Cornelia Ille. She is 57 years old and she is from Oradea. Nearly two decades ago Cornelia was suffering from morbid obesity. But deep down her heart, she was suffering from loneliness so much that she felt she couldn’t breathe. She was always surrounded by people, but she was lacking a real human connection. As a single woman, she decided to spread the love and so she went in orphanages and hospitals with an open heart. She took home five baby girls, two of them remained with her, and the others three were adopted each by their own loving families.
Cornelia’s story is a heartbreaking one, but if we are to focus on the best parts, we could say that the love she offered saved five lives, while the love she received saved hers. And the Association of the Foster Parents which she founded with other people shows that love has saved many, many lives, a joy shared by both parents and children.
When she was 39 years old Cornelia was living alone in a two room apartment. She was born in a family with 8 children, both her mom and dad adoring children. Cornelia’s love for the little ones and her desire to help those in need was something that she inherited from her mother, who was always taking care of the poor kids from the villages nearby.
Right after the Revolution from 1989, Cornelia was working for the Trade Union and she had plenty of free time. She took all sort of classes but nothing seemed to fulfill her. She started visiting children from the hospitals, orphanages, kindergartens with a couple of her friends, and in 1990 she was told that she could even take home a child, whether in weekends or in placement, for two years, with the benefit of a maternity leave. “I liked the idea very much, especially because when I was going in the orphanages I could feel the children clinging to me, they were from three months old until three years old and all I could hear was them saying ‘mommy, mommy, mommy’”, Cornelia says.
She went to the orphanage to bring home a child and the social worker showed her 90 photos.
Cornelia then said that she was not interested in what the child looks like, she remembers that all of them were just skin and bone, with a bellyful of pap. So she asked to take home the child who was most in need. “On the 4th of november they told me: we have this little girl with 30% chances of survival, do you want her? The only thing I knew was that I wanted a baby and I said yes, I will take her, since God wanted her to get out of the orphanage, He will not let her die in my house”, Cornelia says.
The answer of a lady shocked her: “She told me ‘don’t worry, miss Neli, children have always been dropping dead, so if she dies, you can come and take another one. This was outrageous to me and I told her: ‘give me this little girl”, Cornelia says.
The baby girl was 5 months and 10 days old and she weighted 3,1 kg (almost 7 pounds). Cornelia’s parents welcomed her with lots of love – as they enjoyed taking care of children, and Cornelia’s father was feeling pretty sick, a new baby in the house was the greatest joy at that time.
After two months the baby girl was unrecognizable, she had gained weight, her twitches were gone, she could sit and was able to hold her head. “My dad was the one who told me: ‘we would better adopt this baby girl, we can’t give her back, children are not shirts you can wash and iron and then give them back’. That was all I was waiting for, I looked into her vivid and joyful eyes and I said ‘of course I want her, how couldn’t I?’”, Cornelia says.
With the help of the “Gate of Joy” Foundation, where Cornelia is still volunteering to this day, she managed to adopt the baby girl. All the nephews were already grown up in her family, and then there was this new baby. Cornelia continued to visit children from many institutions during her maternity leave. Being a single mom and not earning too much money, she wasn’t thinking of adopting another child. Plus, for the second child she would have needed a third room and a father to the children. She wasn’t meeting the conditions and it would have been harder for her to adopt again.
She decided, though,that since she still had all the right equipement one would need to raise a baby, she could take another girl in placement, a one month old baby girl who was abandoned in the hospital. “Just that back then I took a decision that I’ve tried to keep and I will keep trying all my life – I said this to myself: all the children that get out of institutions, either orphanages or hospitals, will not go back there. So I’ve decided through my friends, the Church, my colleagues, to find these children foster families”, Cornelia says.
For the second girl, Cornelia asked everyone, thinking that someone will fall in love with the her and will adopt her. And so it was, the second girl found her foster family, some friends of Cornelia, when she was almost 3 years old. Separating the two girls was painful, but after a while they got back in touch again.
Cornelia continued her life along with her first girl, the time came and she went back at work, and after a time she got this call from the children’s hospital, someone was asking for her help again, a premature baby girl was abandoned there. “My work didn’t bring me much satisfaction, I wasn’t made for delegations, fights and negotiations, so I said: ‘give her to me’. She was clearly a gypsy, all dark and skinny, she was five weeks old, so I took her home. My first girl, the one I’ve adopted, helped me feed her, change her, she was the happiest in the world because she now had a baby sister”, Cornelia says.
Cornelia’s father had died, her mother was sick, so they focused on raising the little girls. The money wasn’t much, but they had all they needed, never missed anything, because they were supported by different organisations outside the country which would send sweets, toys and clothes. So, Cornelia’s mission was to find a foster family for the third baby girl as well.
Being a gypsy girl, she didn’t get much attention, Cornelia says, so she remained with her for a while longer. “I don’t know what the adoption procedures are now, but I know that back then I was disappointed, because for the Direction for the Child Protection every child was a file, a number and they don’t even know what the child looks like, what they eat, how cute they are, how vivid or how playful. And I don’t blame them, because two or three people can’t go across a whole county. I’ve looked for a foster family for this baby girl too, there was a gypsy family who would’ve been thrilled to have her, but they didn’t owned the house they were living in, so their adoption request was denied”, Cornelia says.
She kept her faith and after a while she got this call from a family who was looking to adopt and she introduced them to this third baby girl she had in placement. “As it was in the previous case, the little one climbed on her daddy knees and there it was where she stayed, today being in the eighth grade. I am sure the girls were missing a father, since we didn’t have one in our house, and when they were seeing a man, especially if he was tender and caring, their hearts would quickly melt”, Cornelia says. So the third girl was adopted by this family who was living nearby, in the neighbourhood, when she was 3,5 years old.
Although she was over 45 and she had gone through some difficult times, Cornelia kept all her things for raising a baby. And when the officials of a foundation called her and asked her to keep a little girl in placement until she would be adopted by a family in Arad, she didn’t know how to say “no” and she didn’t want to say it either. So she took the baby girl, the forth one, at her home for three weeks, until the adoption papers were done, and the baby went to her family in Arad.
And Cornelia received another call, this time from the Direction for Child Protection, regarding a girl she already knew from the “Gate of Joy” Foundation . This girl was ill, she was abused, and now she was facing some attachment difficulties, being at her third placement family. The girl was 4,5 years at that time and Cornelia accepted to take her at her home for a while. “Even though she is 11 now, she never left. There was no other solution for her, I knew her birth family, her mother was 15 years old when she gave birth. And the girl stayed with me, with all her problems, suffering from ADHD, attention deficit and behavioural problems. She goes to a normal school, while her older sister, the girl I’ve adopted, goes to an art high school, she learns to sing and play the piano – my mother died in the meantime, so here we are, the three of us left”, Cornelia says.
Cornelia wasn’t able to adopt the last girl, though she kept living with her, due to the fact that she didn’t meet the legal conditions, like having a house with three rooms. So she kept her in foster care, but she refers to her as she is her daughter. At the end of the day they are still three people in two rooms. And because her last daughter needed special assistance for doing her homeworks, Cornelia also graduated the Faculty of Psychology, Special Needs Pedagogy section, along with the training for being a foster parent which she already completed, giving up her full time job and working from time to time in different fields.
The foster care allowance was 97 RON (approx. 20 dollars) per month until three years ago, when it became 600 RON (approx. 150 dollars), and for also being a teacher for children with special needs, Cornelia received another 200 lei (approx. 50 dollars) per month. For the girl she had adopted there was no support from the government, the girl only received a regular allowance of 25 RON (approx. 6 dollars) until three years ago, when the allowance increased to 84 RON (approx. 20 dollars). And since she was adopted, the state lost interest in her.
Despite her financial problems or the hard times she faced growing children on her own, or the many others sacrifices, Cornelia feels a satisfaction which she considers to be essential: five children found families. This is exactly why Cornelia advises the parent who are thinking about taking home a child in foster care or adoption to take it only if, no matter the hard times, they can love him or her for the rest of their lives.
Besides the girl who went in Arad and whom Cornelia regrets to have lost track , all the other four girls whom she took from the institutions are now teenagers and they keep in touch, two of them still living with her and the others two with their families in the neighbourhood. For those two girls she is taking care of, Cornelia has already made her will: one will keep the apartment, and the other one the house which belonged to Cornelia’s parents and is placed in a village nearby.
Starting from that hole inside her heart, the lack of the love and joy Cornelia felt, she chose to offer instead, so that she could receive. The presents prepared by the girls with so much care and playfulness when it was the Mother Day serve as proof that being a parent means, above all, to love.
This coverage is part of the #saniting project – “One step on the edge of life”. Any donation for building an emotional balance support center is welcome.