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Under the Streets of Bucharest

Lifting manhole covers and crawling inside is a first step in a Romanian ministry's gritty outreach.
1998This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

As another cold night falls on the East European city of Bucharest, Marshall McKenna prepares to visit the hidden homes of the hundreds of Romanian street children.

Heading for a manhole on a side street, Marshall easily pulls away the heavy lid and quickly disappears down the ladder. Four yards below street level, the inky darkness closes in around him. But the young South African knows his way and walks on confidently.

After several minutes, someone ahead strikes a match and lights a candle. It's Ionel in his winter nest, which is nothing more than a large, filthy blanket on the concrete floor. Ionel and countless other abandoned Romanian children seek shelter under the streets of Bucharest, keeping warm near the underground steam pipes that crisscross the city.

More than one problem
As candlelight flickers across the huge pipes along the ceiling, Marshall and Ionel talk. Marshall, as a team member with Orasul Sperantei (City of Hope) Rescue Center, works to help Bucharest's street children obtain housing, education, or employment. In Ionel's case, he urgently needs a job. As they discuss the options, Marshall says the rescue center, founded by Christians, will pay for Ionel to travel to his hometown so that he can obtain the identification papers necessary for legal employment.

But being jobless is perhaps not Ionel's biggest problem. As they talk, Ionel regularly grabs for a dirty plastic bag and takes a quick sniff.

Like most street kids in Bucharest, he is a glue addict. It's the cheapest drug available, but its impact on the human brain can cause devastating neural damage. Despite his bleak situation, Ionel draws strength and encouragement from Marshall, who turns the conversation in a different direction. "Anybody can ...

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