Leonard's lesson: Happiness is being with the family

In the Marginea neighborhood of Buhuși, a child with spastic paresis and hydrocephalus is the center of the world for his family.

UNICEF
Leonard - children with disabilities campaign
UNICEF/Adrian Holerga
04 December 2019

Leonard is a good and intelligent child, says Daniela, his mother. A child who dreams of doing a lot and enjoys every day with the family that loves him. He likes animals, and especially horses, "because they are gentle." And he even climbed a few times in the saddle, "when daddy had horses." 

Leonard lives in Marginea, a hamlet belonging to Buhuși, Bacău County. He was born 12 years ago with the crooked spine and then was diagnosed with spastic paresis and hydrocephalus. A year and a few months after his birth, he had a seizure that he barely survived. For Daniela, his mother, it’s still hard to tell what she felt then. At first, she thought Leonard was going to be okay. Then she fell into a depression from which she resolved to fight for him. "He gave me a lesson: that you can go through life even if it’s hard. I have to live for him, give him everything he needs,” says Daniela. 

The help that was needed 

He is Daniela's third child. Her eldest son has been working in Belgium for 10 years at a stud farm, and he always sends messages to Leonard on messenger, telling him how much he loves him. The daughter still lives with them, and when she returns from work, she teaches her younger brother how to speak English. Although he is ill with diabetes, Daniela's husband works very hard. Leonard is the center of their world. "We, and everyone in the house, make him happy. It all comes down to his happiness. He is the priority,” says the mother. 

"He gave me a lesson: that you can go through life even if it’s hard. I must live for him, give him everything he needs ... He is the most important to me. He is the priority”- Daniela, Leonard's mother.

Leonard 4 - children with disabilities campaign
UNICEF/Adrian Holerga

Once, in Bacău, a lady doctor told Daniela after consulting Leonard: "Continue to take care of him like you have taken care of him so far". It was, perhaps, one of the times when she knew that in her relentless struggle for the boy, she was not alone. Next to him was his family, but also the community team from Buhuși. Sanitary mediators Mihaela Stoleru and Gabriela Stan, who learned of Leonard's diagnosis, told the mother that she is entitled to a disability certificate, from the commission in Bacău. "When the commission was first assembled, they helped me, they went with me everywhere. They supported me, they were always present. They call and tell me: you see you have to do this and that. They have very big and good souls”, says Daniela. 

"When I entered this community, Marginea, I went from house to house to do the registration. That's how I met Daniela, with her little boy, who had health problems. She showed me the medical documents and I told her that Leonard is entitled to the certificate for disability classification from the evaluation committee. I went to Bacău with the mother, the baby and my colleague Gabriela. He was given the first degree of disability, with a right to have a personal assistant”, says Mihaela Stoleru.


Obstacles

"Good. Empathic. Smart "- this is Leonard's three-word description made by his mother. She wanted her boy to get an education. But going with Leonard in a stroller daily to school is not possible. Although located a few kilometers from Buhuși, the community in Marginea is practically isolated from the world because of the dirt road, which, in the slightest rain, turns into a muddy river impossible to pass with something other than a wagon or tractor. "Summer, here, is heaven, but in winter we are trapped in this ravine," says the mother. In recent weeks, they have not been able to get to the recovery center, where Leonard is doing physical therapy, having to settle for the exercises he does at home. Leonard grows up, and Daniela can no longer carry him in her arms, nor can she push his wagon over the crumpled lane.

"I will never give up school. Only when he would show signs that he is no longer be able to study”- Daniela, Leonard's mother

But Daniela continued to hope and do everything for her family. She found out that Leonard had the opportunity to study from home. "I see him as a regular child. I can't see him any other way,” she says. After applying for home schooling, Leonard began receiving visits from teacher Ramona Tărcuță. For her, Leonard is "a quiet, intelligent and open-minded student. He's the ideal student, who would find his place in a classroom. He's good and funny.” She enjoys doing lessons with him in Romanian, mathematics, natural sciences and civic education, even though, she says, "it's a challenge to get to him, because of the road." She says Leonard prefers math and, even if he's not on the same level as his third-grade classmates, she's confident he'll catch up by the end of the school year. She told the other pupils about him, and they decided to surprise him and record a Christmas carol for him. "I will never give up school. Only when he would show signs he is no longer be able to study. The teacher is a very good woman. Leonard always asks me when she's coming next," says my mother.

"You have to be happy, to have a family close to you. I am happy”- Leonard, 12 years old.

Leonard wants to become a constructor. "I like to make houses," he says. Protected by the love of his mother, he wakes up in the morning and does his homework, plays and dreams about the future. He has three friends in the neighborhood who visit him and play with him hide-and-seek and football. He says that "it's good when the teacher comes by". He never gets bored and, when the weather is bad, he plays Candy Crush on the phone or listens to music on Youtube. He tells how he goes to Buhuși, to the kinesitherapy sessions, where he does exercises. He wants many gifts from Santa Clause and sweets from Saint Nicolas. "For Christmas," he says, "you don't have to be upset. You have to be happy, to have the family close to you. I am happy".

Buhuși, the city of which Marginea belongs to, is among the 45 communities in the county of Bacău where UNICEF has implemented, starting in 2014, the "Minimum Package of Services" pilot programe, which provides integrated access to health, social protection and education services and prevents at a minimal cost, many of the problems that the most vulnerable children and their families face. Leonard is one of the beneficiaries of this program, through which his mother received access to the financial aid and medical care needed for her child, but also to home education, which the mother wants so much.

Leonard 6 - children with disabilities campaign
UNICEF/Adrian Holerga
Leonard 6 - children with disabilities campaign
UNICEF/Adrian Holerga