PEOPLE raise money for charities all the time but when Ioana O’Brien uses the words ‘my orphanage’ you’d be forgiven for doing a double take.
This is a deeply personal story because Ioana was three and a half when in March 1996 her parents, Liam and Claire from Skibbereen, completed her adoption from ‘Children’s Home No 5.’
She was barely home a wet week when The Southern Star ran an article and a photograph featuring her and her brother Cillian on the settee in her new home at Baltimore Road. Lauren, her sister, came along a year later.
It was last December, just before Christmas, that Ioana found her birth mother and travelled to Transylvania to meet her for the first time.
‘I did the search in November 2015 with a group of volunteers that are on Facebook – a group that can be found by typing in “The Never Forgotten Romanian Children.” Within two weeks they located, Rodica, and one week later Ioana was on a plane travelling to Romania for the first time in 20 years.
‘Shocking,’ is the word that Ioana used to describe the reunion. ‘Not a fairytale at all. It had a mirror quality that non-adoptees might not understand. You are looking at a reflection of yourself.’
At the reunion, Ioana said: ‘Everyone was crying, but I was just in complete shock. Being adopted isn’t all roses and daisies. By its very act, you are separated from your mother at a young age.
‘Life is very different over there,’ Ioana said in an attempt to explain some of the difficulties. ‘There is also a language barrier. But my goal was to meet her and I’m glad I did because it was like the unknown being known.’
When she returned to Ireland, Ioana discovered she had a whole new appreciation of her Irish family and her Irish home. ‘It was gratitude more than anything else. By that I mean I was aware that I was a person who could, potentially, have been left at the side of the street, but mum and dad gave me a home, gave me love.’
She was, however, to discover a whole extended Romanian family through Facebook. And now she has a whole cast of aunts and uncles and cousins with whom she keeps in touch.
It was that contact that led Ioana to discover that ‘Children’s Home No 5’ is still in operation. She resolved to go back to visit, but not empty handed.
A fundraising event that was held in Skibbereen on November 4th raised almost €2,000, which Ioana brought with her when she went to Romania on two weeks later.
Ioana said: ‘People were very generous in their donations. And for that I am extremely grateful.’
When she was there, she was met by the solicitor who had acted for her parents 20 years ago.
‘She translated for me and she was the one that brought me to the orphanage where I was greeted by a group of nurses that had worked there and looked after me all those years ago.Again, they were all crying, but I was dry-eyed – at least in public,’ said Ioana, who has a BA in Psychology and Counselling.
‘It felt good to give back. To give thanks. And I’m pleased that the money will be used to provide a psychological recovery programme for the children.’
But what was emotionally difficult for Ioana was seeing all the children. She said: ‘I wanted to take them all back with me.’