Iron Range woman details heartbreak, hope in Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania, where Iron Range nurse Ashley Leisen has volunteered in an orphanage. PHOTO: Horia Varlan, Creative Commons

Hometown Focus, a weekly newspaper based in Virginia, Minnesota, recently profiled a young woman from Gilbert who has been volunteering in a Romanian orphanage off and on for a few years. Ashley Leisen is nearly finished with her second stint in Brasov, Romania, as a volunteer with the Firm Foundations Romania organization.

Here’s an excerpt from the story to illustrate what Leisen does in her volunteer work:

“A little girl named Sidonia, about 6-years-old, was afraid of me for six weeks. She was abandoned months ago. She was always peeking into my care room, watching me play with the children. I was never able to lure her to join the children’s play. The nurse told me that she had said she was scared to play with me because I didn’t talk normally. I have a heavy American accent when I speak Romanian, but it was actually spoken English that she found frightening. After relentless attempts to earn her trust (I had been slapped by her, shown the middle finger by her, and cursed by her so vulgarly that the nurses didn’t feel comfortable translating), there was a total breakthrough one day. She finally let me braid her hair (and pick lice). By the end of the day, she was hugging me, and laughing, she just couldn’t bear that I had to put her down! I asked her where her mom was and she replied, ‘My mom has left and is never coming back, and my dad hates and hurts me.’ She started to cry as she was talking about her mother. I told her ‘Te iubesc, noapte buna,’ which means ‘Good night, I love you.’ My shift ended and I left for the night. I couldn’t get her off of my mind. Her attitude had gone from flipping me the middle finger to saying ‘I love you.’ And, I would still get a flash of the middle finger once in a while when she was frustrated, but her loving side shined much brighter! Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I loved her like my own daughter. As I was leaving the hospital, I went over to the donations center and found a beautiful little doll. I returned to her room and gave Sidonia the doll. We named the doll Bionca, a popular name in Romania. She hugged, kissed, and cradled Bionca. An interpreter translated Sidonia’s wishes as she whispered, ‘Ultsumesk frumose (Thank you, kindly). I know you love me, you are my mom now, so I love you, too. Because of this I know that you will come back for me tomorrow. Te iubesc, noapte buna (Good night, I love you).’

“Just before Christmas I came into the hospital as usual, and Sidonia and Bianca were nowhere to be found. It is unclear whether she went back home to her dad, or if she got put into placement. My prayer for Sidonia is that she always knows how beautiful and loved she is. If she went home with her dad, I pray that he cleans up his parenting and stops using such awful language around her, and shows her love. If she was put into placement, I pray that her new caregiver can see through her tough skin, and know what a loving, kind, and cuddly little girl she actually is.”

You really should read the whole feature, which is available through the Hometown Focus free print product this week or this online PDF. They have a shorter version of the story online here.

Leisen doesn’t get paid to go to Romania, she raises money and goes to work for free — all while paying off student debt. It so happens that Leisen is a former student of mine at Hibbing Community College, though we haven’t spoken since class. For all the hand-wringing and finger-pointing over the perils of “this next generation,” know that I’ve met some truly amazing people as students at my Iron Range community college. They’re out there doing good. Most people will, if they feel the call.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.