Home Safe

Students, faculty, and staff, through Lasallian Service Internships, find love, stability, and joy at a Christian Brothers home for boys in Romania. Ginny Prior, adjunct communication professor, participated in the internship in January.

Imagine a home with 16 adolescent boys, where emotions can range from Joyful Noise to Smackdown Sunday. This past January, two students and two adults made an inaugural visit to the Lasalle Boys’ Home in Iasi, Romania. The trip was part of Saint Mary’s Lasallian Service Internship, a mission-driven program in 18 regions where Christian Brothers serve the underprivileged.

Romania has struggled to keep families intact since the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, mandated that women produce multiple children during childbearing years. He was deposed and then killed in a 1989 coup, but the legacy of children left in state care by families who could not take care of them continues today.

Left to right: Cosmin, Paul, Alex, and Silviu washing, drying and stacking dishes for the next meal.Marius lived with two foster families before moving to the home. We bonded over table foosball and soon became an oddly matched set of friends. Every evening the handsome, neatly groomed boy would save me a place at the communal table.

“Ginny, sit down and eat,” he would say as a heaping plate of Romanian food was set before each group of four boys. From zacuscă (a traditional bread spread with tomatoes, eggplant, red peppers, and carrots) to mamaliga (the Romanian version of polenta) the boys carefully divided the food so each of us got an equal portion.

A loving home, stability, and reassuring routine is the Brothers’ blueprint for success. On weekdays during the school year, the boys rise early, eat breakfast, and depart for classes. Depending on age, they attend the American equivalent of junior high, high school, or trade school. They come home at various times during the afternoon and a warm lunch is waiting.

So are the kitchen chores, which the boys are expected to do to help Cristina Laus, the cook. She comes in early to make supa (soup), a daily staple, and hearty dishes with kartofi (potatoes) and pui (chicken).

“Supa de pui is de bune,” I said to Cristina, in my best effort to speak the native language. The boys always giggled when I tried to cobble together a sentence. Then they’d correct me, repeatedly, until I got the accent just right.

My turn to teach them came each afternoon at 4, when homework sessions would start. With the guidance of English-speaking social worker Cristina Cosa, our Saint Mary’s team went to work. SMC seniors Jin Su Seo and Anne Whipple helped the boys in one room and I helped out in another. Jane Joyce, director of recruitment and marketing for graduate and professional programs, returned to the United States when I arrived.

Daniel reflects in front of the cross in a room used for evening prayerFlorin spoke English better than most of the boys. Each day he’d read aloud from Black Beauty, a book he enjoyed because he’d spent time with horses.

“We need to talk about this,” he’d say when he reached a passage he didn’t quite understand. I’d explain words like bit and harness—sometimes using pictures or wild gestures—not unlike a game of charades or Pictionary.

Helping Paul was a bit more challenging. I googled Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi on my MacBook, then picked out English words to describe him. Paul wrote them down and then said them out loud and I helped him write sentences with the words. We did the same exercise with his favorite artist, 50 Cent. I skipped the part about the rapper being shot nine times.

One afternoon, Marius brought out the map of Romania as part of his geography homework. He showed me Transylvania and then typed “castles” into Google. By this time, Paul and Florin had joined in, and a lively debate in Romanian ensued over which castle was best. Bran Castle, home of Count Dracula, won. The boys are big on vampires.

“If only they paid this kind of attention to homework,” Brother Iosif Beda lamented. Each week he held a town hall meeting, of sorts, where the boys shared their grades. He would encourage the boys to work harder, using the carrot-and-stick approach to reward them with points they could use for movies and other perks.

Each Brother plays a role in the success of Lasalle Boys’ Home. Brother Iosif oversees operations, while Brother Juan Barrera balances the books. Brothers Thomas Bilocca and Daniel Ciobanu fill in where needed, making runs to the farm for fresh milk and the market for meat and produce.

Fifty-five boys have been through the program since the home opened in 2003. The government pays roughly a third of expenses to operate the home. The rest comes from visitors (a section of the building serves as a retreat center) and donations.

“One of our neighbors has chickens and brings us fresh eggs,” Brother Juan said. “Another neighbor brings us cherries, apples, and walnuts from trees in the yard.” Brother Juan recalls one boy who had lived in the home and went back to his village to work. “He brought us a sack of wheat, which we used to make bread for a very long time.”

Living with the boys was a joyful experience and a lesson in patience and humility. “The boys were a lot like your typical preteens and teens,” Joyce observed. “They could be rowdy and could roughhouse, but there was clearly a firm discipline with them and they showed a respect for the Brothers.”

The Lasallian interns also learned the value of persistence in working around language barriers. “I learned a lot about how to say things or act them out, or draw them,” Whipple said. “It made me use other ways of communicating.” She also felt a special closeness with the boys when she taught them crafts like bracelet making and origami.

“They didn’t know anything about America,” Seo said. “For us to show them that the world is bigger—that there is more out there—maybe it will give them more motivation.”

At the very least, Joyce said, the boys will know that we cared. “We didn’t just end up there, we chose to be with them. In future years, Saint Mary's visits will be something for them to look forward to.”

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