Andreea and the chamber of time
When Andreea was about 2 years old, her grandparents and mother saw that the girl didn't speak at all and felt that something was wrong. Following investigations, Andreea was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
What could you do when your mother, the keystone of your childhood, falls ill and can no longer support you? When you see how a heavy disease transforms her before your eyes, condemns her to an unrecognizable body, to an unrecognizable, unfathomable life, and then is taken from you? What if your father were not present in your life either?
How to lock yourself away in a chamber of time?
Andreea, a 15-year-old girl from Bacau County, has managed to stop time in its tracks. In the small cottage where she lives with her grandfather on top of a hill, one of the two rooms is a "chamber of time": here, multiple clocks each point to different hours, as if time had stopped at every turning point of her life. All around, the hills and surrounding nature are also frozen in time, untouched by technology, machines or modernity. They too seem to be waiting for Andreea to grow strong wings fit for the world of today, striving to be her nest and safe space until the girl is ready to face life.
With her parents, Andreea led a childhood fraught with misunderstandings and misfortunes. Her grandparents were always in the background, quietly supporting her. When Andreea was about 2 years old, her grandparents and mother saw that the girl didn't speak at all and felt that something was wrong. Following investigations, Andreea was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The grandfather says he witnessed Andreea's development of the disorder and witnessed violent gestures from her father when she was less than a year old. The child suffered severe scares, and her grandfather knows in his heart that Andreea stopped time in its tracks in those moments. Since then, Andreea has only made slight progress in her speech, managing to articulate very few words, although she understands everything that is communicated to her. She answers mostly with "yes" or "no", and smiles.
Five years ago, her grandmother left them for a better world, and it was just the three of them left: Andreea, her mother and her grandfather.
In the meantime, a new tragedy struck in Andreea's family after the loss of her grandmother. Elena, the girl's mother, diagnosed with leukaemia before Andreea was born, had been fighting a daily battle for survival for years: trips to doctors, trips to Bucharest for chemotherapy treatments, major side-effects of the treatment that slowly, slowly confined her to her bed. Through it all, the grandfather was always there for his daughter and granddaughter: he took care of the household, the house and Andreea. This year, however, just a few days before Easter, Andrea's mother passed away. "I had to bury my child, and that's hard! I'd prefer it she had buried me!" the grandfather told us with tear-filled eyes.
The loss of her mother came as a new shock for Andreea, a new trauma that took her back to the years when she was just a child and felt scared and powerless. She couldn't attend her mother's funeral and can't even go visit her grave. She can't talk about this moment, not even one word of the few she manages to utter, she is afraid and refuses to face this pain.
Love walled-in by silence
There are children who can't cope with the pain and they build walls to surround themselves, they close themselves off out of fear and all they want is to have someone with them, not to be alone. Andreea is such a child. Her mother's death brought her even closer to her grandfather. He is the magician between her walls, the one who manages to pass through them to the real world and always come back to Andrea's soul. He shows her the outside world, he talks to her for hours, he explains everything about life and how to cope, and he also leaves room for her sounds and silences. He has taught her to do the laundry, to fetch water from the well, to pick vegetables from the garden, to be tidy and clean. He is the one who tirelessly prepares her day after day for the world outside the walls; he is her guardian angel.
"Daddy, don't give me away, don't give me away," Andreea sometimes says in a squeaky voice, like a 2-3 year old child, to her grandfather, when she feels her walls are closing in on her with fear. She is a child in a teenager's body. Andreea understands everything her grandfather says, but only manages to express herself like a younger child. There are few words she can articulate, and her slumped shoulders and downward gaze betray the fear that has become a part of her body and soul.
"Daddy won't leave you, he won't leave you," Grandpa always replies in his warm, gentle voice, his eyes bright and teary. He always assures her that he stands by her side. And so he does. In her shadow, beside her, her grandfather guides her in everything Andreea does every day. He has taught her the few words she manages to pronounce, he has taught her how to buy things at the store and, if she can't manage, how to use the phone to call Grandpa. He has taught her household chores that will help Andreea become a self-sufficient, caring and responsible adult. Every day, he shows her what life is like and teaches her everything she will need to know when he is no longer with her. They work together in the garden, picking vegetables or doing chores around the house. There are few sounds between them sometimes, but there is much understanding and peace in their silence.
UNICEF and the Integrated Community Centre: the bridge between two worlds
Grandpa was also the one who enrolled Andreea in 2022 in the programs of the Integrated Community Centre set up with the support of the Municipality of Moinești. When the social worker told him about this Community Centre as part of UNICEF's "Romania for every child" initiative, he didn't hesitate for a moment. With a deep understanding of life, he knew that this place could be a small gateway to the real world for Andreea, an extra chance for her to recover. Here, at the Integrated Community Centre in Moinești, Andreea benefits from all the centre's services free of charge: physiotherapy sessions, psychotherapy, speech therapy, educational activities and group therapy activities. Her grandfather is always present, as he accompanies Andreea to all the therapies and activities she does every week. He watches everything over her quietly, from a corner, with kindness and hope that Andreea will one day break down the walls around her and live freely, without fear. It's only been a year since Andreea started going to the Integrated Community Centre, but she is already making progress: she understands the words of others better, she's more cooperative and calmer. Slowly, slowly, she is also making progress in her speech, but most importantly, her emotional state has visibly improved.
Thinking about Andreea's future gives her grandfather strength and courage to fight the cancer that sometimes keeps him in bed. It's a disease he wants to beat so he can spend more time with his granddaughter. He knows there will come a day when he will no longer be a part of her life, and Andreea will have to fend for herself in a world full of noise. The services she receives at the Integrated Community Centre help her to prepare for this day, to be able to express herself and to learn how to cope with life outside her walls.
The Integrated Community Centre in Moinești is just one of the five established in our country under the UNICEF initiative "Romania for every child. Ensuring social inclusion - breaking the vicious circle of exclusion for the most vulnerable children in Romania", and provides free basic services (social assistance, community health care and educational services) and specialized services (physiotherapy, psychotherapy, speech therapy, etc.).
The programme is supported by a grant from Norway under the Local Development Programme administered by the Romanian Social Development Fund (RSDF) as programme operator. The objective is to contribute to the social inclusion of all children and adolescents, especially vulnerable ones, through quality, equitable and coordinated health, education and child protection services. The initiative offers free access not only to Andrea, but also to other children like her, to the above-mentioned services, all under one roof.
You too can leave a positive mark in children’s lives!
For these Integrated Community Centres to become a constant reality in Romania we need your help. You can make a difference in the lives of these children right now: send an SMS with the word CHILD to 8844 and donate 2 euro every month or make a monthly donation online at www.unicef.ro to support the Integrated Community Centres. Donation by donation, we will be able to support this initiative and make life a little easier for the little ones. Without this help from you, many children like Andreea are unable to access the specialised medical, social and educational services they so desperately need. A monthly online donation of just 30 lei is just one leu a day for you, but it means infinitely more in the recovery of these children. You may think it's just you, but when dozens, hundreds and thousands of us join hands and lift up those who need our support, these monthly SMS or online donations become extremely valuable.