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Rainbow

© UNICEF Romania 00378/ Pirozzi
Enjoying the happy colours of life's rainbow

By Camelia Teodosiu

 

This is a story about how the color black can turn into a rainbow. Who can work such miracles and how? You may well wonder. The answer to this question can be found by reading the following story.

From the moment I met Ilinca she struck me as being balanced and brave. She likes to listen to music and to talk to other children, with no feeling of rejection.  Her taste in music and clothing is typical for her age – this includes just about anything popular or in fashion. She does her share of household chores, knows how to cook spaghetti and sauce, and would like to be a better homemaker.  Of all the books she has read, the one that has impressed her most is Hector Malot’s “Alone in the World”, because “it resembles our life, the life of abandoned children,” she says with a hint of sadness in her voice.

Of course many of her responses might be considered far too brief, and she failed to provide too many explanations. But this is all the more relevant because the points of reference for children in similar situations are much simpler and fleeting.

After our talk I was left with these thoughts: learn to enjoy the little things in life, and try to live for the moment.

   - My name is Ilinca, I am 15 years old. I am in 9th grade in high school and have lived in an institution for 11 years. In fact we are a family of 11 siblings.  I was abandoned in the maternity hospital where I stayed until I was about three years old. A lady came one day from England, and this was a lucky day for myself and other children like me, because she decided to take us away from there, and to offer us a family. We now have parents, even if they are called foster parents.

-         Have you ever met your biological parents?

-         Yes!

-         Do you get to visit them? Do you blame them for having abandoned you?

-         I don’t really communicate with them.

-         How was life in the Snagov home? Did you learn to read and write?

-         At first a lady came to the house and taught us our first letters, and how to write. Then we were enrolled in the village school, but they turned us away.

-         Why?

-         Because the parents of the children attending the school did not want them to be in the same class with us.

-         Did this upset you? Did you try to understand why?

-         Yes, we were sad, but we told ourselves that, in the end, we would go to school somewhere.  Now, for instance, I am in High School in Crângaşi. On the first school day, my friend, who is in the same situation, and I both felt that everyone was looking at us, that they knew something about our illness.

She was so happy to be able to go to school with other children. But she was afraid they might find out, and she would be isolated once again. She explained that it is much better that the others not know:

-         If they were to find out they would say: “give them passing grades for the whole year because they are sick,” and we don’t want people to feel sorry for us. Then they would withdraw, they would stop talking to us...

I was just looking at her, without daring to ask how far her courage would go. I didn’t know where to begin and how to avoid putting her in an awkward or difficult position. I decided to ask her a simple and natural question:

-         What do you know about your condition?

-         At first I didn’t know very much. But I found out in time; in fact it was only a few years ago. When we first started taking medication we were all wondering: “Why?, why?,” and they wouldn’t tell us. Our foster parents thought we were too young to be told. But in time we found out. As we grew up, we noticed that others treated us a little different, but we thought this was normal, because we were living in a residential institution. Then one day mother decided to tell us. She gathered us all in the living room; guests were coming the following day, namely Mrs. Tina and Dr. Petrea, to tell us more about our disease. So mother prepared us and explained about the HIV virus. Then she taught us how to protect ourselves and how to avoid catching other germs, or hurting ourselves...

-         What do you actually know about this virus?

-         That it cannot be transmitted by coughing, sneezing, hugging, or by using the same dishes. It is transmitted by blood, sexual intercourse, needles, open wounds...

-         How did you react when you found out?

-         I was a bit shocked to begin with, but then I realized that… this was meant to be.

-         Did you discuss this among yourselves?

-         Yes, we wondered what we were going to do.  How long would we have to take medication, why did we have to follow this treatment?  At first we felt sick, nausea, the pills were not working.

While she was talking, I kept repeating to myself the phrase that was like her concluding resignation to fate: “This was meant to be...”

Did they really understand what could happen, what might happen if they stop the treatment?  Her calm and natural response made me realize that I had asked my question out loud.

-         We will feel increasingly worse and then we will die.

Even now I admit that I don’t really know how to react to such a response, especially because I am afraid of dying.  And so I tried to change the subject, somewhat too abruptly.

-         What do you want to be when you grow up?

-         I don’t know yet. When I was little I wanted to play handball and become a cook. Now I prefer swimming.  I also used to watch football. I was a “Rapid” fan.

-         What time of the year do you like?

-         Summer. It is more fun, sunshine, holidays... But as far as holidays go, I prefer the winter holidays. That’s when all the family comes together, there are so many preparations, everyone is happy. When I was little I used to write letters to Santa Claus, and every year I would promise to be good.  Then during the year I would do all sorts of naughty things, like any child.  Before Christmas we get together and choose what foods we want to have: stuffed cabbage rolls, potato and beef salad, coffee cakes... We decorate the Christmas tree together.

-         Are you making plans for the future?

-         No! I’d rather let time decide for me.

It is difficult to look ahead to the near or far future without some expectation. This could be why black is habitually considered to be the color of death. But at this moment I had a feeling that through the perspective of these children the color black can be seen as being all the colors of the rainbow.  Something simple, natural, devoid of any bitterness, and enjoying all the beauty that life has to offer.

I asked Ilinca if she has any wishes or if she likes to dream. She hesitated for a moment, admitting that she is afraid to hope that her wishes might come true. And if you ask her what she most appreciates about people, she does not hesitate to respond:

 “I like people who can keep a secret.”

 

Is it possible to gain the confidence of these children? Is it possible to make them feel safe or offer them a chance to get by on their own in society?  It is admirable to see organizations such as Health Aid Romania running projects for HIV-positive children. They offer these children a family with foster parents, dignified living conditions, access to education. The presence of a psychologist is necessary not only during times of crisis and pain, but also to help whenever the need arises for them understand why others look at them differently and why they are condemned.

UNICEF Romania fully supports these projects and needs partners to develop as many educational programs as possible in schools and families. If you want to help an HIV-positive child to be integrated into society you must fight the stigmatization and discrimination. It is not easy to change mentalities. There is a need for social strategies and policies, campaigns, programs and projects, case studies, and many other efforts, all of which are worth undertaking, even in the course of several generations, if their success can make you see through the eyes of these children. Maybe in such wise you will see that the color of death, black, can have all the colors of the rainbow.

 

There are 7,500 children living with HIV/AIDS in Romania.

 

 
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