Reflections from a Summer Intern: Aaron Norris, Part Two

Aaron Norris is a Summer Intern and Assistant at RCE’s Residential Campus in Pecica.

The kids rescued and supported by RCE have been through so much in life that would cause a lot of people to lose faith in humanity. Physical abuse, psychological trauma, hunger, poverty, and abandonment could very well leave them embittered and troubled. Their stories are gutting, and the physical and emotional scars they all bear are deep. Despite all of this, they are all capable of perhaps the most important human emotion: compassion. They are proof that when given love and care, they can overcome their circumstances while making leaps and gains towards living a normal life. While hearing their stories is often harrowing, hearing how far they’ve come is inspiring. 

During my summer internship, I got to know some of these amazing kids. Initially, we spent our time getting acquainted with one another. By the second half, I was able to put this comfort and friendship to use, taking a more active role in their care and development. Because RCE houses so many children, it is important to remember that they are not simply holding on to them until placement. They set goals for each child to help develop and improve their skills, allowing for more active and independent lives. Pending the severity of their existing disabilities, this can be sometimes hard to see. Small victories matter, and improvement is relative to where the child was when they arrived under RCE’s care. The work that I was doing was not developing physical skills, but rather was monitoring and managing them as they assimilated into new environments.

One of RCE’s goals is to move some of the older residents of Amy’s House out to Pecica for a more semi-independent lifestyle. An immediate full move could be too drastic of a change, so I was charged with taking two of the boys to Pecica to stay for two days. The heroes of this two-day excursion from Arad are interesting characters each unto himself. Yosef is a quiet young man with a love for the thrills of a swing set and clean rooms, and who holds an uncanny ability to mimic the bark of a dog (the physical manifestation of his impersonation is not nearly as convincing). While a limited vocabulary sometimes made communication an issue, Peter somehow understands everything he says. I greatly appreciated his ability to help Yosef verbalize his thoughts and help me to understand. Peter is a top-notch translator of the language Yosef, a fantastic worker, and probably more intelligent than I’ll ever truly know. One day, I sat next to him while reading a novel and he began sounding out the words in English.  I didn’t know that he knew any English, much less could read so well. Despite his abilities, his outgoing personality and lack of verbal limitations can be a challenge in social situations. While Peter can learn and be very amusing, he does need constant supervision. These two boys seemed to like Pecica and are especially well behaved when given scheduled activities. Being able to structure their days allowed them to look forward to activities and expend energy throughout the day.  Our two days were largely structured around the consumption of food and the therapeutic listening of music.  The extent to which these boys look out and care for each other is brotherly. They pick up on subtle changes in each other’s behavior and do just about everything together. 

The week spent at the camp with Sorin and Boti was challenging but allowed me to see how funny and responsive these boys can be. Up until we were in the same living area, most of time I spent with them in Pecica was either surfing YouTube videos or watching them perform their independent activities of drawing, tearing up grass, or simply swaying back and forth or side to side. Thus, the transition to doing a lot of activities together was somewhat of a pleasant shock. Boti can produce words, but seldom says anything that is not a repetition of what you said. This can be frustrating when asking him to brush his teeth, because he just tells you to brush your own teeth. However, when asking someone to be quiet, he often takes your side and requests silence. A sweet boy, Boti is very capable of hiking and group activities, but I think prefers to sway in solitude. He maintains a staunch opposition to meat on his plate and is insistent on maintaining his personal hygiene. Before camp he would often flee from me when I approached him without someone else, so it was nice to see and feel him become more comfortable around me. 

Sorin is a funny character. He towers over me and often stares blankly as though trying to contemplate why I’m not feeding him. In Pecica he loves to swing to new heights, meticulously cut the grass by hand, communicate through artwork, and watch YouTube videos of fireworks, lightening, and construction vehicles at work. At camp he enjoyed the arts and crafts but was far more physically active than I had seen him before. As his size and stature challenged the integrity of the swing set, he took to soccer, long walks, and even a hike; it was refreshing to see him excited to take advantage of the open space. These two young men are very sweet but will never be able to live independently. The help they get from RCE allows them a semblance of a normal life, and it is not squandered. Built on companionship and childish mischief, their friendship is innocent and pure. The biggest pleasure of getting to know them over the course of the week was to see the relationship they have with each other; when shown compassion, they respond with love and care.  

Immediately after camp, there was one day where I got very sick. Starting at 2:30 in the morning, my body decided that whatever was inside of it had to go. While oscillating between the positions of supine on the couch and crouched around a porcelain bowl for the next 24 hours, I had a couple visitors. Manu came up once to check on me, check my temperature, and wish me well; he really understood that I was not in a good place. Ghitsa came up twice to the room. The first time we talked for a bit and I explained how I was sick without understanding much of what he said in response. I then had to keep him from stealing the ice cream out of the upstairs freezer, so wondered if he had ulterior motives all along. Six hours later he returned. This encounter was far shorter, he didn’t really ask me many questions, nor did he show the freezer any attention. We exchanged greetings, and as I lay down he put his hand on my stomach and began talking in his often-indecipherable rapid speech, at the end of which he said, “Amen.” He then walked away without another word. These boys knew the whole time that I would eventually be leaving but chose to care for someone they recognized was sick. Their genuine concern for others that they really don’t know very well and knew would be leaving in a short time is inspiring. 

Aaron with a team from Fourth Presbyterian Church during RCE's Summer Camp in July.

Aaron with a team from Fourth Presbyterian Church during RCE's Summer Camp in July.

The final week I spent in Romania was as a cabin leader at the camp for children supported by the Caring Project, but with a focus on sixteen-year-old Ionut and ten-year-old Trian. The majority of the kids at camp are not afflicted by physiological impairment, but rather suffer from poverty and traumatic life circumstances. Because Ionut and Trian are so high functioning, they benefit from social interaction with other kids who do not have such special needs. When he’s not out fighting crime, Ionut stays at Amy’s House, although his issues are not as limiting as his cohabitants. He is completely capable of conversation, work, and school, but has issues controlling his emotions. He showed us his report card, and in the past year or two he has showed tremendous development. He is excelling in most of his classes, and the progress that he has been making with RCE is undeniable. Regardless, he would not be able to go to camp alone; his emotional scars are havens for anger and grief and he is still learning to control them. 

Trian is a ten-year-old blessed with too much energy. I realized early on that I would not be able to keep up with him, but it was best to keep him within ear shot. The child never stops moving, loves to meet new people, and bounces from visitor to visitor. Although his excessive energy can make him difficult to handle, he is learning about discipline and rules with RCE. Seeing him interact and make friends with other kids who do not live with the same limitations gives me hope that he will be able to find placement. During camp, the boys proved that they can make friends and do the things that normal kids can do with each other when given the love and support they need. Knowing that RCE is making all this possible makes me proud to be affiliated with their work, and I look forward to doing so in the future.