A young Romanian returned from Germany to his native country after a village priest told him on the phone that his abandoned siblings needed him. This story of personal transformation, responsibility and solidarity culminated when the Bishop of Tulcea blessed the reunited family’s new home, built by the team of the Dream Home Makeover television show.
This story began two years ago, when Father Alexandru Balaban received a midnight phone call from his brother. While driving through the country, he had stopped to check whether he was having a flat tyre. Then he saw a child sitting alone on the curb of the road.
When he asked why he was there, the child led him to his pregnant mother and his three siblings. They were homeless. That night, through his brother’s phone, Father Alexandru Balaban spoke to the eldest sister, Petronela.
“I told her to call whenever they felt the need to. I would come and bring them to stay with me over the winter. I did not know yet how I would solve this, but this was what I told her” recalls the parish priest.
After Petronela took some time to verify on Facebook whether the priest was really who he said he was, the mother and the daughter called and asked for help.
Then Father Alexandru Balaban kindly asked Marioara Iordan, a neighbour, to make the fire at her deceased father’s house, which was uninhabited. He told her he had guests coming and needed help. The woman made the fire in the stove and cooked food for the newcomers.
It was a night with heavy rain in the eastern part of the country.
An improbable asset: the brother from abroad
The priest drove over two hundred kilometres to Parava, in the county of Bacău, where he found the family in a minute cottage that was ready to fall. He took them to Dăeni, in Marioara Iordan’s house.
So started the long fight for the reintegration of children: Petronela, Beniamin, Dumitrel and Daniela. The Dăeni priest strived to get the necessary papers, to register them in school and to educate them about the importance of school-going.
The children were not accustomed to going to school daily, they were used to going to work instead. They had even forgotten how to read and write.
“The eldest girl, Petronela, had been withdrawn from school when she was in her eighth grade. At the time, she had just one more month before graduating secondary school,” recounts the priest.
He took the children in on paper: they could be registered at school because in the papers they were domiciled with the priest’s family.
He bought them clothes and food and took their pregnant mother to the doctor. Unfortunately, the mother was not able to integrate and soon she decided to leave. When she found out about her decision, Petronela took advice from Father Alexandru.
The priest decided to call in an improbable favour: he called Ionuț, one of Petronela’s older brothers. He had left the family and was working in Germany. “Why don’t you come? Your brothers and sisters need you. And I shall help,” Father Alexandru Balaban told him.
Ionuț had never been in the county of Tulcea and it was the first time when he spoke to the priest. But providence and the love in his heart mysteriously worked. So he said ‘yes'”.
Ionuț had saved some money. Also, the priest had the necessary connections and capital of trust to help him find a house. Impressed by the story of the family, the owners of a house on Fishermen Street sold them a fully refurbished home and dependencies.
By this leap of faith, a new life started for Ionuț and his formerly-abandoned siblings. Urged by the parish priest, Ionuț wedded in church his life partner, Gabriela. She has recently given him a second son.
With support from the Tulcea Child Protection authorities and a local social worker, Ionuț and his wife got custody of Ionuț’s siblings: Beniamin, Dimitrel and Petronela. At present, the papers are underway for his youngest sister, Daniela, who already lives with them.
A house for eight
“The problem was that they had only two rooms and a hallway, to which they added a bathroom and a kitchen,” the parish priest says. “Ionuț wanted to go back to working abroad, but I told him there was work at the local shipyard. I told him the family needed to remain together,” recalls Father Alexandru Balaban.
To solve the housing problem, the priest sent a message to Pro TV’s Dream Home Makeover television show, which renovates for free people’s houses.
“When they saw the house, they said it was unredeemable,” the priest said. “But, as they were impressed by the life story they found there, they said they would offer Ionuț and his family a brand-new home!”
Nobody would have dared to think of it.
An annexe of the old house was soon demolished and, on that plot, the show experts made an entirely new house which looks like the ones advertised in the interior design magazines.
“I could not believe my eyes: building materials just kept coming,” recounts the priest. “In three weeks, the family had a brand-new, thermic-isolated, 126-useful square metre home.”
Architect Andra Marinescu from Paradigma Studio made the house project and decorated the bathroom and the boy’s bedroom. Designer Cristina Joia decorated Petronela’s, as well as Ionuț and Gabriela’s bedrooms, also making a decorative mural painting. The courtyard, living and kitchen were designed and decorated by Alex Gavrilescu.
Solidarity for the children’s sake
The village people helped, too – some with their hands, others with logistics: the show team ate almost daily food cooked by the parishioners. Also, the ladies of the village kept bringing sweets to the building site: pies, doughnuts, sweet bread.
“We stood by, trying to supply any need. We also brought materials and heavy machines,” says the parish priest. He mentions Mayor Marian Mihăiță Gherghișan’s support in making the dream come true.
The show team offered the children a ride on a boat at sea. Petronela could thus fulfil her wish to see the sunset over the sea: from the Romanian seashore, only sunrise on the sea can be admired.
Now the children look to the future more confidently. More precisely, they are aware they have one. Petronela wants to be a make-up artist, while Beniamin likes to read a lot. Who knows? He may step into Father Alexandru Balaban’s footsteps and enrol to study at the Tulcea Theology Seminar.
Ionuț’s first son dreams of becoming a K-1 fighter, which reminds Father Alexandru Balaban of his own childhood when he did sports. So he invited Ionuț Iftimoaie, a former K-1 fighter, to visit the parish.
The champion did not come empty-handed, but with a lot of humanitarian aid and a pair of boxing gloves for the junior. “He told him to never give up and showed him some training tricks”, says Dăeni parish priest.
Dreams continue to come true at Dăeni
The story of solidarity continues in Dăeni with a project for abandoned children and single mothers in difficulty. The building certificate has been recently approved. The design will be coordinated by architect Andra Marinescu. She also has some financing ideas.
“It will have 10 bedrooms, a medical office, dining room and social activities space, a kitchen and playing ground. In its courtyard we are renovating an old traditional house which will host a local museum,” says the parish priest.
He intends to organize traditional creation workshops at the local culture museum.
Asked what makes him do unusual acts of kindness such as leaving on a rainy night to pick up total strangers from far away – or fighting to integrate people from a disorganized environment -, the priest explains:
“I am spirited by a wish to do good. I was like them. And I do not give because I have plenty, but because I know how it is to not have anything.”
The parish priest is indebted to the Bishop of Tulcea for the constant support he offers to the children of Dăeni and for often visiting their parish.
Before blessing Ionuț’s house, the hierarch celebrated the Divine Liturgy at “St Parascheva” Church in Dăeni and commemorated the founders of this almost 140-year old parish.
Father Alexandru Balaban has a special devotion to Saint Parascheva. He sees her as a personal protector and a living guide in his life.
“Nihil sine Deo (‘Nothing without God’), the slogan of our parish, means for me the joy of doing good deeds together with God,” concludes the priest.
In Dăeni, an old Romanian village from Dobrudja, located between the River Danube and the Black Sea, the story of solidarity among people goes hand in hand with God
Asociația Sfânta Maria – ocrotitoarea celor necăjiți
Bank: Raiffeisen Bank
Photo source: Facebook / Alexandru Balaban