Bob Gayner visits Acasa
In discussing my month at Acasa with friends here at home I said that I can't think of not going back within a year. That really sums up my feelings about the experience.
Arriving in Bucharest and taking a cab to Acasa was a reminder of what Eastern Europe has gone through for all these years. During my working life I had a great deal of experience in the area and seeing Bucharest was like being in Hungary twenty years ago. Romania has a long way to go in catching up with the rest of Europe.
The first impression one has of Acasa is the building itself which, while being such a wonderful example of how a home for boys should be designed and built, is located in a district of Bucharest that gives a good idea of the alternative conditions the boys would face were they not in Acasa. In many ways that setting is entirely appropriate. As a first impression of what one is heading into, Acasa's surroundings provide an appropriately shocking impression of the realities of life for many in Bucharest.
My second impression was the warmth of the greeting given me. In a way it was a bit scary as it was clear that a great deal was expected of me. Would I be able to live up to these expectations? What a relief to learn that everyone was willing to accept me for what I was.
The third and most lasting impression was of the love that went back and forth between the boys and the staff. Of course there were moments of stress, and, young boys being young boys, of rebellion. But the overwhelming sense of commitment from the staff creates an atmosphere of understanding and appreciation on the part of even the most spirited of the boys. The power of this love carries over into the relationships between the boys themselves. I had the sense that the boys could be as concerned about their fellows in the home as they were about themselves.
Bob with Acasa boys at the Steaua - Arsenal football match in Bucharest
Watching the match!
The boys were a wonderful mix of really good kids and kids who are having a harder time adjusting from whatever difficult experiences their earlier lives had brought them. At one stage I wrote that each of the boys is the typical mix of young prince and atavistic animal. The great thing they all seem to be learning is to accept the love and the disciplines that come from living in an atmosphere that is as close to being family as one could expect. There isn't one of those boys who would consider himself anything but lucky and blessed to have been accepted into the Foundation.
From a practical point of view I think that this first time the experience was of greater value to me than was I to the operation of Acasa. This is not any false modesty but a reality resulting from the time it took me to accommodate to the rhythms of the Foundation. There were times when I was able to help one or another of the boys in English and in arithmetic, and these were most satisfying. But most of the time I had to be satisfied that just being there gave some sort of heartening feeling to the boys and to the staff.
Finally, my hope is that his winter I will be able to take a course on teaching English as a second language which would allow me to be of some more practical use to the boys and to the staff.
Volunteer at Acasa for a month in Sep - Oct 2007