Photography by Brian Moody
For two years, Petrica Danut Chereches, 14, has been a resident at St Laurence’s Hospice for children with HIV/AIDS: a Romanian hospice run by the British based charity, Children in Distress. At the age of five he was placed in one of the squalid orphanages that made the headlines in 1989, after Ceausescu’s fall from power. It was at this orphanage that Petrica contracted HIV. He has recently been reunited with his mother, Violeta Toma.
A year ago I was reunited with my mother for the first time in eight years. When I was little, she moved away from the district where the orphanage was and we lost touch. She probably thought I was dead because children with HIV were not expected to live. When I moved to St Laurence Hospice, an address was found for my mother.
A meeting was arranged for her to come and visit me at a children’s holiday home, not far from where she lived. But I still had a bad feeling about her. I couldn’t understand why she’d abandoned me and why, when I’d begged her to take me home, she had refused? I was only five years old. Poverty isn’t a good enough reason to abandon your child.
I had written a letter to give to my mother asking her these questions, but when we met I couldn’t give it to her because I could see how happy she was to have found me. Her face was full of love and regret. So instead I just asked, “Why didn’t you take me home when I asked you to?” She told me that she hadn’t been able to: she had my older sister to look after and there was no money. I accepted her answer. I had to. How could I judge the difficulties of her life at that time? Now that I have seen her again, I forgive her. I can’t hold on to the past, because the past is over and I want us to have a future together.
Like this we may be able to become close again.
When I remarried, my daughter stayed with me while Petrica, who was then five, went to live with his father. I had no idea that when his father also remarried he would put Petrica in a children’s home. At first I visited my son, but it was heartbreaking because he would always beg me to take him home. I told him I couldn’t because I had no money to feed or clothe him. When we moved away it was too far to visit. For eight years I didn’t see him until one day, out of the blue, the Child Protection Agency contacted me.
I have many regrets but I am so happy to see my son again. Who would have thought he would come and find me? The first time I saw him I thought, “This cannot be my little Petrica!” He looked so grown-up and handsome. I don’t believe he has AIDS. He looks too healthy.