Romania – Marolen Mullinax, 48 of Longview, TX, wasn’t sure where it was, didn’t know the language, living conditions, politics or customs. But after viewing a “PrimeTime Live” segment in August, 990, she knew she had to go. The images of children tied to cribs, staring with vacant eyes, abused, neglected, starving, many HIV positive, were forever burned into her brain. She asked “How is it possible that children are living and dying without ever having known love?”

She was compelled to respond, and after a sleepless night, wrote a letter volunteering to go for one year to assist in the development of a new idea, a home model of care for abandoned HIV positive children.

Marolen sold her house and many belongings, and in January 1991, she left Longview for Romania. Marolen used her knowledge of Montessori methods and her organizational, administrative and nurturing skills to aid in the development of Casa Speranta (House of Hope), the first project in Romania to demonstrate that HIV positive children could not only survive outside a hospital or institutional setting, they could thrive.

Marolen quickly became the on-site project director, and despite her intention to remain only one year, she continued in that role for over nine years.

During those years, Marolen consulted with the Government of Romania, UNICEF Romania, SERA Romania and scores of small non-governmental organizations to evaluate and assist in the development of projects which would address the needs of institutionalized children in the region of post-communist Eastern Europe and other areas hard hit by the AIDS pandemic. She accomplished this while she was learning the language, looking for money and ways to care for the 30 children at Casa Speranta.

Marolen’s work at Casa Speranta led to its recognition by UNICEF Romania and the Government of Romania as a “Best Practices Model” for the care of HIV positive, abandoned children and by UNESCO for integrating marginalized children into the public school system.

Marolen presently lives in Longview. She monitors the progress of the children from Texas. She travels to Romania yearly to evaluate the project. She serves as the president of the board for Casa Speranta, a U.S. 501(c)3 corporation and president of the Romanian Foundation, president of the board for East Texas Casa and a board member for Africa’s Children – Africa’s Future (AC-AF), a project that aids Tanzanian children and youth.

*Submitted by Jerry Anne Jurenka