Reflecting on 25 years of hope for children: Caroline’s dream
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re sharing the stories of remarkable women who are part of the global campaign to end the use of orphanages by strengthening and supporting families.
Today, we see how the dream of one of our founders, Caroline Cook, has led to thousands of children around the world finding safe, loving homes. In 2019, our 25th anniversary year, we took a moment to reflect on all that has been achieved for children during that time.
Hope and Homes for Children was built on a belief that all children should have the chance to grow up in loving families, never orphanages. In 1994, when our work began, we stood alone. Today, the organisation that we have built together is at the forefront of a growing global movement to make orphanages history.
Nowhere in the world has Caroline’s dream triggered a greater difference for children than in Romania
Few of us can forget the harrowing images that emerged from Romania’s vast orphanage system, after the fall of the Ceausescu regime in the early 1990s. An estimated 100,000 children were confined to brutal, loveless institutions in a country where the economy had been destroyed by decades of extreme Stalinist dictatorship. The scale of the challenge seemed overwhelming. Yet our remarkable founders, Caroline and Mark Cook, set out to achieve what soon became known within the organisation as ‘Caroline’s Dream’: to close every orphanage in Romania by making sure children had families to love them instead. Now, thanks to the generosity and commitment of our supporters, that dream is closer than ever to becoming a reality.
Over the last 22 years, working in partnership with the authorities, Hope and Homes for Children has helped to reduce the number of children living in orphanages in Romania by more than 90%. Today, the way that transformation has been achieved is providing a model for reform worldwide.
This is how that remarkable journey began:
The babies of Cavnic
In 1997, Mark and Caroline Cook, travelled to Cavnic, a mining town in northern Romania, to investigate rumours that abandoned infants and toddlers were being kept in terrible conditions in an orphanage there. A young man called Stefan Darabus agreed to be their interpreter. Stefan would go on to lead our work in Romania and has been the constant driving force behind our progress there ever since. When the group arrived, they discovered 96 babies and very young children, surviving in absolute squalor without any sign of love or care.
“The Director opened a door and we were hit by the stench of urine and faeces”, Caroline recalls. “Inside, 15 babies lying in cots were covered in their own excrement. No sound came from them. There was complete silence. They had already learnt at their tender age that even if they cried, no one came. Then and there we agreed that we had to get all the children out of that awful place as soon as possible.”
“Inside, 15 babies lying in cots were covered in their own excrement. No sound came from them. There was complete silence. They had already learnt at their tender age that even if they cried, no one came.”
Thanks to the kindness of all those who supported us in those pioneering early years, we were able to raise funds to buy and convert six houses near the orphanage. Here the children could be cared for in small groups, in surroundings that felt as close as possible to ordinary family homes.
In 1999, once all the houses were ready and the children had been prepared for the momentous change in their lives, Cavnic became our first orphanage closure. Little did we know that this marked the start of a journey to becoming a trusted world expert in the complex and sensitive process of deinstitutionalisation.
Viorel, pictured above, was four years old by the time he was rescued from the orphanage in Cavnic. He had been abandoned to the institution as a baby and spent his earliest, most formative years there, confined to a metal cot with no one to love him, comfort him or encourage him. Because he had learning difficulties, no one had even taken the trouble to teach him how to feed himself or use a toilet.
But ever since Viorel moved to one of the Small Family Homes that Hope and Homes for Children created, he has had the individual love and attention he needed to develop and thrive. Today he is an active young man who enjoys his life. With encouragement from his carers, he has learned to do lots of things by himself and really likes helping out around the house. His best friend, Daniel, lives there too and they go to college together.
One of Viorel’s favourite events is the Winter Games, organised by our team in Romania, on the ski slopes in Cavnic… last year he was thrilled to win a medal.
One of Viorel’s favourite events is the Winter Games, organised by our team in Romania, on the ski slopes in Cavnic each year. Viorel, pictured above, always takes part and last year he was thrilled to win a medal.
Twenty years of hope for children
In 2018, Caroline and her husband Mark returned to Romania to mark the 20th anniversary of our work there. During their visit they were reunited with more children from Cavnic and the other early closure programmes. Now adults, these young men and women are leading fulfilling lives and, in some cases, raising families of their own.
During their visit they were reunited with more children from Cavnic and the other early closure programmes. Now adults, these young men and women are leading fulfilling lives and, in some cases, raising families of their own.
That same year, the part that Hope and Homes for Children has played in ending the use of orphanages in Romania was recognised when Caroline, Mark and Stefan were awarded the country’s highest honour, the equivalent of a knighthood.
Writing at the time, Mark Cook reflected that, “Sadly, there are numerous countries in the world where children are still placed in orphanages, but Romania leads the world in its demonstration of how it is possible to transform such systems by freeing children from state institutions and getting them back to the love of families.”
A dream within reach
So much has been achieved in Romania, thanks to our steadfast supporters and dedicated staff, and yet vital work remains to be done, to make sure that Caroline’s dream really does come true.
Although the number of children living in orphanages in Romania has fallen dramatically over the last two decades (from 100,000 to fewer than 5,000), each additional day they are left to survive without love is a tragedy and an injustice.
That’s why we will not rest until the right alternative family or community-based care has been found for every one of these children.
“Sadly, there are numerous countries in the world where children are still placed in orphanages, but Romania leads the world in its demonstration of how it is possible to transform such systems”
And the news is good. Last year, working closely with the authorities, our tireless Romania team, completed the closure of the two more orphanages, Solca and Speranta in Suceava.
But closing orphanages by reuniting families, building new families and keeping families together is complicated and time-consuming work—especially when so many of the children who remain in the institutions have complex additional needs. We are sincerely grateful for your ongoing kindness and your faith in us over the last 25 years. Together, we can make Caroline’s Dream a reality for children, not only in Romania, but around the world. If you can, please support us to ensure more children have safe, loving families to take care of them by donating now.
Too often, the voices and stories of women, especially those involved in the care of children, is marginalised and hidden. Throughout March, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate how the empowerment of women also helps to ensure children grow up with the love of a family and the safety of home.