I Don’t Trust People
Anca sits in the corner of the dimly lit kitchen eyeing the social worker who has come on a visit. Her body appears relayed but her eyes are burning with anger. This twelve-year-old girl is indignant at the way life has been treating her recently. Her mother is living with another man and is currently working abroad. Her father, who had a weakness for drink before her mother left, has turned into a hopeless alcoholic. On the rare occasions he is sober, he might find casual work in their depressed little town in the North East of Romania. However, they would not survive without state benefits and the kindness of neighbours and family.
"She takes good care of the household. My son and I love the fried eggs she makes. She also helps her younger brother with school work. Couldn’t wish for a better daughter." With a glimmer of parental pride in his eyes, Anca’s father struggles to articulate his thoughts and embarrasses her in front of the visitor.
It’s time for their evening meal and the girl slams a pan down on the gas hob. This jolts her father who has been dozing off, hunched on the edge of an old wooden chair. Clearly, skilled beyond her age in everything that goes on in the kitchen, the girl could not keep a lid on her own feelings. When her mother left, she began to behave unpredictably. Her panic attacks invariably culminated in violent outbursts during which she would break objects and attack anyone who stood in her way.
"She bottles things up. She doesn’t talk. I couldn’t get through to her," confides the father on the verge of tears. "I borrowed some money and took her to a specialist in nearby Botosani. He told me Anca had severe depression and prescribed some pills. The pills made her very sleepy. She hardly did anything around the place. Once she calmed down, I stopped the treatment. I don’t need the doctor to tell me what to do, besides I have no money for another consultation."
Anca gives her father and alarmed look. The only thing she says all evening is that she would like to go on to high school in a couple of years. The rest of the time she moves in silence as if lost in a world of her own.
This is one of the main concerns of the social worker. "Anca is too isolated. She refuses to communicate. When we interviewed her for the first time, she said something that has stuck with me ever since: "I don’t have any friends. I don’t trust people." It will be very hard to win her back. Our only hope is that she’s keen on studying. This will be her ticket to the future."
One year ago the social worker did not know Anca even existed. Regular contact has been established thanks to the Community Based Services initiative that local authorities in six of Romania’s poorest counties are rolling out with support from the UNICEF Country Office and funding from VISA UK. Children and families who felt neglected by the system for years are finally beginning to realise that they are not alone. The community is learning to listen and willing to offer a helping hand.