Foster mother & advocate for HIV-positive youth is inspiring example on International Women’s Day

But then life has never been easy for this delicate but strong woman, who married Radu in 1983 and had her first child about six years later. “I found out about Andrei’s condition in 1990. When he was 15 months old, he started to vomit and have diarrhea. He didn’t stop for many days”, shares Anca.

After being to hospital, a doctor asked Anca to allow a blood test for Andrei, the result of which dealt a massive shock to the young mother - Andrei was HIV-positive.

“She explained to me that Andrei had contracted the HIV virus through the blood transfusion he had to have months ago. It was the first time that I heard about HIV. I remember that I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but I will never forget when she told me, “ I don’t know how many years you’ll have this child for”…

I don’t know how many years you’ll have this child for... Anca’s reaction wasn’t violent because very few people in Romania knew about HIV and the implications for health at that time. It was only after a discussion with her brother-in-law who worked inside Romanian secret service department that she understood that HIV was a potentially life-threatening infection.

“When I found out the details about this disease, I broke down. My husband and I couldn’t stop crying. It was awful”, Anca remembers.

Andrei was one of more than 10,000 innocent children infected with HIV in Romanian hospitals and institutions, as a result of direct exposure, between 1986 and 1991, to contaminated needles and transfusion of unscreened blood.

Two years after that sad news, Andrei went on medication –receiving a monthly injection or “a little bee’ sting”…as they referred to it. When he was three, he passed the worst crisis of his life.

“He was hospitalised and had deep sunken eyes, his arms and legs were nothing at all. It was the worst time of my life. Thousands of dark thoughts, about death went through my mind. But, thanks to God, he got over this crisis and now, he is 21 and is a University student in the Financial Management Faculty – specialising in accounting within the “Spiru Haret” University in Constanta.

Just when life began to settle down into a more predictable pattern, Anca received confirmation that Marius, the eldest son, had a mental disability.

“I noticed that Marius had some problems from when he was just an infant, but I hesitated; I refused to believe that something was wrong with him. Doctors were telling me that he was alright, but in my heart I was always feeling that they were wrong. When he reached the age of 14, a good doctor diagnosed him with a mental disability.”

Marius couldn’t read or write and struggled in primary school level classes. He tried to work as a watchman in car parks, but he couldn’t manage. Marius can’t make simple decisions and does not have the patience to stick to a task.

“I can’t even count on him to watch the younger boys at home. One day, when I came back from the food store, Sorin had climbed up on the roof while Marius listened to music inside the house. I thought my heart would stop with fear and I realised in that moment that he is not responsible and I must carefully watch him. Anyway, he is good boy and he tries to help me with everything he can”, says Anca.

The year 2000 dealt Anca another blow. Her husband left her after 19 years of marriage, but not before pushing her out of the house, with Andrei in her arms.

“For one month we lived at all my friends’ houses, until some important man helped me to return back to my house and stay there”.

Alone, with three children, two of them sick, Anca faced serious financial problems. As a full-time mother and carer she wasn’t able to earn an income outside the home – so she decided to become a foster parent as a way to both receive extra income and help another child.

“I can’t find a job and leave Marius and Stefan. Moreover, I had to go to the hospital all the time, with Andrei. So, I decided to become a foster mother”, says Anca.

“ I attended some courses and in 2008, I brought Mihai home. We like him very much, all of us, but it is very hard to take care of him”, says Anca, who explains that Mihai doesn’t speak, he wears nappies and sometimes he’s quite aggressive.

“Only my children’s love helps me to continue. Every year, they save some money and buy me a present on March 8th – International Women’s Day. Also, the great joy of my life was to hear that Andrei became a University student. I am so proud of him…”

“Andrei is a wonderful boy”, says his doting mother. He is full of imagination and won second place in a design contest launched in 2007, by UNOPA. “I made the entire design for a juice product. This is my dream…to work in copyright”, Andrei says, who would like to find a well-paid job and support his family financially. Andrei is sensible and always encourages his mother when she cries: Don’t be upset mom, everything will be fine”…

“My deep desire is to see my children healthy and with their own families”, Anca says.

“Anca’s family is one of the most beautiful families that I have known because they support each other; they have a special relationship. They are like a successful team and have a lot of faith in God. They manage to stay calm and optimistic even in the most difficult situations they go through”, says World Vision vocational counsellor, Anca D. from the Constanta Area Development Programme, Together for the Future project.

It was a time when a neighbour had written on our gate “sidoşii” – an insulting word for people infected with HIV and with AIDS. Anca is also a strong voice against discrimination. “In 2007, when I was a student and learned to become a foster mother, a first aid instructor told us that HIV is the most dangerous disease and advised us to cover our eyes and mouth if a positive person yawns beside us. I was shocked to hear such nonsense from a doctor and I explained to her and to my colleagues about how HIV is transmitted”.

“It was a time when a neighbour had written on our gate “sidoşii” – an insulting word for people infected with HIV and with AIDS”, Anca says.

“My first contact with World Vision was eight years ago, when I met Anda. She was giving us material and spiritual support . Andrei has participated in the activities organised by World Vision since 2000, taking part in the Spiritual Club, Communication Club and in the Children’s Initiative Group. He has also attended summer camps, and has taken part in photojournalism training through the project ‘Together for the future’. World Vision pays Andrei’s university fees through this project”, explains Anca.

Almost 10,000 people are registered as HIV positive in Romania, according to data released in December 2008 by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases “Prof. Dr. Matei Balş” – HIV/AIDS monitoring and evaluation Centre. In 2008 some 41 positive HIV new cases were registered.

World Vision Romania has been supporting children living with HIV in Constanta County since 1990, through the ‘Project for the Children with HIV’, developed in the ‘Post-cure’ section of the County Hospital in Constanta.

In 1998, World Vision Romania started ‘The Kids Club’ Project for 350 HIV-positive and their siblings, in Constanta County. As these children grew into youth with different needs and priorities, so too did World Vision’s approach adapt to their new reality. The project ‘Together for the Future’ has replaced the Kids Club Project and aims to increase the quality of life for some 100 teenagers living with HIV, improve their access to prevention, support and educational services by involving the community they live in, in economical and social activities, cooperation with employers and other useful activities for youth and their families.

World Vision’s ‘Together for the Future’ project helps the youths and their siblings (the 100 indirect beneficiaries) through vocational counselling and orientation, legal counselling, public awareness and advocacy events, educational workshops and entertaining activities - the so called “clubs”, and through spiritual counselling for HIV-positive youth and their families.

And with advocates like Anca on the team, spurred on by her dreams for her children, the outlook for HIV-positive youth in Constanta is a little bit brighter.

UNOPA – The National Union of the Organizations of the people affected by HV and AIDS