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The Need

Romania is an Eastern European nation of 21.7 million people in a country roughly the size of Oregon. Battered by two world wars and then subjected to communist rule for 50 years, Romania has struggled to recover, especially from the crippling rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. When Ceausescu finally fell in December 1989, the country emerged with an economy in shambles, ethnic minorities who had been oppressed and marginalized, Christians who had suffered persecution, a social fabric torn apart, and tens of thousands of children warehoused in squalid orphanages.

Today, Romania is rebuilding and has become a member of the European Union. While much progress has been made, there is still much to be done:

* The average salary is 5-10 times lower than most other EU countries, while the cost of living is just as high.

* Approximately 40% of a family’s income is spent on food.

* 25% of the population lives in poverty, with 12% living in severe poverty (less than $2/day).

* The infant mortality rate is the highest in the EU, at 14-17%.

The Roma

The Roma are a distinct ethnic group (commonly called “gypsies”), who make up 2.5% of the Romanian population–the highest concentration in Europe. This people group originally emigrated from India and were enslaved by the Romanians for centuries. They are still very marginalized in Romanian society, and constitute the “poorest of the poor”:

* 88% of Roma live below the poverty line.

* Only 23% are literate, and only 5% complete high school.

* 80-90% of abandoned babies are Roma.

Abandoned children

Child abandonment remains a huge societal problem, driven primarily by the Roma population:

* 9,000 children are abandoned yearly (the same rate of abandonment as during the Communist years).

* More than 80,000 children are in state care.

* Some children suffer neglect/abuse in state care, and others are recklessly returned to their birth families.

* New laws were passed in 2004 banning international adoption and severely hampering domestic adoption.

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