In Romania, the number of institutionalized children within the social protection system stands at around 60 thousand.
In Romania, the number of institutionalized children within the social protection system stands at around 60 thousand. These kids, who were abandoned either at birth or in their early childhood are in foster care placement centers (former orphanages), where, by the age of 18, they live without the love and affection of a family, without proper education and without someone stimulating their creative and intellectual potential. Therefore, it is no wonder that only 0.1% of the orphans manage to graduate from a faculty.
One of these person is Lajos Kristoff, a graduate of the Faculty of International Relations and European Studies and holder of an MA degree in Clinical Psychology. Lajos Kristoff has been in foster care placement in Mures county (central Romania) since the age of 3, and he has managed to overcome the system’s obstacles and not waste his potential. Let’s listen to him:
Lajos Kristoff: “I believe I was a vey dreamy person and mature enough for my age. I was bold enough to fight for my dreams and for what I wanted to become. There were some people in my life who opened new horizons for me and who encouraged me by saying that if I wanted to be something, I could do that, I had to choose my own way in life. As a child, I wanted to study medicine and specialize in pediatric neurosurgery, but that did not happen. But I told myself that if I did not manage to achieve what I first wanted, I could instead opt for something related to children education. So I decided that I should be a doctor of souls.”
‘Doctor of souls’ or ‘trainer of geniuses’, this is how Lajos Kristoff has come to be known in the community. After a period of work within the association for gifted children, the Gifted Education Center, he set up a school of excellence devoted to discovering and developing the talent of each child either institutionalized or coming from a family. That is why his school of excellence cooperates with placement centers as well as with regular schools.
For the children in the protection system, this mentorship is almost always vital, says Lajos Kristoff: “Most institutionalized kids and young people grow with this fear of the future. That is why they do not succeed in reaching their goals and all their dreams stumble at the foster home’s door. Being deprived of parents, of love and affection, of everything that means empathetic human interaction, it’s but natural for them to not be able to look to the future, to reach their goals in life, to see their mission.”
In 2017, Lajos Kristoff started another project, similar to the school of excellence, but with a more intensive and ambitious program meant to discover the latent potential in children, called ‘Mentor in Romania’: “The program is actually a national network of mentors and children part of which the kids are mentored one to one or in groups, and the program has been functional since 2017. We get in touch with these children by means of the social assistance directorates, the city halls, and the education ministry. They help us have access in schools and inform the teachers about our activities. Mentorship means 16 hours per month of formal and informal meetings. Formal meetings take place within the institution, more precisely in schools, the informal meetings take place within the kids’ families. I provide mentorship to several kids with an intelligence quotient above average. One of them is from Onesti, in the east of the country. The others belong to a theater troupe, as they all have artistic skills and also scientific and mathematical skills.”
Targeting all kids up to the age of 12 from foster care placement centers as well as from families, ‘Mentor in Romania’ does not lose sight, though, of the fact that the institutionalized, disadvantaged children need to be granted additional help.
Here is Lajos Kristoff back at the microphone: “For 12 years now I have been organizing educational camps in the mountain resorts. It is a not-for-profit camp. One day I gathered my team and I suggested we should set up a mentorship school: a school of little mentors devoted mainly to kids from the child protection system. The first edition of the summer mentorship school lasted one month and we worked with 20 institutionalized kids from day centers from Bucharest’s sectors 3 and 4. Our one-to-one mentorship system as well as the group mentorship has been implemented and it has yielded exceptional results. We have worked in a team, and, in three weeks, we managed to transform several kids who could not allow themselves to dream and who had self-confidence issues and to help them to discover their true selves through talks, theater courses and other innovative methods. The kids chose their mentors on their own.”
Theater is an adequate means to help children express themselves and to provide them with financial aid. That is why, as part of his projects, Lajos Kristoff also organizes courses in theater for kids. One of the achievements of these courses was the show Alice in Christmas Land, an adaptation of the classical story by Lewis Caroll played by kids for kids. The money obtained from ticket sales will be donated to help equip kindergartens located in disadvantaged areas.
The show, made with the support of the State Jewish Theater and the SARIDA Association was directed by Ioan Păduraru who, himself a volunteer within the camps of excellence organized by Lajos Kristoff, became aware of the benefits of making institutionalized kids get in contact with kids with families.
The program ‘Mentor in Romania’ continues in 2020 and this year Lajos Kristoff and his team intend to support more than 250 kids discover their potential. (translation by L. Simion)