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Moldovan student raises money for hospital

by Amy Kingsley

‘“Among all the composers that one knows about, he is certainly the most generous,’” says Dmitry Sitkovetsky by way of introduction to Felix Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 1 in D Minor.

Cellist Zvi Plesser and pianist Inara Zandmane join Sitkovetsky, a violinist and music director at the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, onstage. In the audience, hundreds of Greensboro residents assemble not only to enjoy a world-class concert, but also to unite in a common cause.

Sitkovetsky’s comment is pertinent because the concert tonight is a benefit for a maternity hospital in Balti, Moldova. It’s a medical facility without heat or hot water, with crumbling walls, where newborns endure an instant introduction to the harsh facts of life in one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Moldova is a landlocked oval of a country bordered by Romania and Ukraine. The majority of residents speak Romanian, but Russian shares official language status with the eastern European tongue.

It’s also roughly half a world away from Greensboro. But the country’s struggles have been brought home to North Carolina both by the sister city project (Buiucani in Chisinau) and a 19 year old who was until recently a high school student. Anya Romanet, a native of Moldova and recent graduate of the American Hebrew Academy, inspired the concert by her endeavor to bring heat and hot water to the maternity hospital. Romanet moved to the United States from the capital Chisinau when she was 15 to attend the American Hebrew Academy.

‘“I had a regular life,’” she says. ‘“I was just a teenager who went to Jewish school. My family is an average well-off family but I knew I didn’t have a future in the country.’”

Since she was about 9 years old Romanet dreamed of coming to the United States and attending Harvard University. When her father met the dean of the American Hebrew Academy, Alina Spaulding, he bragged about his two daughters. Intrigued, Spaulding interviewed the two Romanets and arranged for them to enroll at the academy.

In Chisinau, Romanet’s family lived in an area somewhat insulated from the surrounding poverty. But even in the capital, patients at the local hospital couldn’t secure treatment without payment and had to provide their own bandages. Moldova, the only one of the former Soviet republics to reelect Communist leaders, faces problems including corruption and sex slave trafficking.

‘“There are no jobs,’” Romanet said. ‘“In order to feed your kids you have to do something.’”

Romanet’s father, a former Olympic wrestler who had to abandon his career after the fall of the Soviet Union, secured another option for his daughters. Through her studies at the American Hebrew Academy, Romanet secured a Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel. After four months living in the country and learning from a variety of scholars, fellows had to present a community service project for program completion.

‘“I think it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life,’” Romanet says.

When Romanet presented her project to the other Bronfman Fellows, nine out of 25 of the other high school students dropped their projects to join hers. The task is targeted but daunting. Fellows must raise $165,000 to fund installation of heat and hot water in the decayed hospital building that for almost half a century has done without.

The concert netted approximately $54,000 toward this goal. So far Romanet and her cohorts have raised about a third of the required amount. She’s met with government officials trying to navigate red tape and bargained with contractors for the best price.

The other students have been writing grants. They had hoped to install the new system in time for winter, but more money must be raised before the project can be completed.

‘“With one third we can do something,’” Romanet says.

And that something is badly needed. Romanet’s grandmother lives in a village about 15 minutes outside of Balti, so the young woman has long been acquainted with the poverty that afflicts denizens of this cold climate.

‘“I knew I had to do something,’” she said. ‘“When I first came into the hospital I thought ‘I wouldn’t even come here if I had a broken arm, much less to have a baby.’”

The week before her visit, a Japanese company had donated five life-support machines for premature babies. Down the hall, the washing facilities for newborns consist of a rusty bucket.

‘“The doctors are very talented,’” Romanet says. ‘“They do what they can with what they have. They all have degrees from Russia or Chisinau. But it’s a waste of people’s knowledge and talent because they don’t have the equipment.’”

In Moldova, the infant mortality rate stands near 40 per 1,000 live births. A new heating and hot water system could save as many as 12 babies a year who would otherwise perish from pneumonia.

Romanet is leaving for Connecticut College next fall. And while she will be departing Greensboro, the project she has started here will continue until it is finished.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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