Daniel Zodian and his wife Ana were building their own family home in 2017 but during the build the motive changed and Daniel decided to open the house as an orphanage. In 2018 their dream was realised.
Daniel told us, “‘Bronx’ is a name associated with negative connotations aligned with poverty in the USA. This is a contradiction I decided to highlight. I am committed to showing that when people discover our version of the Bronx it will only bring happiness. It was that idea that gave rise to the name ‘Bronx People.’”
Bronx People is an NGO and registered charity re-homing and caring for children from state-run orphanages in Bacau. Daniel was teaching judo at the orphanages and came up with the idea of creating a special home for judo children. There were 26 in the first group and now, with a lot of work from a few key people, there is a very positive system in place.
When entering the house there is noise, lots of it, but that includes music, some of it being played by the young residents on guitars or other instruments. There is art and photography on the walls and a range of family photos that show happy Christmases, judo successes, days out, just with a much bigger family than most of us will ever experience. There are the joyous smells of home cooking and there is always someone doing homework, somewhere in the house.
Gabi Iftimescu was a student in Bucharest but says she really wasn’t happy there. “I came back home to Bacau and with free time aplenty I looked for things to do. I saw a shoebox campaign online with the idea of creating Christmas presents for delivery to children. I wanted to prepare something for them and I went to the dojo in town to deliver mine. I was told to remove my shoes and go through the dojo on to the mats. I didn’t ask why but I met Daniel and other volunteers in the dojo. I was attracted by the social side of their activities. They were so committed to gathering resources to support children, especially those with emotional issues and other social problems.”
During our interviews we hear a shout, “Alex!” It’s really loud. There is no speaker system in the house but a call from Daniel is one responded to by all. He keeps the schedules and programmes and chores in order and everyone works for everyone. Cooking, growing food, painting walls, cleaning the yard, it doesn’t matter eBay needs to be done, there is always someone to do it for the benefit of everyone.
There is some money coming from sponsors. Daniel used to have a construction company, which he doesn’t run any more, but he had built a strong network of contacts. He built the first house and the summer dojo himself, with the help of some of the children. Everything that is built for the purposes of learning, leisure, sport and fun is open to the local community as well as those who live in the Bronx People project. This way the community and even some people from further afield can see the good that is being done here. Spreading the word about the project brings some financial assistance.
There are many opportunities for personal development. Daniel says, “Practising judo brings discipline, motivation, friendship, and having access to this very different set-up from the state system. The staff in the state system are there to work and earn wages. We could even consider the children there are treated like documents or numbers with a need for the correct boxes to be ticked and the signatures to be obtained. It’s not like that here.”
Daniel finished nursing school and also studied architecture. By law there must be a qualified nurse on sight and also a social worker and therefore Daniel and Dana have completed studies which fulfil that brief.
Daniel lets us see a little of his personal motivation, “We cannot be indifferent. We are human and so we must care. I consider what we do as the desired norm’, shouldn’t everyone care this way? For me it’s normal, it’s a lifestyle choice to live with goodness.
There is magnetism about the house. Once people visit, they want to return and do more. One idea to make use of all the good feeling and the desire to help came in the form of a new judo tournament. Bronx People wanted to run a big judo competition to attract many people and to publicise our project. Maybe it could even attract more sponsors.
Denisa Deliu is a judoka and coach who has worked with the EJU and IJF in the past and has a lot of experience. She agreed to become the competition manager. In 2022 the event attracted competitors from 6 countries, including a huge, high level team from Turkiye. The event was a great success and will run again later this year.
Gabi said, “Seeing what we do, via the website or in person, not just in the house but beyond, is important. We also link with other NGOs to do joint projects which impact the community; long-term sustainable projects, many of which can apply for finance from government or private donors. There are projects in schools with children who have mental disabilities and with a lot of our projects we find there are many opportunities for us to offer access for new children to judo. There is a lot of competition for private funding and demonstrating that Bronx People can have long term impact is tough but we are getting there.“
Daniel told us about what is in pipeline too, “Mr Vizer has supported us to begin building a special house close to our first one, specially for mums who are raising children with difficulties. We are also now building a medical centre and a house designed to cater for the needs of children with disabilities. It’s becoming a small village rather than just our original house but funding all that is really challenging. We won’t stop, though, there’s too much good being done and the benefits for these young people are life-changing.”
All donations and support will be gratefully received. If you’re ever in the area, go and say hello and you too will feel inspired!