Anneka Rice has marked 30 years since her groundbreaking TV show revealed the horrific conditions of a ‘pure squalor’ Romanian orphanage – in footage which sent shockwaves across the country.
A 1990 episode of hit BBC reality show Challenge Anneka saw the presenter tasked with overhauling an orphanage in Siret, Romania.
Some 700 children – dubbed ‘incurables’ – lived in the home, which had no electricity or sanitation and ‘sewage running along the corridor’.
Now, 30 years on, Anneka told BBC Radio 4’s Reunion – a programme looking back on the enormous renovation task – of ‘the extraordinary legacy’ which began when former-teacher Monica McDaid wrote to the BBC about the appalling situation.
She also shared a picture of her and Viorel, an orphan who was photographed looking ‘utterly vacant’ and ‘rake thin’ during filming of the show.
But now, Viorel is 35 years old, married to fellow-orphan Mariana and is living in a purpose-built halfway house.
Anneka Rice shared a picture of her and Viorel (pictured) , an orphan who was photographed looking ‘utterly vacant’ and ‘rake thin’ during filming of the show (holding the 1990 picture). But now, Viorel is 35 years old, married to fellow-orphan Mariana and is living in a purpose-built halfway house
The Challenge Anneka episode saw the presenter and a hard-working team begin to build a new home for the 700 children, many of whom had physical and mental disabilities.
The presenter today told how ‘kids were just lying tethered to cots half naked in the dark’ with ‘sewage running along the corridor’.
Many had open sores as their nappies hadn’t been changed for days. Countless were malnourished and many had shaved heads.
The programme shed light on the horrific orphanage conditions caused by the policies of former-Romanian president and dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
Ceaușescu banned contraception and abortion, with rare exceptions, in a bid to increase the population and fuel economic growth.
A tax was also introduced for childless women.
A 1990 episode of hit BBC reality show Challenge Anneka saw the presenter tasked with overhauling an orphanage in Siret, Romania (pictured at the orphanage)
Due to these policies, countless children were abandoned in orphanages where they were neglected – and often subject to horrifying abuse.
Speaking in the Radio 4 programme today, Anneka said: ‘I knew I wanted to do a project in Romania but I had no idea when I went on Wogan [Terry Wogan’s chat show where she was informed of the challenge] that was about to happen, what Monica’s challenge was, or really the extent of deprivation we were going to find.
‘Romania was a law unto itself. No-one knew anything about it.
‘The stories that were coming out were just so shocking so we just went on a wing and a prayer.’
Some 700 children – dubbed ‘incurables’ – lived in the home (one baby pictured), which had no electricity or sanitation and ‘sewage running along the corridor’
In the programme, Anneka showed viewers the conditions of the orphanage when they arrived.
In an archived clip, she says: ‘It’s pure squalor.
‘As soon as you look beyond the trappings here and you see the cots, you see them in nappies, you see them with open sores because they haven’t been changed for days on end.
‘You see them piled into one cot.
‘This is where they live, this is where they eat, this is where they don’t know how to play.’
Reflecting on the years since the episode aired, Anneka said: ‘Although our 700 orphans were written off at the time as incurables, you know that’s just not true.
‘And I have a photo I really treasure. It’s of the orphan Viorel sat on my lap back in 1990 during the actual filming of the challenge.
‘He’s five or six, he’s got a shaved head, he’s rake thin, he’s staring blankly out. He’s utterly vacant.
Some 700 children – dubbed ‘incurables’ – lived in the home, which had no electricity or sanitation and ‘sewage running along the corridor’. Pictured: Anneka, Viorel and his wife Mariana
‘And then when I was back in Romania recently, I found him and had another photo taken of us both.
‘He’s now in his 30s. Strapping man, recently married to Marianna, also one of our orphans, and they’re living happily in one of the halfway houses built by Monica and her team and the challenge charity.
‘And it just 100 per cent demonstrated the arc of those 30 years and the extraordinary legacy all started by Monica writing into the BBC 30 years ago.
‘So those two photos I really treasure.’
Another moment of reflection came in an Oxfordshire news agent.
Anneka added: ‘I was in a news agent in Oxfordshire and I looked down and there was a child in a wheelchair, her name was Alexandra.
‘And I remembered her immediately from the orphanage because she had encephalitis, a very large, swollen head.
‘And she had so many physical problems, very, very disabled.
‘And I turned around to see who was with her, it was so out of context that she was here in Oxfordshire, and her parents, I had spoken to her adopted parents and they had chosen her when they could have had many many other thousands of children to choose from.
‘They had chosen this very, very disabled child and decided to give her a life.’