Teddy bears bring smiles to orphans in Romania

Women's Conference service project aids needy

IASI, Romania — Representatives of the 2000 BYU Women's Conference have distributed 350 teddy bears and other toys to orphaned children in Romania. Those who distributed the items report that while their gifts didn't alleviate all the suffering of the orphaned children they brought a few moments love and hope into the lives of many.

"Time and time again," said Emily Nelson of the Slate Canyon 10th Ward, Provo Utah Stake, "the little ones would look at the teddy bear, then at us through the bars of their crib, and slowly wrap their arms around the teddy bear."

Following the 2000 BYU Women's Conference last May, Sister Nelson was asked to take responsibility for the distribution of the 350 teddy bears and 250 wooden toy cars that were made in a giant service project in the Brigham Young University football stadium.

Working in conjunction with an internship program sponsored by the School of Family Life Department at Brigham Young University, Sister Nelson later distributed teddy bears to three orphanages in Romania. She was assisted by her husband, David Nelson, along with Amy Nelson, Larry Nelson and Lisa Moreno.

"They were starving for attention and love," Sister Nelson said, describing the children. "We were able to spend several hours rocking, singing, and holding these beautiful babies.

"Some children lunged for us, begging for us to pick them up," she said. "Against the rules, and with the disapproval of [an] orphanage director, we gave them a hug and cried with them. At one time, a little child had a death grip around my neck, and I had to forcefully remove her arms, causing a wrenching in my heart."

Larry Nelson said he "struggled with the notion that teddy bears could influence the lives of suffering children." But after a few emotional hours, "lives were definitely impacted by the toys provided by the generosity of [Relief Society sisters]," he said.

"I will never forget one young girl," he said. "I stroked the cheek of a little blind girl with the soft fur of the bear. She pulled away from me at first. Not wanting to upset her, I just patted her back. She started to giggle. She then allowed me to hold her, talk to her and stroke her cheek with the teddy bear. That toy provided the chance for both of us to feel a moment of love and affection. After a few moments with this angel, it was time to go.

"As I returned her to the floor and her lonely world of darkness, she started to cry and reach for me. For the rest of my life, I will never forget the image of that little blind girl groping in darkness to find me. Words cannot express the pain I felt — and still feel — as I left her there alone."

The conditions of the institutions were "horrific," said Lisa Moreno. "Most rooms were crammed with rusty cribs, mattresses were old and sagging and were usually soaked with urine. No one talked or played with the children. Silence filled the halls.

"The dark, intense eyes of the children seemed to plead for more affection. I cannot describe the feelings of placing a child in his crib after holding him for even just a moment. I became overwhelmed with emotion. I didn't know whether more time with fewer children was more important, or less time with more children. I often found myself with three or four infants in my arms at one point until my arms ached from the weight, but I was reluctant to put one child down — even for a moment.

"I want those involved in this service project to know of the smiles their hard work won. For a brief moment I saw happiness in their eyes."

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