing him into the conversation not so much as to my experience with him, but because of his father, a taxi driver, his brother and sister, both in college at the time, whom have taken care of him with such unity, love and devotion that I stand humbled, very humbled  before them. Because when everyone believed Robert would’ve been better off dead than alive with how terrible his situation was, his father worked days and watched over him at night, slept on hospital floors on improvised beds and borrowed money to send him to the best doctors, seeing him through numerous surgeries. And he always did it with a smile on his face, always joking with Robert, holding his hand, poking him on the shoulder as if they were just having another Sunday afternoon watching a movie on the sofa. And I can only imagine how hard it was to treat him at home with Robert being such a tall slender yet well built young man.

Well, when I started writing this I just wanted to mention what happened last night, but eventually I came to tell you three different little stories about three people (out of so many!) that I look up to in a way I cannot even describe. It’s hard - what they do. It’s really hard, but not impossible.

So this is for today. As I said, I’d love to hear your opinions, comments and experiences on any similar issues or anything related to it (there’s a comment area below). I know most people are more into the Like kind of Facebook attitude and with that they believe they have said it all. Don’t be one of those people and actually step up and let me know your thoughts! I am pleasantly impressed by some of my colleagues at work, for example, who have been reading the blog or have followed me on FB and have asked questions and have showed interest on the program and more. So… put a smile on my face!

Many hugs and just as many kisses,


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