VLADNIC, Romania (AP) — Their origins are a mystery. The most widely accepted theory is that the Csango people of Romania's remote eastern Carpathian mountains began settling around the 13th Century, dispatched by Hungarian rulers to defend the kingdom's easternmost frontier.
Of Roman Catholic faith and speaking a medieval Hungarian dialect, they still live in relative isolation, harvesting vegetables and nuts, some of which they exchange for oil, rice and other necessities brought in by village-to-village Romanian salesmen.
The Csangos fear that their culture and language are eroding. Since Romania joined the European Union in 2007, an entire generation of adults has been lured away by the prospect of jobs in countries like Italy and Spain.
In some homes, grandparents are looking after as many as 14 grandchildren.
A group of doctors from a Hungarian Catholic charity recently visited Vladnic and the nearby Csango villages of Ciucan and Tuta to give eye and dental tests.
For 14-year-old Tuta resident Annamaria Laura Lupo, the eye exam was long overdue. She said she's been having headaches and it was affecting her studies at school. Now, she and her mother are awaiting glasses that will be sent from Budapest.
Dentist Renata Jaky said there was a near total lack of oral hygiene. "When I ask the kids how many times they brush their teeth, the most usual answer is 'never,'" she said.
Children are key to the villages' survival and many start work before sunrise.
"I get up at five in the morning and start the day by milking the goat and taking the animals out to pasture. Only after that do I go to school," said Gyorgy Radavoi, a 14-year-old boy. "My mother died and my father works abroad all year. I'm happy when my granddad isn't drunk, we have food to eat and it's warm at home."