Donna and Frank, accompanied by niece, Phyllis, visited Pro Vita in Valenii de Munte (VDM) for a few busy days in late April. This report is lengthy but we participated in so many activities during our short stay.
We found a lot of activity engendered by the approximately 100 Ukrainian refugees there. Many of the existing ~450 Romanian residents have been shifted to different housing locales to accommodate the Ukrainians. As we departed, the Social Center was expecting another 26 refugees and a new rotation of Ukrainian teachers.
Most of the older (60+) Ukrainians who were in a hostel in VDM have moved on. Many had driven to Romania in their private cars, seeking refuge, and have since moved further West. Remaining are the formerly institutionalized children, the elderly, and some families who have maxed out the space at Pro Vita as more continue to arrive.
Talked to Mihail on May 19. He was on his way to the Ukrainian border to pick up four more teenage refugees. It just never stops!
The boys and girls who were in an institution in Kiliya, Ukraine, in the Odessa region and on the Romanian border, are living in the Social Center in VDM (17 boys, ages 12-17) and in Valea Screzii (the unaccompanied girls). Several families (women with children) are occupying houses scattered among the villages between VDM and Valea Screzii.
We stayed in VDM — at a lovely local hotel as there was no room at the Social Center — and worked with the boys living at the Social Center. Most of them have autism in varying degrees including non-speaking and pica (eating non-food materials such as dirt and concrete) and various intellectual and behavioral deficits. Several are medicated but still suffer from dramatic meltdowns. Their institution in Ukraine provides two teachers who rotate back to Ukraine every 6 weeks and attempt to hold lessons and supervise the boys. The boys really enjoy riding bikes (now largely inoperable due to the hard usage) and exploring the surrounding countryside on short hikes — activities they were not permitted in Ukraine. Frank gave most of the boys short “joy rides” in our loaner car which they loved. The Ukrainian teachers have remonstrated that the kids are getting “too much food” as meals are all served family style with snacks readily available.
Donna used her iPad and limited Russian to engage the boys in Math Bingo but discovered most had very limited math skills (2+2 was a challenge for some of them). They have had very limited exposure to geographic concepts as we struggled together to complete a Map of Europe jigsaw puzzle.
Ukrainian elderly have taken over the Elder House in Valea Plopului with the Romanian residents re-located to spaces in Valea Screzii and elsewhere. The 36 (mostly bedridden) Ukrainians arrived with their 12 caregivers and Fr. Roman, their priest after their home in Donbas was destroyed by bombing. They will in all likelihood remain in Romania as they have nowhere to return to.
On April 27 we all celebrated the 8th birthday of twins, Christina and Nicoletta, Romanian residents whose pictures will be in the Gallery soon.
Phyllis surprised all the kids with a Pizza Party on Thursday night, giving the kitchen staff a night off from double shifts at every meal. Twenty pizzas vanished quickly as everyone enjoyed the break in routine.
We visited the four houses located between Valea Plopului and Valea Screzii, which were obtained in a bankruptcy sale in 2018. Now they are finished and occupied by Ukrainian families. Yards are fenced and landscaped — we last saw them in a mud field. A fifth structure is under construction. It will be a central kitchen and social center for the occupants.
Pro Vita purchased an abandoned disco in the village just beyond Valea Screzii and turned it into a commercial kitchen producing meals and baked goods for all the surrounding properties. There is also a large plastic-covered greenhouse with tomatoes and cucumbers already growing as well as cabbage plants and herbs outside.
Frank and Donna renewed our acquaintances with residents from previous trips — Viorica is now a grandmother, Madelena#1 completed her Masters in Geology and is working in Bucharest, Madelena #2 is married with 2 children and Minodora is studying pre-med at the University of Bucharest. Alexandra’s event planning career was cut short by Covid; she is working in a shop in VDM and living at the Social Center. All the kitchen staff in multiple locations continue to work non-stop, producing delicious meals for all, 3 times a day.
An American family has relocated from Ukraine to the area with their 4 adopted and challenged young adults. Eric’s two adult children will return to Ukraine to run their house there as he and his wife hope to establish a similar support home in Romania for young adults who need supervised care. He brought two more bikes and took some away to be repaired.
Mihail discussed the immediate need to complete the final surface and fencing for the outdoor basketball court at the Social Center and a plan to build a small house ( 1500 sq feet) to house 8 children adjacent to the Social Center. He and AFPVO will need to raise approximately $35,000 for the latter. The Tanases are also planning to cover the rough concrete walkways on the first and second floors of the Social Center with concrete, wood-like planking to improve the appearance and ease of cleaning.
In the first week of May, the Tanases hosted a dinner as part of a major conference to discuss a new law affecting social services. A number of senior government ministers attended and were very engaged in serious discussion during the long evening.. Mihail had insisted that the officials see the realities of life at Pro Vita for context while discussing provisions of the proposed legislation. We will communicate any changes affecting Pro Vita once the final legislation is passed..
Fr. Sean Cavanaugh hopes to return to Pro Vita for a working visit in July.
Your generosity to AFPVO and Pro Vita over the past several months has been amazing. Consistent supporters include Wendell B., Leigh and Dennis M, Adrienne F., Jamie & Beth M., Sara D., and Mary Ann S.. New donors are Eric M., Siyi F., Laura B., Halle K., Julie S., Nina B., and Karen S.
With all the additional mouths to feed and clothe, AFPVO continues to provide reassuring financial stability as the Tanases plan for the future.