The ball is pitched again and rotates easily through the slightly moist summer air. The dirt-stained sphere floats then dips, perfectly placed above the makeshift home plate – a cardboard pizza box from last night’s dinner.
The boy watching the ball and holding the bat appears to be about 10. His name is Roli Zamfirache and he is blond and skinny. His pale skin has lots of bright-red scabs, but all in places you’d expect young boys to have scabs – knees and elbows.
The bat pierces the air as his hips are wrenched around with the full-bodied swing. It’s a complete miss.
He hurls the bat angrily in no particular direction, but it goes flying backward and hits the catcher, another boy about ten. The catcher is Emilian Teglas, dark-skinned, probably a gypsy, and just as skinny as Roli. He howls as the hollow plastic bat strikes him on the chin and shoulder and leaps to his feet, growing louder.
The pitcher races over to the catcher to assess the damage and after confirming that the wounds are purely emotional in nature, turns her attention to the batter who is also howling.
This is Roli’s third tantrum in fifteen minutes. And as Emilian continues to howl over his mortal bat-wound, Roli stops howling and goes over to him and they start yelling at each other in their native language – Romanian.
They are best friends, but the emotional damage inflicted by their early abandonment has left deep emotional scars for both of them that materialize in fits like the one Roli is in.
The boys live at the Darius House, a privately-run orphanage in southern Romania that houses 30 orphans with special needs in three cottages.
Every weekday is the same here: breakfast, school, lunch, naptime, playtime, dinnertime, playtime, bedtime. There is no summer vacation. Saturdays are broken up with group walks in the neighborhood and on Sundays the children are on rotation to be taken to church three at a time.
The difference in care children with special needs receive in the U.S. and Romania is night and day. With the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is required in the States in every area of life. Because of other American support systems for children with disabilities, families are able to keep their children more since they have more avenues of support. In Romania, people with special needs can be seen as a burden because they may keep other family members from being able to work full-time to provide for the family, especially since the government gives little to no support — financial or otherwise — to children and adults with disabilities.
15-year-old Otto Micu is seen as a burden to his mother’s boyfriend, so while he visits his family several times a year, he is inevitably dropped back off at the orphanage at the end of a long weekend or holiday stay.
Otto would be eligible for adoption into a family willing and able to care for him full-time, but his mother will not sign papers allowing the placement to proceed even though a Romanian family has offered to adopt him.
Romanian Christian Enterprises, the organization that runs the Darius House, has been in the process of identifying children eligible for adoption and families able to care for them since 1994 and was one of the country’s first private adoption agencies.
Since its founding, more than 74 children have been placed into Romanian families. Of those 74 children, 15 have disabilities. Each family that takes a child through RCE receives follow-up medical and educational support from the non-profit including special training for caretakers if the child has special needs.
Although families interested in adopting children with special needs receive assistance from RCE, support from the Romanian government simply isn’t there.
According to Mimi Bocsa, director of RCE’s social department, when it comes to even small shows of support for people with disabilities (like handicapped accessibility) regulations are either ignored or not enforced if they are in place at all. Romanian families willing to adopt children with special needs are given no incentive by the government to do so.
The Romanian government states that all decisions regarding adoption and placement are made in the best interest of the child. Despite this claim they put the burden of proof on organizations like RCE to prove that a child is in an abusive situation before allowing the adoption process to commence. Proving neglect –even severe neglect — is rarely enough to legally start the adoption process. Even if a parent has been conspicuously absent from a child’s life from day one, parties interested in adopting are required to gain a signature once per year from the biological mother — many of whom disappear completely — in order to allow another family to care for the child. It often takes months or years to track down a biological parent and once they are found they are usually unwilling to allow their child to be adopted – understandable only if they were making any effort to raise their child in the first place.
It is regulations like these that keep Romania near the top of the list of countries with abandoned children. At last count in 2006, more than 76,000 children were in the care of the state in Romania.
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