Friday, 21 December 2007

Christmas Presents

The past couple of weeks have been taken up with distributing Christmas shoe boxes which were kindly donated by Blythswood Trust in Scotland. Yesterday and today we spent hours and hours finishing off parcels for all those on social security or single parent benefit in Kekech, the largest poor community in Arad with over 4000 people living there. We put all the boxes for a family into a separate bag or box and then took them to the homes.

When we arrived in Kekech the minibus was quickly surrounded by people begging us to give them something. It was so hard, we had to keep explaining that we only had parcels for those on benefits, even though we know many others are also very poor. We will be going back to give other families, but sadly there are more extremely poor than there are shoe boxes. Still, hopefully most of the poorest will receive this year.

One family we were especially glad to have gifts for is the family of this 20 year old mentally handicapped girl who has a baby and lives with her parents. We recently were able to help her mother claim a disability pension for her by paying 6 months back money for her national health contributions.

Kekech in the winter is a bleak place. The poverty is stark, especially in comparison with other areas of Arad. Most of the houses are more like shacks than proper houses although the home made wood burning stoves do make the wee houses lovely and warm inside. Most families have only one small room which serves as living room, kitchen and bedroom all in one. They have no kitchens or bathrooms, walk to the main road, in some cases several hundred metres to the pump for water and have an earth closet toilet behind the house. Life is not easy and yet people retain their humanity and are often surprising in their kindness and generosity to others - a lesson to all of us whose lives are so much easier and yet complain so much!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Secret Garden

At last photos of our new day centre ... is it a strange name? How did we choose it? When I first saw the house all overgrown and mysterious looking, I thought of my favourite childhood story 'The Secret Garden'. When I first took our colleague Helen to see the house, her first words were "Oh darling, how wonderful, just like 'The Secret Garden', I love it!" Since then, so many people's first words on seeing the building have been similar and so we adopted the name. For the uninitiated the story is about an unwanted orphan girl and her newly discovered equally unwanted paralysed cousin finding new life through a hidden garden. Do read the book because it's a lovely story.

As yet we have renovated two activity rooms, put in two shower rooms and a disabled toilet, renewed all the mains drainage and installed central heating. Whenever funds become available we will continue with the renovation which will include kitchen, dining room and office. In the meantime we are delighted with what we have as are the street children and other homeless or semi-homeless people.

As yet we do not have all the necessary authorisations but we are opening on a casual basis for folks to come and have hot showers and a bite to eat, as well as a warm place to sit and chat or play games. At the moment we have a good supply of clothing and so we are also giving clothes to all who come according to their needs. The new washing machine has now been installed (by Jan) and is anticipated to be a big hit!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Hot soup and showers!

We are opening unofficially around three days a week to offer showers and hot soup and where possible clothes and other needs. Today we had invited three families to come for clothes and groceries but when we arrived some of our friends from the station were waiting at the gate! They all had showers and cup-a-soups (complements of Blythswood Care, Scotland ... thanks!) sang a few Christmas carols and played table football before leaving, sadly back to their 'homes' on the streets.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Visit to Bonnie Scotland!

After not managing over to the UK at all this summer we finally found a 10 day gap between visitors to make a visit and catch up with business at the Scottish end of the charity. We had a meeting with our trustees and our Scottish support group as well as appearing at a few other gatherings and meetings.

We were overwhelmed as usual by the kindness and generosity we received while in Scotland. A special treat was being invited to the Girls' Brigade group in Brightons, Falkirk. The girls were so lovely and interested in our work, asking all kinds of relevant questions about the children here in Arad. I was touched to be given a cheque for over £300 by the group.
On our first Sunday we attended our own church, West Glasgow New Church which was great as it allowed us to catch up with many of our friends. On the second Sunday we went to Brightons Parish church in the morning where we were invited to address the children ... Kenneth gave them a practical demonstration of how street children dress and where they find their food (I'll leave that to the imagination!) After church we spoke at the youth fellowship, followed by the church choir who surprised us with the gift of an amazing £1000 from sales of their cd. In the evening we visited Sauchie United Free Church of Scotland and we were touched by the friendliness and warmth of our welcome.

All in all it was a really good visit but over too soon and almost before we knew it we were back in Arad and in the thick of things again. Two visitors from France had arrived in our absence and had done a great job of fending for themselves and keeping Amy and Rosie company. We collected another two visitors at Budapest airport on our way back so the last week has been very busy showing them all around. The morning after our arrival saw the delivery of Christmas shoe boxes from Blythswood Care in Scotland. We have already given out almost 600 boxes to very poor families. Hopefully we are having some more helpers arrive in December to help with this task - we try our best to make sure all the boxes go to the genuinely needy, they really do make a difference (photos next time) so we are very grateful to Blythswood and to all those who make it possible.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

At last ... the promised photos

OK I know it doesn't look that much, the front wall had already been filled with the traditional mud but it will eventually be covered with polystyrene insulation and then rendered. The other walls have wood on the outside and then it's all plasterboard inside with mineral fibre insulation in between the two layers. To finish off, the whole house will be rendered on the outside, but that will now have to wait for Spring as by the time we return the weather will be too cold for plastering.

We are so pleased to have had help from Andrew and co from PCF Romanian Projects, our partner charity and also from Tom Cleary, a youth worker from Liverpool and a couple of his young people. The guys have worked very hard over the past couple of weeks and their hard work is much appreciated by us and by Cornelia and her family.

Cornelia's new house is almost twice the size of her old and the difference between the two could hardly be more marked. Cornelia and her 6 year old daughter Ghisela couldn't hide their excitement - they even have a lovely new concrete floor instead of the mud floor that so many of their neighbours have.

... and finally at one o'clock in the morning on Wednesday night/Thursday morning Cornelia was handed the keys to her new home! (The door was on our living room last night!!!) Kenneth and I left for the UK early this morning and the team left later today. We are in Scotland for 12 days, mainly to discuss future plans with our Scottish "branch" and to speak at a few meetings but also hopefully to fit in some paid teaching work along the way.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

New house almost ready to move in.

Due to technical difficulties no photos yet, but some will come soon! The new house is looking good ... it wouldn't pass building regulations (though it is very solid) and is literally only one room but compared to others in the area it looks wonderful. Cornelia is now telling her neighbours that she will have the best house in the area ... her roof is certainly something to be seen as all the others are made up of a variety of bits and pieces. The children are also excited at the prospect of moving into the new house.

Monday, 29 October 2007


We have a group of 8 with us from Wolverhampton and Liverpool. Some have been before and are obviously gluttons for punishment! While they are here they will help us distribute food, clothing and yes, vitamins ... and they will also help Cornelia with her house, hopefully getting a roof on it. Photos later!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Yet another baby without hope

This little baby is only two weeks old and doesn't know yet know what the world has in store for him. Every time I see a new baby come into one of the poor families with whom we work it breaks my heart. I can't help wondering what will become of them, what future will they have? So many of the girls and women we know have recently had babies. It's sad to see yet another child come into the world with nothing and not much hope for the future. His mother lives in a rented room with no facilities and isn't in good health. She has five children, three of whom live with their grandmother who has two cleaning jobs in order to care for her grandchildren. We've given her clothes for the baby and toiletries - baby shampoo, soap etc and will continue to offer help and support as the baby grows, but we are so limited - by our lack of staff, time and resources.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Wee Joe

This is wee Joe, Cornelia's son, sitting on the ground outside his house. He and his mum and sisters are still living in the old house which could fall down any day. Cornelia's building work has come to a temporary halt as she is at present in hospital with two of her children. Due to their poor living conditions wee Joe's recent cold turned into a severe chest infection. Joe, along with his baby sister, Anetta was admitted into hospital. It is fairly common for children from families living in poverty to end up in hospital with what should have been a simple minor ailment. Their desperate living conditions and lack of proper nourishment weakens their resistence and they can quickly become very ill. Joe and his sister are now getting the treatment they need and decent food in hospital, so hopefully will soon be better.

Here is Anetta in hospital. She's quite happy to be there ... after all her mummy is with her and the staff are lovely. In fact, both children are better off than at home, warm and dry, a bed each and meals three times a day!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Home improvements

This is inside of a poor family's house. Cornelia and her three young children live here in the knowledge that the ceiling could fall down any day. Part of the house has already collapsed and so we undertook, as an urgent project to help fund the family's efforts as they rebuild their house right next to the existing structure.

The new house will be a simple one room dwelling, nothing fancy, but at least the family will have a roof over their heads for the winter. So far we have been able to buy sand and cement for the foundations and wood for the basic structure and hope in the coming weeks to offer more help to this particularly needy family.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins ...

At the end of August we had a huge delivery of multivitamins ... thousands of boxes, mainly of Thomas the Tank Engine multivitamins. Kenneth was working in Scotland at the time, so the unloading and sorting was left to us women! Two friends, Irina (pictured with me, Kathryn) Hajni (pronounced Hoynee) Sarah, a young volunteer from Glasgow and my mum helped get the job done - it took a mere three hours unloading them from the truck and feeding them through a bedroom window of the house! For the past few weeks we have been distributing them wherever we go, literally to everyone we meet! We have already given out thousands of boxes to street children and families in very poor areas. Many of the people with whom we work are severely malnourished, so we hope that access to multivitamins will help a little.

We have also been out to some of the poor areas of towns and villages outside Arad and next week will be taking another few thousand boxes out and about. Truth be told, we are sick of the sight of Thomas the tank engine! We also received fish oil capsules with omega 3 and 6 which (along with the Thomas the tank engine vitamins) we have distributed to doctors surgeries, clinics, centres for the elderly in addition to poor families.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Arad: a city of contrasts

Arad is a city of contrasts: it has an abundance of lovely old buildings yet is modern and vibrant. It has the latest technology, the newest cars, modern restaurants and night clubs yet manages to retain its character. As with every city in the world, Arad also has it's share of disadvantaged communities. It is in these areas that "Vis de Copil" focuses its attention, working in collaboration with local authorities to help alleviate poverty.