"Begging at N1. (VOF Month 2)"
Walking on the streets of Chisinau these past days I enjoyed following people's mood, outfit, behavior, and always tried to guess what was in their mind at that certain moment. I was waiting for 5:30 appointment with my Swiss friend in front of N1 shop - a well known one in the central area of the capital, a good spot for meetings, people getting in and out carrying white plastic bags with orange colored N1 Sign. All these "high heel shoes" ladies - housewife, girls, women, mothers, looked beautiful, getting straight to the taxi, apparently having their own concerns, talking on the stylish pink phones. Meanwhile, outside, by the main door entrance, another world - serving fast food to the fancy people, selling cheap roses, was watching and studying carefully the flow.
5 minutes was enough to stay outside, when a cute girl, apparently same as many others approached me begging for money. After the first refusal, she did not get embarrassed, neither she left away, her second question being whether there was anything in my yellow bag that I could simply give her.
I watched her angrily knowing that such kind of begging brought profit not to the girl, but to somebody watching her over. I asked the long white dress, and the green shirt girl whom she was working for. And how such an intelligent creature and cute sparkling eyes can be begging on streets. "Nobody, it is me alone, my mom is sick and I came from far away just because I need supplies and tools and clothes for September the 1st when school starts"
"You don't seem to be Moldovan, who are you?"
"I am Gypsy (Roma)", she replied "and I came from Vulcanesti (a region populated by this minority) and I pay 25 lei(2$) to sleep overnight in some place I know at the central market."
"Is it a tradition for all of your people to beg?"
There was no answer, just silence and smiley playing eyes that were denoting the whole answer.
She mumbled under her nose "Tradition? No, tradition" And again Miss Tricky, tried to find opportunity: this time she was suggesting me go by some food from the shop and give that to her because she was starving.
My reply came spontaneously "I am starving too!"
She continued with the better solution I was caught on: "Why don't you bring me some clothes that you don't wear?"
I said OK without even thinking... Was I hypnotized, I was thinking later?
So, the negotiation began - first we set the time, which was to meet the next day at 1 pm same place. Then it was a condition that I refused. It sounded like "give me your number, I will call you tomorrow, because there were many women promising and not coming."
I said I wouldn’t give her the number, since she had no money to call me. She replied she would find money to call me.
Agreement was set. She vanished after 3 minutes of conversation described above. I waited longer for my friend, but I kept it quiet, not willing to talk about my encounter. Too many thoughts were running in my head....
Now, this 12 years girl was running after a tall fancy model that was getting out from the same N1 Shop to beg for money. I was sure she was not honest, I new my thoughts were naive, but still, getting ready to help her out.
Being a student 4 years ago, I've had no option but to live in a student house - across there an orphanage was placed. We could see from the window sometimes what was going on there. One day, my colleagues woke me up from a nap, yelling to watch over the window... Apparently all students were following the scene from their own room's.
On the other side, 2 girls, 13, 16 were trying to jump from the 2nd floor and shouting to us to call the police...
My curiosity was bigger than everyone else. And that, being not the sole reason, brought me later into volunteering there. It took time to gain confidence and let the children speak to you. We found out that the security got drunk and was behaving with violence towards those poor and scared young creatures.
Later, we came to teach them English, non - violence and invited more of our friends to volunteer afternoons with different activities. Then we did fund raising, and some good people donated money to create such events as Halloween, Thanksgiving - something new to our culture, Christmas, Victory Day, etc.
Among 101 children, only 16 were girls. The orphanage used to be just 3 years earlier a place of detention for teenagers that committed some crime. The look of that place resembled a post war building for people to hide, and was surrounded by huge stone gate chain, that was aged and dangerous enough to fall down over some children when they were playing outside. Among kids there were some with mental problems, others with really "gangster behavior", one 7 years old who always escaped and was brought back was a heavy smoker, while the older ones were lending teachers some money, since they have not seen their salaries and were selling the incoming second hand clothes that was meant to children to their neighbors to gain some survival.
First, children were throwing stones at us. But, within 3 months we heard real stories of life and them being abandoned, and true ways of treatment within the place.
Girls many times were not receiving their hygienic stuff, they were having lice, some of them were talking dirty.
I remember a 17 years old getting pregnant, because some outer guys were inviting her for coffee. I also learned that some of them had no relatives, or at least lost track on them. One young boy was singing gypsy songs, and was really talented, still, I met him one day in the same N1 mall, begging for money, when he saw me - he run away and never after dared talking to me during activities and trainings.
The older boys tried to escape many times going to Russia, and being used for child labor. The police brought them back luckily, but being provided with money that "they never saw earlier" from their "ex - employers" this 16 years old boys became recruiters themselves. A whole hierarchy was built informally; the younger and weaker were paying cash tribute to those older clans.
On Christmas day our team of already active volunteers had the idea to collect clothes, books, toys from people living in the capital. Among many places that we spotted out and placed the huge boxes for donations, was this N1 Shop.
I used to volunteer there until I graduated... It was time to move on, towards some other places, study, and further upgrade. What happened to me? I grew up. And with years I oriented myself towards woman empowerment.
But this young gypsy girl brought me back the feeling that I left something undone...
Well, time to think, time to act!
Rolla Costa effect: how many child labors in on our streets today? Is it begging or a set up business, and who controls the situation?
People in Moldova have some relative or friends that emigrated, while the grandparents are supervising their children. Many survived from the income that parents were sending. Where did the money go? Definitely in some cases, not for education... With such situation, one day we can all wake up in a city of terror and danger, as well as illegal labor and street crime.
In the recent documentary "Moldova - Anti Trafique" by ARTE, we visited "Aschiuta Home". One could read on a blog http://www.scmmoldova.blogspot.com/ was defined as: < "Moldova’s family-based alternative to the industrial institutionalism of children who are victims of trafficking, abandonment, exploitation, and abuse. Since 1994, Aschiuta Home has provided a nurturing and life affirming home where children receive personalized care including medical, education, placement with supportive and loving families and guidance towards a productive integration into society">
The young, lovely and unforgettable faces there were joyfully telling that when they grow up - they want to live abroad. At the age of 7 a child can definitely understand what has he gone through.
Another fairy tale, in this field - the child pornography... and the meeting with a fake sponsor that almost turned my help into a crime... (Will be continued)
But for now: watch me, the following day, carrying a huge green bag with clothes I managed to fit in randomly since I was running late for work and a pro mice to be there, at the meeting point at 1 pm, in front of N1 with huge desire to meet the gypsy girl, and bring her joy and maybe turn her mind... THAT DID NOT HAPPEN
She was not there - but again - maybe it was my fault, since I was 1 hour late due to my working meetings - or maybe that was fate or some moment answer that I still cannot find...
It was only 1 more hour, she could have waited, Got back there 5 hours later, it was a rainy evening, stayed there for 15 minutes, no sign of this girl....
I could not sleep well for the night, and left my bag filled with clothes at my work, the office was not so far located, just with hope to see her and bring it to her with lots of apologizing.
To my surprise, next morning going to my work and passing by huge cathedral, I saw the long skirt, and smiley face with all her family, including the mother, sisters, and cousins begging in that area. There were about 6 people, all women and children.
Is it a tradition, or is it a child labor? Do we help, or do we encourage?
As cited by Eugen Tomiuc "Moldova's Roma minority lives in almost total poverty, with as many as 75 percent of the population jobless. More than three-quarters of Romany children do not attend school, and health care is almost nonexistent. Authorities say they cannot improve the situation of the Roma because of economic difficulties. In cities, Roma encounter different problems, as many youths are left without adult supervision once their parents go abroad to find work."
Agnesa E. - the head of the national minorities department in Moldova's Education Ministry in the past told that Moldova's dire economic situation is the main obstacle to improving the situation of the Roma. "Despite a widespread perception that associates Roma with crime, Mrs. E. said in one of the interviews, the majority Moldavian people and Roma generally get along well, because most Moldovans suffer from poverty as well. "There are sometimes isolated situations and cases when the majority does not accept Gypsies as neighbors or work colleagues. But these are isolated cases, because in essence, there is mutual acceptance, because one could not say that the majority Moldovans are currently enjoying any better economic and social conditions than the Roma minority.""
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.