A home for abandoned children in Romania

Article, 21.09.2016

Many Romanian children find themselves in a home – not because they are orphans but for reasons of poverty.  Since the 1990s, members of the Swiss-Romanian association for abandoned children have run a home for abandoned children in the Transylvanian town of Ghimbav. The home offers these children a family environment to grow up in.

A young man and a boy eating together in the PeCA children's home.
A young man, who was brought up in a children's home, assists with the upbringing of the smaller children at the home DEZA

In the 1960s, the Romanian president, Nicolae Ceaușescu, wanted the Romanian population to grow at the highest possible rate and made contraception and abortion a criminal offence. This resulted in many children with nobody willing or able to look after them. Children's homes were built but they were unable to cope with the high numbers of abandoned children, and conditions eventually became inhuman. The situation was so extreme that many of the children ran away to live on the streets. For this reason, numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and associations began work on improving conditions in Romanian children's homes. 

The PeCA Association and Diversis Workshop 

The PeCA Association (Pentru copii abandonati: association for abandoned children in Romania) is a Swiss-Romanian joint venture founded in 1995 in Basel. The principal objective of the association is to support social projects for abandoned children in Romania. PeCA runs a childrens' home in Ghimbav, where abandoned children are integrated into Romanian society through material and specialised support. Twenty years after the founding of the home, an increasing number of Romanians are now doing voluntary work for the home. The work of the civil society organisation is making an essential contribution to the wellbeing of abandoned children in Romania. In addition to the childrens' home, PeCA founded the tailoring workshop Atelier Diversis in 2013 where the young people pursue craft activities. In addition, the tailoring workshop offers sheltered employment and training for people experiencing difficulties and for young adults who grew up in a home, thus helping them to enter professional life. Switzerland supported the foundation of the workshop as part of the partnership fund of its EU enlargement contribution. 

Abandoned children in Romania

Approximately 60,000 children in Romania are in state custody. About one third of them live in children's homes and two thirds in foster families. Approximately 1,500 children are taken into a home every year. Only a very small number of these children are orphans. Most of them are brought to a home or given to a foster family temporarily because their parents are too poor to support them. To enable the children to grow up in a family structure, in PeCA they live in small groups and create their own households. In many cases the children stay in the home until they are adults or even until they have completed their studies. Frequently, the former residents continue to visit the PeCA foundation when they are adults – just like children with conventional family backgrounds who visit their parents after they have left home. Some of them even support the foundation by caring for the children when there is not enough staff.

Stories of Renewal blog

The article on the home for abandoned children in Romania is based on the Romanian Stories of Renewal blog, which arose out of the Romanian-Swiss cooperation programme of 2015. The journalist Victor Kapra and the photographer Cătălina Filip, both Romanian nationals, carried out reports and photographed people active in the projects supported by the Swiss enlargement contribution, and published what these people had to say. 

The Swiss contribution to the enlarged EU funds the projects they visited through the Partnership Fund and the Thematic Fund for the participation of civil society. The aim of these two funds is both to support existing and new partnerships between Romanian and Swiss organisations and municipalities and to transfer Swiss expertise to Romanian institutions. They also aim to promote the active participation of civil society in Romanian society.

Swiss contribution in Romania

Romania is one of the 13 states to have joined the EU since 2004 and as such receives support from Switzerland's contribution to the enlarged EU. The enlargement contribution helps to reduce economic and social disparities within the EU. Switzerland's contribution to Romania amounts to CHF 181 million and was adopted by the Swiss Parliament in 2009. Switzerland is implementing some 60 projects in Romania that are funded by the enlargement contribution. A special priority of the projects is the foundation of partnerships between the two countries.