I have just been shortlisted for the Photovoice Awards with my work “Ceausescu’s orphans, 20 years on”, a work I started more than two decades ago.
I can only dedicate this work to the kids – who are now adults – from Popricani’s orphanage and to the people like my friend Dan Palimaru, who looked after them and cared for them.
The Photovoice nomination comes exactly one year after my friend Ursula Wernly shot a very moving and poignant documentary, L’Enfant du Diable, mixing the story of Marion – who was adopted by a French couple under Ceausescu in the 80s – and the ones of Popricani’s orphanage who didn’t have the chance to grow up in a caring family.
Nevertheless, the Casa de Copii in Popricani was their home, the other kids and the carers, their family.
Their saucer-eyes peered out from behind bars, their scrawny bodies were strapped to the beds they slept in. Who could forget the terrible images of the Romanian orphans that stared from newspaper front pages following the fall of the Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu in 1989?
After Ceausescu’s execution, it emerged that hundreds of thousands of uncared and mistreated children had been hidden in crumbling institutions all over the country.
I witnessed the lives of these children first hand when I worked in Romania with a French charity. Between 1993 and 2000, I visited the same orphanage in Popricani near Iasi, in the North East of the country and built up a strong relationship with many of the children who were living there life in appalling conditions.
In December 2006, just before Romania joined the EU, I went through all my Romania photo archive from the 90s : I re-discovered hundreds of forgotten images of faces I could never forget.
I wondered what had happened to them. So I returned to Romania to track them down.
I undertook this extraordinary adventure thanks to my Romanian friend, Dan, ex-social worker at the orphanage. He helped me find the kids.
Since 2006 and a dozen of trips back, I managed to find almost 40 of them: Radu had made a success of his life. He had studied veterinary science and after working in the UK for several summers as a fruit picker, had got married in Romania and is now the father of 1 girl. Liliana had become a mother of 3 and lived with her husband in the village. Daniel had become the handyman of the ex-orphanage. Others had been less lucky: B was sex trafficked to Italy, before being rescued and returned to her village. Adriana had become a single mum begging on the streets of Iasi. Carmen had died years earlier of medical neglect in hospital.
Here are a few of their portraits then and now, as well as black and white pictures of the 90s and colour ones of them in the last 10 years.
Vasile Siriteanu in 1995 when he was 11 in Popricani at the orphanage and in 2011 in his flat in Iasi. Vasile works as a sales representative. He lives in a flat he inherited from an old couple he was very close to.
Remus Stanica when he was 8 in 1995 at the orphanage in Popricani and in 2011 on a street in Iasi. Remus is Ramonas brother. He trained as a carpenter but works in a clothes factory. Ramona and Remus have another younger brother, Adrian.
Ramona Gogu -right on the picture- when she was 9 in 1993 with a friend at the orphanage in Popricani and in Iasi at a café in 2011. She is married with one child. With her husband they run a convenience shop in Iasi open 24 hours.
Mariana Darabana -second right on the picture- in 1997 when she was 13 with her good friend Nafisa and in 2011 with her 5 years-old son. Mariana -nicknamed Dana- married a guy from Popricani and they live at their in-laws.
Lacramioara Gangal in 1995 when she was 10 outside the orphanage in Popricani and in 2009 on the balcony of her room in a flat in Iasi. She worked in a clothes factory and was paying frequent visits to her friends from the orphanage in Popricani.
Constantin in 1995 when he was 10 and in October 2009 enjoying a coffee and a cigarette at the local bar in Popricani. Constantin never left the village. He works as a builder and rents a room in a house in front of the ex-orphanage. He knows the family since childhood.
Catalin Cogalniceanu at the orphanage in Porpricani in 1995 when he was 12 and in 2008, in a small room he rented which used to be in a pigsty. His dream was to go and work in Italy where he might be today.
Roxana Furnica when she was 12 in 1997 and in October 2009 with her new-born boy. She married an ex-orphan from Popricani who works as a carpenter in Iasi.
Ramona Stanica when she was 12 in 1997 and in 2009 in front of the ex-orphanage. She came back for a visit to see Dan, her ex-carer, and some friends. She works in a bakery in a small town near Iasi.
Ramona Cutitaru -right on the picture- in 1995 when she was 10 and in 2009 in Iasi with her husband – who also grew up in an orphanage – and their son Marius. They both work at cleaners and share a room in a derelict flat with other people.
Radu Esanu -left on the picture- when he was 15 in 1993 at the orphanage in Popricani and in Scotland in 2007. He spent 3 months on a farm working as a fruit picker, a job he did every Summer in the UK till 2013. He got married to Andrea in 2008 and they both have a daughter born in 2009. They live in Botosani. Although he studied agronomy at university, he still hasnt found a job up to his qualifications.
Paul -left on the photo- when he was 8 in 1997 at the orphanage of Popricani. His nickname was Froggy because he used to eat raw frogs! When the orphanage closed in 2002, he was sent to another centre where he learnt gardening. When the ex-orphanage re-opened as a centre for adults with disabilities, Paul was sent back there and still lives at the Centre.
Mihai Gabriel at the orphanage when he was 12 in 1995 and now in his house in Popricani. He works in Iasi in a supermarket and has managed to save money to buy a piece of land and build his own house.
Mihaela Capra in 1995 when she was 10 in the valley near the orphanage in Popricani and in a café in Iasi in 2011. She works for the charity Emaüs in Iasi.
Mariana Rotaru -second left on the picture- when she was 10 in 1995 and in 2009 at a bar in Popricani where she was a waitress. She now has a 2 years-old girl and her partner is from the village.
Marian Juverdeanu -left on the picture- in his dormitory in 1997 when he was 16 and at the bar in Popricani bar with friends from the orphanage. Marian works as a cleaner in a shopping mall in Iasi and lives in a flat he shares with others in Popricani.
M, when she was 12 in 1997 in Popricani. M has been living in Switzerland since 2009 and has been working as a baby-sitter since. She usually comes back to Popricani in the Summer holidays.
Liliana Condrea -left on the picture- at the age of 16 in 1997 in her dormitory at the orphanage. She has always lived in Popricani. She has 3 children and lives with her partner in a tiny room at their in-laws.
Ionut Iordache at the orphanage when he was 12 in 1995 and in 2009 in the room where he lived in Iasi. He used to wash cars at a nearby petrol station. Now he has a girlfriend and is a dad.
Ioana -second from the right on the photo- when she was 12 in 1993 with her friends at the orphanage and in 2011 at home in Popricani with her husband Mirel and 3 of their 4 children. They live in a house which belongs to Mirels family in Popricani. Mirel works on building sites in France and comes back home 2 or 3 times a year.
Geta -left on the picture – in 1997 when she was 13 at the orphanage in Popricani. Geta became a nun when she was 19 and lives in a covent in Ciorogarla, near Bucharest. She is now Soara Christofora.
Gabriela Gangal when she was 11 in 1995 and pregnant in October 2008, pregnant, with her boyfriend in the room she used to live in in Iasi. She now has 2 children and lives with her partner at their in-laws in Iasi.
Florin when he was 12 in 1995 at the orphanage. He now lives in a house bought by Michel, a French man, who lets ex-orphans live in his house when they are unemployed. Florin tried to work in England but had a bad experience being exploited washing cars on supermarkets car parks. He came back to Popricani and is now unemployed.
Dragos at the orphanage in 1993 when he was 8 and in 2011 at the Sihla Monastery in Bucovina. Dragos has always been very religious and chose to become an Orthodox monk when he was 19. He has been living in Sihla since 2005. He works in the kitchen and looks after the dining room. “I am happy here. I found my place”, he comments.
Dodo (Georghe Stingaciu) -in the middle on the photo- in 1995 when he was 5 at the orphanage and in 2011, aged 20, in a bar in Popricani. Dodo is a builder. He used to work with his biological father in a village near Iasi but didnt get on with him at all.
Diamanta when she was 9 in 1993 outside the orphanage and in 2011 with her 2 years old son. She then lived in a sordid squat without any electricity nor water and was pregnant, about to deliver. Both fathers had left her.
Daniela Hostic, Daniels twin sister, at the orphanage in 1997. Daniela now lives in Iasi, works in a clothes factory and rents a room in a flat. She and her twin brother Daniel recently found out they had 9 brothers and sisters and met most of them at a family gathering.
Daniel Hostic outside the orphanage in 1995. When he was 12 he was sent to hospital and had a kidney removed. No one at the orphanage gave their agreement. He was the victim of organs traffickers. Now Daniel lives in a room he rents in a house in the village. He worked for years as a handyman at the orphanage where he grew up and which became in 2007 a centre for adults with disabilities. He lost his job in 2014. Recently he and his twin sister Daniela found out they had 9 siblings and met them.
Corina in 1997 at the orphanage when she was 11 and in October 2011 in her house in a village about 40 km from Iasi. She married a local guy and already have 3 children. They live in a tiny traditional house with limited facilities which belongs to their in-laws.
Carmen Bobocel when she was 10 in 1995. She passed away the year after. She was sent to hospital in Iasi because she had a chest infection. She died a few weeks later of medical neglect. Dan, her carer at the orphanage, mourns in front of her grave.
B and A are twins. They were 13 in 1997. In 2006, B was the victim of sex traffickers. She was forced to prostitution in Italy. After the police raid the brothel where she worked, she was deported to Romania where her sister A still lived. In 2009 they both left to Switzerland to work as baby-sitters. They are now married to Swiss men and live in Switzerland.
Adriana Lica at the orphanage in Propricani in 1995 when she was 12 and in Iasi in 2008 in Iasi in a squatted building she lived with other ex-orphans from Popricani. She now has a very tiny basement flat in where she raises by herself her 3 children. She doesnt work and receives benefits from the state.