7 August 2001
Given The Chance :
Four Orphans from Romania at JCWP South Korea
by Mikel Flamm
As Habitat for Humanity celebrates its 25th anniversary building houses for people in need worldwide, four orphans from Romania have touched the hearts of Habitat volunteers and the Korean homeowners they have worked with for the past two months during the Jimmy Carter Work Project (JCWP 2001) in Seoul, South Korea.
All four orphans each of them aged 20 or over have seen life as an everyday struggle to survive amidst a tough upbringing that seemed to offer little love or hope.
Growing up in communist Romania they spent their entire childhood in a strict environment of a government-run orphanage in Transylvania known as Casa de Copic (House of Children), an experience that left them bitter and hardened. At age 18 they were simply told to leave and were offered no further assistance of any sort.
Twenty-seven-year-old Ghony Hovarth, the only girl in this group, lived on the streets for one year after she left the orphanage, surviving by doing odd jobs and sleeping at the railway station.
"It was very difficult for me. I ate very little and would bathe in the river in the summertime when it was warmer," said Hovarth. "As a girl we had to be tough in order to survive on the streets.
"My experience with Habitat has changed me a lot," said Hovarth. "The affection between all of us is something I did not have before. It makes me feel good. I feel that what good people do is returned back to them if it is done from your heart. It is so good to build houses for the people of Korea."
Nicolae Koccis, 25, explained that he lived at the orphanage since he was "age zero." "Ghony and I were there together at the same time and became close. To me our life was like a prison, a jungle, with no affection or love," said Koccis.
"I was lucky to learn a trade in the orphanage; it did help me later," said Koccis. "I studied through a vocational training course in wood cutting and worked a job until I learned about Habitat in l998. Now I can work as a sub-contractor and be my own boss. I have learned to be independent through working with Habitat, through being given the chance that most of us did not have before."
Simon Alexsandru, 27, was two years old when he was left at the orphanage. "We all have the same feeling towards it and best explain it as very close to a jail where there is no freedom, no love, nothing," said Alexsandru. "We had to fight every day for our survival."
"When I left I worked on farms in agriculture," said Alexsandru. "My first experience with Habitat was in Hungary during the JCWP in l996. I was lucky in that the Good Samaritan Project helped me to be part of Habitat. They are an important group to the orphans in that they help us find work through Habitat For Humanity."
Twenty-two-year-old Francisco Salamon is the youngest of the group. "My mother left me when I was two months old and never came back to see me," said Salamon. "I have no good thoughts of my life then," as he shakes his head and says, "A very bad place."
After Salamon left the orphanage he worked for a company that builds restaurants for a while, until a friend introduced him to Habitat. In l998 he worked on a Habitat project for a complete year with 13 other orphans.
"I have learned from the people with Habitat," said Salamon. "My friend Jennifer, from America, has taught me how to give to others through building houses for the poor here in Korea. This is one of the best things I have learned in my life. We were not taught how to give before. Our life was one of living day to day for ourselves. We did not know what love was because for all of us it did not exist before."
"All of our lives have changed," said Salamon. "We meet people from all around the world who have given us hope for our future. We have friendships, love and sharing that is all new to us. After we all go back to Romania I would like to learn more English and study house-framing and wood sculpture so I can get more work."
Telu Cazac, 25, a wood carver from Romania and a volunteer for Habitat for the past five years is the leader of the group and speaks of his experience with Habitat as a true challenge for them all.
"I've had a family all my life," said Cazac. "I guess I never understood what it was like to not have one until I met these orphans. When we worked together in Romania these past two years I became very close to them and began to understand where they came from and how hard it was for them when they were young. We have all changed each other through understanding."
"I have learned the true meaning of helping people from Habitat," said Cazac. "All of our lives have changed from the experience of working with these people. After working on these houses for the past nine weeks we have seen the progress of the houses, the friendships we have made with each other and the families whose lives we have changed.
"For me the most important part of it all is when we give the keys of the house to the homeowners and see their happiness in what we have all done together. I live for that moment," said Cazac. "When I see the tears in people's eyes, it is very special and makes all the hard work that is put into this worth the moment."
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