NOROC’s mission is to nurture healthy minds, bodies and spirits so that at-risk institutionalized children in Tulcea County, Romania may escape cycles of poverty, dependency and abuse. Our hope is that each child may become an independent adult who can engage in safe, meaningful relationships, mature in mind, body and spirit, and contribute to their communities.
To this end, NOROC has developed “Big-Hearted” programs that build positive relationships with adults and peers: Big-Hearted Grannies, Tutors, and Friends, and psychologists, speech therapists, small group and Bible study leaders, activity and sports leaders, and more engage abandoned, orphaned or abused children so that their lives may be more joyful and abundant.
The easternmost part of Romania,Tulcea County lies on the Danube just above the Black Sea, and on the Ukraine border, a part of the area known as “Dobrogea.”
NOROC, Inc., through the hands and feet of over some 50 volunteers working with its Romanian partner, Asociatia Umanitara “NOROC,” ministers to institutionalized children and youth in over ten institutions in Tulcea County, in eastern Romania near Ukraine, Moldova and the Black Sea. Tulcea City has a population of about 70,000; Tulcea County, about 250,000. The county is one of the poorest in Romania.
The city of Tulcea is also the gateway to the unique biosphere that is the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, a flyway for hundreds of species of birds, with great migrating populations of pelicans, storks, cormorants and other large or exotic water birds, as well as smaller and more mundane varieties.
The area has a rich ecosystem, however. Tulcea County is the region of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, a vast wetland, reed bed and wildlife sanctuary protected by UNESCO.
“The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, shared with Romania and Ukraine, is a labyrinth of water and land, made up of countless lakes, channels, islands at the end of a 2,860 km long river. The Danube Delta is the largest European wetland and reed bed, forming also Europe’s largest water purification system. The area is particularly well known for the abundance of birdlife: 312 important bird species are present in the Delta, which is an important stopover and breeding area for many bird species. About 90 fish species are found here, including populations of sturgeon. It is also one of the last refuges for the European mink, the wildcat, the freshwater otter and the globally threatened monk seal. The biosphere reserve was declared as both Natural World Heritage and Ramsar site in 1991.
The Danube Delta is home to a rich mix of Ukrainian, Russian, Lipovan, Bulgarian, Moldavan, Turkish and Gagauz people, scattered around the delta in small villages. Main economic activities in the biosphere reserve are fishing, hunting, livestock raising and subsistence agriculture, reed harvesting as well as tourism. Romania and Ukraine, both countries in economic transition, share many problems, such as a high unemployment rate. The nature of the delta is mainly affected by all land use decisions taken upstream, in any of the nine countries bordering the river. However, also possible intensification of agriculture within Romania and Ukraine is a specific worry since it would lead to increased pollutants in the water. With the creation of the transboundary biosphere reserve, it is hoped that synergy effects will help to resolve the shared socio-economic problems and, at the same time, help to maintain the delta’s ecological processes and biodiversity.”
More than 15 institutions for orphaned, abandoned or abused children, handicapped children and adults, and seniors find a home in Tulcea County. NOROC mainly focuses on ministry to institutionalized children, but also reaches out to retired women on the margins (Big-hearted Grannies) and residents of the Senior Center and facilities for the handicapped.
Thanks to NOROC's programs, weeping becomes dancing, the silent speak, and the fragmented find wholeness. Joy is made possible!
When international adoptions closed in Romania, NOROC volunteers responded to the very serious needs of institutionalized children in Tulcea County, a poor county on the Ukraine border with a diverse population (disproportionate number of ethnic Rroma and Turks) and reorganized to minister to them.
When NOROC began, retired women on low fixed incomes, "Big-Hearted Grannies," were trained to give sensory stimulation, relationship, and Christ-like care to infants and preschoolers 4 hours a day, 6 days a week and 51 weeks a year. That focus expanded to preschoolers and elementary schoolers, and then to offering ongoing weekly small group activities. The small groups function as families. NOROC also offers psychological and therapeutic care (including the nascent horse therapy program), speech therapy, computer literacy training, lifeskills and job skills training (the soon-to-begin Aflatoun program), excursions and camps, and much more.
The number of abandoned, orphaned or abused children continues to grow, in spite of efforts to reduce the number of orphans in response to pressure from the European Union. You may hear that many institutionalized children in Romania have been reunited with families or sent back “home.” Too often, however, abandoned or traumatized children are sent “back” to abusive situations, to serious poverty, or to a distant family member who sells them into a forced marriage or trafficking. Over and over again, a young woman is taken out of school at 14 or 15, sent “home” to an uncle or other family member, only to be married off within weeks. Soon she is pregnant. And the cycle of poverty, hopelessness, failed relationships, abuse and, perhaps, abandonment begins again.
Most children in the institutions could be classified as children of trauma. Without training for an independent future, they cannot break the cycle of poverty and abuse and may fall into the trafficking networks.
NOROC serves all ages and stages and encourages youth to stay in high school and set their sites on university, if they are able to pass the exams. Since NOROC has begun tutoring programs over 17 have graduated from university. Three passed exams and will begin their studies in 2013. This is a landmark--thought to be a miracle, indeed!
1) Continued access. We do not offer bribes, criticize, or try to force our way. We seek positive relationships with social services staff. Many faithful ministries have fallen on their "bad side" and been excluded.
2) Funding. As economies contract and donors age, we move forward in confidence, trusting in God's provision.
3) Expanding and deepening programs. We offer psychological and speech therapy, small groups, camps, medical interventions, life and job skills training, horse therapy, excursions and holiday events, and more. These programs are increasingly costly as the Romanian economy experiences inflation and prepares for full participation in the European Union.
4) Sustaining "Big-hearted" programs (each Granny works 4 hours/day, 6 days/week and 51 days/year for about $60/month to cover expenses): loving hospital Grannies nurture abandoned infants, crib-bound in hospitals until age two; orphanage Grannies are "family" to the youngest, in groups of 6 or 8. Grannies deserve a higher stipend. At present, what we give them each month purchases about 2 kilos (4.5 pounds) of chicken. Most walk long miles uphill to the orphanages.
NOROC tutors, retired teachers, encourage kids to attempt high school, a special challenge. Rroma, for example, seek marriage partners for girls as young as 12. Boys are wanted for begging, scrap metal collecting, forced labor or domestic servitude. Kids may suddenly be "reclaimed" by an uncle or other distant family member.
The "system" pushes each child towards trade school so they can release them earlier. Since NOROC tutoring began, 17 have graduated from university; 3 freshmen seek sponsors now. This is HUGE.
The first graduate, Gabi, now heads the Rroma Center and administers outreach and Christian ministries to Rroma. That NOROC would sponsor an orphan AND a Rroma sends a clear message about our ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
Nothing but the love and justice of Jesus Christ can heal the wounds of Romanian history. NOROC's greatest achievement is that the hearts and minds of children have been opened to hear the best news of all: Whatever has happened to them, and whatever their experience of family has been, they are members of the Family of God. In that family, they have a new name, and it is "Beloved."