I have just returned from a week in Romania, assessing our projects and looking at future funding possibilities. I flew from Luton to Timisoara with Dave Bennett (a Trustee of our Romanian partner organisation, REACH), and then drove 5 hours to Petrosani.
It is good to be able to report that under new management the Centre is running really well. I am sure you all know the activities there – homework club; craft activities; English, Computer and chess clubs; health and eye screening; an elderly project. Adina (the Manager) is very dynamic and committed to helping the people in the Colony, and the work done there will no doubt have a lasting impact on people’s lives. There is a large group of volunteers, some of whom have been faithfully coming to the centre for years, and it was great to be able to talk to them about the shop volunteers in England and to make a very tangible link between what we do here in the shop and what they are able to do in Romania.
As well as the regular clubs (homework, screening, elderly, chess, handy hands) there have been various new initiatives this year. Of particular note is an Architect Project, run by Mihai, in collaboration with Timisoara and Petrosani Universities and a funding body in Atlanta USA. This is a project to redesign the Colony, with our Centre at the heart of it. The children were involved and with Mihai and the students they put together a plan to make the Centre more of a focal point in the area. The Centre was awarded a prize for excellence, and there was lots of good publicity, including local TV. There are 2 possibilities for 2014 – the architect students may come for their practical experience and carry out the changes to the Centre, and there may be some further funding from the US to implement the suggestions.
I then spent a day with Julian, of Providenta Divina. He has a very small charity which aims to help the very poor people in his local area of Petrila, an old mining town just outside Petrosani. Together with only around 5 volunteers, he does what he can for poor families and elderly people. He also organises a Summer camp for young people in the local mountains (we usually provide the funding for this). We provide all the funding for his work with the elderly. Julian visits the 10 old ladies each week, and responds to immediate needs within the confines of the funding we send. E.g. if someone needs medicine and can’t afford it he will help them, or if necessary he will help to pay an electricity bill. The food parcels are regular, once a month. We also tried to discuss how best to respond to the needs of the old people, other than just giving food parcels and helping in a reactionary way. We may need to look at the area of advocacy – it seems that our ladies receive no state support other than a meagre pension (varies from £30-£60pcm), but should we be putting pressure on the local council to intervene? In the case of Maria, who we visited; she has no heating and no electricity, she has just been released from hospital, she is bedridden, lives on the 3rdfloor of a truly awful block with no lifts. Without serious help, there is every possibility she will die this Winter – the question is valid, will the State just allow someone like that to die or do they have a responsibility to intervene? There are many social workers, who appear to collect data but do nothing. In the meantime what little Julian can do for her, provides a lifeline.
The entrance to Maria’s block of flats. She has to walk up 3 flights of step, and can only walk with the aid of 2 sticks.
This passageway was so pitch black, only the flash of the camera lights it up. Maria’s “home” in this block was so awful, and her plight so distressing that we felt unable to take photos of her.
The lady you can see in the photo was very sweet and friendly despite her terrible living condition, but at least she had some form of heating and electricity. She is diabetic and has hypertension – her diabetes medicine is free, but nothing else. She has a small pension, but after she has paid her rent and bills, she has 45lei (around £8) a month to live on. The first thing she asked me was whether she would be given wood again like last year (you may remember our Christmas appeal for fuel) – I broke the habit of a lifetime and promised her that she would!
Whilst it was very hard to see how these old people live, and knowing that our 10 ladies are just the tip of the iceberg, it was really good to meet Julian and I am sure that with the funding from HAH he really provides a lifeline – indeed he is providing the safety net which is really the responsibility of the State. I hope we can help Julian to look into the area of advocacy, but in the meantime it is a project that we will continue to fund and support as best we can.
In Arad, we stayed with Ken and Katy Cloke who run the charity Vis De Copil. They have day centre called the Secret Garden. In the morning, they cater for poor families from the local area, and in the afternoon it is open for street kids and homeless people, mainly Roma. They provide food, showers, first aid, a washing machine. They run various play and craft activities for the kids/children, as well as counselling and help for the adults. Many of the older street kids (18+) like to join in with the craft activities as they have had no real childhood! Talking at length with Ken and Katy, I was struck by what an amazing job they do. They work with the most marginalised, dispossessed and poverty stricken people.
At present, we support Vis de Copil by paying the salary of 1 worker, Irina. She started coming to the centre as a “client”, then progressed to a volunteer, and now she is employed. She mainly helps out with the children, but also helps with the volunteers, literacy/numeracy support, advocacy, as well as anything else which needs doing! Her employment has had a hugely positive impact, both in terms of helping the “clients” and taking some of the everyday strain off Ken and Katy.
This is a project which is having a massive impact on the lives of those it helps, and one which I hope HAH will be able to support in a greater way in the future.
In conclusion, it was really worthwhile to see first hand that the money we raise here in the shop is vital in developing and supporting communities in Romania, as well as providing lifelines for people living in the most extreme poverty.