Orphan makes a plea for others
A Romanian who languished in an orphanage for nearly two years unable to talk, walk, laugh, love or cry has bravely fronted the Romanian Parliament to call for international adoption law changes.
Alex Kuch was whisked out of Romania in 1997 when he was two by a German couple, Walter and Heidi Kuch, who brought him to Gulf Harbour in 2006 where they have settled.
Talk of Romanian orphanages stirs up a troubled and well-documented history of social neglect and atrocious living conditions, such as babies lashed to their cots in straitjackets.
The Eastern European country has banned international adoption since 2004, reacting to pressure from the European Union to curb abuses of the system by child traffickers.
But Alex is pleading for a return to international adoptions under certain conditions, citing himself as an example.
As 18-year-old Alex plans for a university degree in mechatronics at the University of Auckland, it is obvious that a life away from Romania gave the KingsWay School student the tools to chase his dreams.
In a letter to Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, other Romanian dignitaries and international leaders - including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Alex ticks off the opportunities New Zealand has given him.
Among these he lists growing up in a caring family, taking part in an international pentathlon, learning about robotics at school and meeting the scientists behind the Higgs boson particle discovery.
He is one of the top three students in his school maths and science classes, where he is in his final year.
Alex was holidaying in Germany when the opportunity to speak at the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest arose.
Earlier this month he travelled to the Romanian capital with his father and asked the parliament to give generations of orphans a chance like him.
Alex has come a long way from his bleak formative years in Romania when his prospects of a normal childhood took him on a lonely journey for 22 months at the orphanage.
His birth mother, who he isn't in contact with, didn't have the means to provide for him.
"My mother wasn't able to care for me, but in the orphanage nobody cared for the children either," he says.
Barren social contact in the orphanage brought on a condition called hospitalism in the young Alex, which affects physical development, perceptual motor skills and language - and all at a critical learning stage in his life.
"I used to rock for stimulation, moving my body forwards and backwards," he says.
"I was underdeveloped and couldn't look people directly in the eyes, or kiss or hug."
In the cruel irony of Romania's orphanages, Alex was to be sent to an orphanage for disabled children because of his condition, when Heidi and Walter stepped in.
He quickly had to adapt to a "normal life".
"My skin wasn't sensitised. I didn't feel anything when my parents gently stroked me," he says.
"I first needed to learn how love feels. I had a lot to learn - the normal things children my age already knew, how to walk, talk, feel, laugh, cry... I am so thankful to God that he had other plans for me. And I am so thankful to my parents, who give me all their love and support and all these opportunities to be so successful.
"Thank you to my friends and teachers and everyone else that supported me in any way."
In putting his case before the world, Alex may have his story featured in a film or documentary.