Everything started because of my kids. Fourteen years ago my daughter, who was in 6th grade at the time, first heard about VIAȚA camp from her friend Diana. Word had been going around that it was some sort of religious camp that taught kids who-knows-what – but then my daughter told me about Diana, who knew about a really great camp in Straja. “Will you let me go, too? It won’t cost anything, Mommy!” she said. So we went, together with Diana and her parents, to Lupeni.
We stood in line for many hours, and at one point I wanted to give up, but the tears in the eyes of my daughter didn’t let me leave until we had signed her up for camp. The office was on the 6th or 7th floor and the line stretched from the office down the stairs and around the building. I think we waited for 3 or 4 hours in line. We hadn’t stood in lines like that since the Ceaușescu times, for meat, and I couldn’t understand why we were standing in line now when we wouldn’t receive anything. I mean, only to sign up for something? I wanted to jump ahead in line, call ahead or something, but there we couldn’t get away with the whole “I know somebody who knows somebody” thing.
When we went to drop them off at the camp, some young people came, around 20 or 21 years old, and took the kids. Honestly, I was a little doubtful in my heart. What was going to happen? What was going on there? But then, when we went back to pick the girls up from the camp after it ended, they didn’t talk for two hours. They couldn’t speak because they were crying so hard, the departure had been so difficult. They had to hug everyone!
After the first week at the camp, as we were driving home in our car, we chewed gum and then threw it out the window. (At that time we didn’t know any better.) But the girls caught our attention, saying, “Mom, you shouldn’t ever do that again, I’ll get a trash bag and we can put our gum in there.”
They absorbed everything they learned at the camp, especially about respecting rules. They would say things like, this tree, if you want to find it like this in 30 years, we have to do this and that.
After the camp a young leader named Vali Popescu came from Lupeni. He was a young IMPACT leader and opened an IMPACT club at our school. He had observed that a single week can make a change in the life of a young person, but that if the experience doesn’t continue, you can’t change others. He had been part of a club in Lupeni and wanted to extend IMPACT.
I didn’t have words to thank Vali for my daughter’s extraordinarily good experience at camp, so instead I helped him in any way I could. In my whole life, I have never met someone so ready to be a teacher. We teachers do love children, but this man was truly giving. He would play with the youth, talk with them; he was their friend and influenced many of their lives.
My children were helped immensely by IMPACT. In our area, there was no way to sign up for swimming lessons or sports. We didn’t have a place for youth to gather, so they would meet at the bar – until Vali started to call them to school, the cultural house, or the mountains. They would gather together, all kids of the same age. Teenagers at that age need to hang out with friends of the same age.
Vali saw these kids as they deserved to be seen. For us teachers, if a student was difficult in the classroom, we wouldn’t want to see that same student later – he’d be marked in our minds. IMPACT changed this in me. I no longer see these kids through the lens of their rudeness or first impressions, but rather as they really are – because many of them do things to mask the wounds and pains they carry, and I know this now that I have become close to them.