Rumänienhilfe Alsterdorf

Rumänienhilfe Alsterdorf, i.e. the Evangelical Foundation Alsterdorf, has been working in Bihor county, in western part of Romania (Oradea district capital) since 1990. The involvement has emerged out of the direct assistance given to children in children's homes right after the fall of the Ceausescu’s regime. In the early years the focus of our efforts was spent in the rehabilitation of dilapidated homes and hospitals in the target region/county of Bihor and the technical/professional guidance of the staff in these institutions.

From the mid-1990s new structures of care for people with disability and mental illness, have been gradually built up following the western European models. For example, we have built/created  a day center for people with psychiatric illness/problems or intellectual disabilities, who were still living at home and were thus protected from the committal in homes or psychiatric hospitals. For the grown-up former children, we created 3 residential houses following the family care model patterns with a total of 34 seats and 5 apartments with 26 seats and assisted living with hourly assistance and guidance for an independent life. Today, these houses and assisted living opportunities are in the free sponsorship/in the care/in the administration  of the Asociatia româno-germana Alstersdorf, the NGO representing the Rumänienhilfe Alstersdorf on site.



The Beginning

Everything has started with our involvement in the orphanage Cighid. Cighid  was one of the so called “homes of death”, that went through the Western media because  children with disabilities  were transferred here at the  age of three, so that many died within a short time  because of the inadequate care and because they were  partly left to themselves. This "euthanasia by the conditions," ended just after the fall of Ceausescu and with the quickly noticeable wave of western aid. Our start meant: emergency assistance in Cighid - food, heating and guidance of the staff- so that, at least, the teenagers would benefit of a minimum affection and love.

Because many other organizations were present in Cighid in that period, and taking into account our previous experiences, we focused on the help of other homes in the county Bihor. We followed the footsteps of the older children, who in spite of conditions often survived, but were transferred   in psychiatric hospitals for adults, quite in the presence  of the Western  helpers.  In this way, we discovered an isolated psychiatric hospital, that in Nucet, with more than 400 patients, which was a death hospital with an annual mortality rate of 22 percent at that time. For many years in the 90’s,  Nucet was  our focus/goal . Today half of the patients are taking part /involved in occupational or work therapies.

Some of the patients even live in a so called “ rehabilitation house/home “in Nucet and some are already involved in secondary residential projects in Oradea. Difficulties in the supply and proper treatment of the still more than 400 patients in Nucet are even today a reality.


The abandoned children in Romania

The number of abandoned children in institutions had in the mid-1990s doubled compared with it at the end of the Ceausescu dictatorship in 1989. Only in Estonia and Ukraine, the number of abandoned children, was even higher. The old morality – if I can no longer  take care of  my child, the state is supposed to do it –  implies also the very poor economic conditions. Alone/Just in county Bihor, with its approx. 600.000 inhabitants, more than ten to about fifteen new-born are abandoned monthly by their mothers. Most of them are left / abandoned in the maternity clinic. Even in the West, every public assistance system would be over -whelmed by this number. The result was long: overcrowded homes with inhumane conditions, no promotion, no education and no job perspectives.

Today the situation has changed somewhat. The European Union within the framework of the accession negotiations, demanded Romania in the late 1990`s  not only economic reforms and the fight against corruption, but also a lasting change with respect to the children's homes. The Rumänienhilfe  Alstersdorf has started  in 1998 together with other non-governmental organizations, the program "Children's homes rather than orphanages." Children with or without disabilities who were previously placed in institutions, should live in community-based homes under normal conditions. Foster families are supposed to take over the education of these children, but necessarily supported by extra educational personnel.

With the support of the Robert Bosch Foundation, the generous support of several individuals and church congregations and many individual donations, we succeeded in 2001 to set up/to build in Oradea two homes/houses for children and young people. Twelve children with disabilities are living since then in Casa Hamburg, 14 adolescents/teenagers and young adults with disabilities in Casa Franz Max, named as such after the late husband of our supporter/backer Maria Max, who has collected donations for this house in the Frankfurt area. Over the years, we succeeded to built-up/to create other homes:  Casa Frankfurt and Casa Sacueni.

Other Western aid organizations were doing the same things. Presently, in county Bihor there is a network of over 30 children's homes, some of them created/built up by /financed by Romanian foundations. About 40 percent of the former abandoned children from Bihor county live in these children's homes, and another 30 percent are mediated /sent in foster care, so that actually only a minority live in children's homes. However, the situation in the central and eastern part of Romania has not the same development.


18 plus issue

However, this reform ends at the age of 18. Young adults need to be out of the children's homes, and only in exceptional cases they may stay here for some more years. For those who then, because of their disability, cannot live independently, this means: back into the home or into the psychiatric ward. For those who have never tried to come out and are over 18 years old, it also means they have no future-perspectives. Likewise, there are people who have lived as children and teenagers still at home, but as adults, they are no longer able to live at their parents.

Therefore, Rumänienhilfe Alstersdorf with  the support of the Robert Bosch Foundation from Stuttgart and in collaboration with the Catholic Church of St. John Baptist in Weil im Schönbuch – Germany, has  launched a program entitled "New living and working conditions for young adults with disabilities in Bihor/18 plus”. In March 2005, the first two apartments offering ten living quarters have been set up in Oradea following the idea of "assisted living”. Three other apartments have been acquired in the following years, so that now there are 27 places of “assisted living”. In 2011 we started our ”exodus project”= meaning OUT OF THE SYSTEM and now, in 2014, there are 11 former " young people with disabilities” that live by their own/independently.

With the houses and their dense and intensive support and guidance, the assisted living with the training for independent life  and the out of the system project, in which the individual is to receive only 1 – 2 hours per week advisory assistance through the Residential Assistant in Oradea a sensible and well-coordinated chain of support services incurred due people with disabilities into society. We also succeeded in Bihor to create in close cooperation with the local employment agency, A.J.O.F.M Bihor,  over 200 jobs for people with disabilities on the primary /first labor market.

These jobs operate after the successful UK principle of "supported employment", performed by the specially trained labor assistants, who do not only the preparation and placement on the workplace, but also the instructions there and help with workplace conflicts.

With the resources of the Robert Bosch Foundation, the coordination and the training and development of the Romanian living and working assistants were funded. The Catholic parish of Weil in Schönbuch and the Swedish organization "Syster Anna hjälpverksamhet promote Rumänska barnhemsbarn" supported the construction of residential places with donations transports and monetary donations as well as volunteer work.

At the same time, Rumänienhilfe Alstersdorf has started in 1997 to build/create  a day center for adults with psychiatric disorders or intelectual disabilities, who were still living  with their families,  together with the members of a the resposable NGO in Oradea, A.H.P. Bihor. 40 affected personns have found here since then a daily structure with programs promoting the concern for the medical care and a jointly prepared hot meal. As such, the families are relieved and a committal  to home or psychiatry is avoided.

The assumption of social responsibilities in free sponsorship

Up till now, in Romania almost all social institutions are financed by the state. Quite slowly the state has realized   that it is not very suitable for these tasks and should hand over the administration of day-care centers, nursing homes and facilities for disabled to free NGO-s. In 2011, the Romanian legislation in this regard has been adapted to the European standards. However, it is merely a discretionary clause: the counties are permitted to tender social institutions and redistribute them under certain conditions in the responsibility of free carriers after negotiating with these the amount of state contribution to the running costs.

The Asociatia romano-germana Alstersdorf, the Romanian deliverer of social services, we have founded/grounded on spot, has taken over since Dec. 2012  the homes and “assisted living” apartments for allover 60  beneficiaries  and 23 employees. Bihor is the first county of Romania to have such a public social task transferred by the state.

Together with a NGO of the Romanian Orthodox Church, FILANTROPIA, we were the first to have such a public social task get transferred from the Romanian state into our own responsibility-

After the recognition of all those implied, the D.J.A.S.P.C., the competent  authority for social services in Bihor, wanted us  to take over one of the  old homes where still prevail very bad conditions. We plan to take over such a home, most likely the home Cadea, near Oradea, with 50 places for young adults with disabilities. Our goal: development of job opportunities for residents and step by step, a conversion of the home into community-based living arrangements.