Thursday, 11 December 2008

100kg of pastries ...

How exciting can our lives get? At the close of play today we received a phone call to offer us 100kg of uncooked pastries, but the catch was we had to collect them right away. There are two flavours - bolognese and plum with pumpkin seeds on the outside. Unfortunately some had defrosted and needed cooked imediately, so guess what we've been doing all evening ... and guess what we had for dinner? The ones we had to cook will go out tomorrow to one of Arad's poor communities, the rest will wait a while in our freezer.

I talked to Kenny on the phone, He's all right though he must still be in some pain. Somehow yesterday I didn't catch the fact that he had two broken knuckles as well as bruises all over.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

shoe boxes (photo from a previous year)

We had 5 visitors from Fife in Scotland today, they have a charity and work with young people who grew up in an huge "orphanage" north of Arad. Kevin, one of their number was at Bible college with us and played the piano at our wedding, so we go back a long way! They are interested in our work, particularly the day centre, and of course there is some overlap between their work and ours as some of the young people from the "orphanage" have also spent time on the streets or in very poor conditions in Arad.

During the afternoon I had a text message from Kenny in Timisoara to say that he and a friend were beaten up last night and taken to hospital - fortunately he is only badly bruised, nothing broken. His friend's glasses were smashed, so we told Kenny to tell his friend we'll get him some new ones. This news coming right after Amy's being in hospital for an operation on Monday came as a bit of a shock as you can imagine, but it could have been much worse.

As we were preparing to say our goodbyes at around 18.00 I had a phone call from the driver of the truck with the shoe boxes to say they were waiting at the gate of our house! What a shock that was - we had no idea at all they would be arriving today and in fact did not want them delivered here as we have no space for them! However, as we learned long ago, it doesn't seem to matter what we want, what will be will be as they say!!!

We have only a third of the boxes we had last year as Blythswood Trust have sent many to India - for this we are delighted as we left part of our hearts in India when we worked there 20 years ago. We received a lot less than we had originally been told so will have to be extra careful to make sure they go to the most needy families.

At present the boxes are all sitting in our courtyard waiting until we can take them to the day centre. I Hope it doesn't rain, although it's so cold that if anything falls it will be snow!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Secret Garden renovation photos

I had to be at home today because Amy just got out of hospital after having her tonsils out yesterday (under local anaesthetic ... ouch!) so at least I had time to check emails and to update my blog. I thought it was about time I showed you some of the photos of the renovation work or you might think I'm imagining it all ... Our initial phase of renovation involved the room next to the street and the one beside it. We decided to renovate two activity rooms and put in the bathrooms and put in new mains drainage and central heating throughout the building so that the centre would at least be useable. The plan worked and for the last year we have used just the two rooms, with an improvised "kitchen" area in the first which we used for making instant soup and sandwiches as well as teas and coffees.

This second phase of renovation is to transform the remaining two rooms on the ground floor to make a kitchen and dining room and also a staff toilet and small changing room for the cook (when we have one) Future work will be to renovate the basement and convert it into a medical room for basic health care, vaccination programmes and first aid, and to turn the old solarium into an office - the only factor determining when this will take place is money!

Firstly the builders knocked down several walls, blocked off dorrways and made new ones - there were several small storage rooms and what we think was a room used for smoking meat tucked in behind the two rooms. We needed a vegetable preparation area and a storage cupboard as well as the toilet and changing room so walls were demolished (of course leaving all support walls and pillars!) and rebuilt in different places.

In the dining room we are trying to preserve the original parchet flooring as we did in the first of the activity rooms (we lost the other due to putting in the new drainage), once the work is done we will have it professionally sanded down and varnished. The health regulations stipulate that the kitchen and bathrooms all have to be tiled, so in those areas and the hall areas they builders laid a new concrete floor which will provide the solid base for tiles.

All the walls have now been plastered and doors put into place. Kenneth chose simple wooden doors with a window to let as much light pass from one area to another and keep an open feel to the place. The photo on the left is of the dining room - the indented part is where there used to be a large walk in cupboard. The room seems so much larger now and will make a very pleasant dining room. We don't as yet know how many people we are allowed into the centre at one time - the health inspection authority will check the place over when it's finished and then calculate based on cubic metres of air space per person ... sounds very complicated to me, but there you go!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Vali's funeral

We are just back from Vali's funeral. Only Kenneth, Philip and I were able to go - Johanna is in Scotland visiting a close friend who is ill, Kenny is in Timisoara, as he has classes on a Satuday and amy is staying at Granny's. We first went to the market to buy a wreath, and then on to the cemetary. It was raining heavily and few of the street folks had turned up for the service. We wondered about that and were quite surprised - usually they are very united when something happens to one of their number. The service was held outside at the cemetery, under cover from the rain but without protection against the cold. After the service we walked in procession to the graveside where we witnessed what had to be the quickest burial of all time. I think the combination of the continual rain and the fact that it was a street boy speeded things up.

Just at the very end as the men were hastily shovelling the soil back over the grave, a whole troop of street folks turned up. It was awful. We felt so sorry for them that they had missed the funeral. If the actual burial had been the normal 20 minutes to half an hour they would have caught at least that. They all spent a few minutes at the graveside saying their goodbyes before leaving. They were all asking us when the day centre will re-open and telling us how desperately they need showers and a warm place to come in the cold weather. Vali's death will hit them hard, reminding them of their own vulnerability and of the shortness of life.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Death of a street boy

A phone call from another of the young men from the streets confirmed yesterday evening's call, Vali was found dead by one of the street boys with whom he lived. As yet we have no further details but we have offered to help with funeral expenses. Vali leaves behind a young child with his former girlfriend and somewhere, his natural family, though whether they have been contacted yet or not we don't know. We loved Vali, a very gentle young man and to see his young life wasted like this is heart-breaking.

winter is here

Winter brings with it hardships for everyone, most of all the poor and homeless. Every year as winter approaches we find ourselves worrying for those who have no proper homes. The poor and the homeless are most vulnerable in winter as their inadequate housing and poor sanitation make them more open to all kinds of infections.
We had hoped that we would be able to help a couple of people to repair their roofs before winter set in but as yet we have done nothing for them. This poor man lives here with his family, including a couple of children and every time I am in the area he just looks wistfully at me without saying anything.
Likewise the old lady who lives in this tumbledown wee hovel could do with a few roof repairs fairly urgently. Again, we would love to be able to help her but finances are so tight that so far we haven't been able to do anything for her.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

stop press ...

Having just arrived home and started cooking dinner Kate dropped a heavy jar on her foot, Johanna said the bruising and swelling indicated a possible break .. then just at that point one of the young men from the streets phoned to say that one of the street boys, Vali has been found dead. We are now heading off to the hospital - to the casualty for Kate's foot and to the morgue to try and find out more about Vali.

Wolverhampton and Liverpool team ... photos at last!

Back in September we had a team made up of folks from two churches in Perton in Wolverhampton and some lovely Liverpool lads! They came to help us turn the courtyard into a play area for ball games and other activities. They levelled out the concrete, dug lots of deep holes, shovelled huge quantities of rocks and soil and in places put down new concrete.

The team slept at the day centre, a first for us (and probably last) because it was literally just before Johanna's wedding and we were trying to get rooms cleared at the house for the wedding guests. Just before the team arrived we had a large donation which was completely filling one of the guest bedrooms (and still is ...)
Although it was such hard work I think the team enjoyed themselves and had a lot of laughs along the way! The "Liverpool lads" are a lively bunch from one of the large inner city housing estates and kept us all well entertained as they worked.

At the same time as the team were here we had a friend from West Glasgow New Church, our home church in Glasgow (obviously!). Linda represents us at church and passes on all our news so she wanted to come out and see first hand what we're up to. She stayed with us at the house and was a great help, willing to do anything and good company for us too.
I don't think the team quite expected it to be as much heavy work but they struggled bravely on and when they left we had a level play area and two rockeries, complete with plants. Now when you enter the courtyard from the street the first impression is lovely, instead of the uneven concrete with holes just waiting to trip you up, your eyes are drawn to the beautiful rockery!

Friday, 21 November 2008

pause for thought ...

On the way home yesterday I called at the cash and carry to pick up something for dinner. Amy was off school sick with an extremely bad case of tonsilitis and also has severe earache - she's been off all week and isn't at all well, poor soul, Kenneth went from the day centre up to Johanna and Philip's house to put up a ceiling and I thought I'd do something easy for dinner. I bought a cooked chicken, a large bag of frozen vegetables and 4 litres of milk. The bill came to £13 ... !

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Flying Seagull ... !?!?

Kenneth and I were away in the UK for a few weeks at the end of August and first week of September ... immediately on our return we had on of our more unusual groups of visitors ... the "Flying Seagull Project" - a group of entertainers from the UK - south of England to be more specific, but they were so lovely we quickly forgave them that! Ash works full time as an entertainer in the UK and decided to come out to Romania with a group of others and offer free performances for disadvantaged children. With Ash and his team we visited several of the poor communities and a camp for disabled children in the mountains and brought a little joy into the lives of children and their parents wherever we went.

As we drove into a community we would drive ahead to announce the show and Ash and the others would drive behind us with loud music playing and several of the group on top of their minibus singing and dancing ... you can imagine the excitement as we passed by the poor shacks. People all rushed out of their homes to see what the commotion was and their faces lit up as they saw the clowns and giant teddy bear dancing on top of a minibus!
Whenever we arrived at a suitable place for them to perform we parked the vehicles and they set up their "stage".

It was wonderful to see the joy on the children's faces when we arrived ... and on the parents faces when they asked how much it would cost and we told them it was free! "Free ... for us? Why? How?" These poor families are not used to having people give up their time and energy for them for free - and some of them were literally overwhelmed. There followed a great performance including games, dancing, jokes, magic and juggling totally transfixing children and adults alike.

On one of the days we drove two and a half hours out of Arad to a mountain station called Moneasa where the team performed for a group of 40 disabled children who were enjoying a camp in the clean mountain air.
Another day the group did a show at the shelter for street children run by the Arad child protection. It was so funny - some of the older boys were trying to look cool and uninterested but within minutes were joining in with the rest, shouting out and volunteering to take part in the show!

One day we went to one very poor area (pictured) but after half and hour we were rained off - a very rare occurrence here, for a minute I thought I was back in Glasgow on a church picnic! Ash was keen to return and let the children have the full show as they had been having such a good time before the rain started. We decided to return on the Saturday and ended up spending pretty much the whole day there - from 1000 until 1700 ... it was a great day and we finished it off by heating up tinned soup in Ash's new pot over an open fire!
Of course we also had to have a show at the Secret Garden ... we had a full show one afternoon and then another afternoon when Ash and team tried to teach the young people from the streets a few circus tricks ... it was hilarious, very entertaining to watch and the young folk all had a great time trying to spin plates and juggle.
Amazingly one of the street boys, Dani got the hang of it right away and had his plate spinning in no time at all. he then impressed us further by taking another baton and tossing his plate from one to the other ... Ash said he would like to come next year and hold a few workshops to see if any of the other street kids have talent ... we could host our very own "Arad's got talent"!

All in all it was a very special week for our young people and families and we are very grateful to Ash and his whole team ( I'm not mentioning names in case I miss one out ... they were all great!). We will be delighted if they manage back next year ... as will all their happy audiences.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

recent food delivery

Well, I'll forget the wedding photos for a wee while and try later! We recently had a HUGE delivery of tinned soup, baby food and cereal bars, compliments of Blythswood Trust Scotland - a big thank you to marshall Green and all at Blythswood for your hard work at the other end.

This time we even had help unloading - our good friends Puiu and Dorina very kindly offered us the use of their garage and courtyard in which to unload and store the food. Kenny and Philip came to help and even Puiu's retired parents helped us, tirelessly lifting box after box from the lorry.

In the past few weeks we have distributed most of the food, to communities all around Arad - some of it was even taken as far away as Oltenia in the south of the country by a couple we know who travel around visiting poor communities and helping where possible. Much of the soup and cereal bars was used here at the Secret Garden and has been a real blessing to us and all the street people and poor families who visit us. We have a microwave in the centre and can quickly heat up a cup of soup for anyone who pops in and give them a cereal bar as a dessert!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Still no photos ... but check out this blog!

I thought of a way for you to see a few photos of the recent work. Part of the recent team we had helping us was a group of young lads from the "Positive Futures" project in Liverpool, led by a good friend, Tom Cleary who is a community youth worker on one of Liverpool's large housing schemes. These young men are truly a delight to be with and while they were in Arad they kept a blog ... prepare yourself for some slightly unorthodox language and enjoy!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Secret Garden under renovation

The past few weeks have been more than usually busy with a team of 12 for two weeks, Johanna's graduation from medical school and then three weeks ago her wedding. (for photos of both see my mum's blog as I don't know when I'll get chance to post photos - blogger isn't letting me post any right now ... who knows why, I'm sure I don't!)

Last week renovation work began on the kitchen and dining room at the Secret Garden -Kenneth says he's excited and already has an idea of what it will look like ... I'm afraid to say that all I see so far is partially demolished walls, piles of rubble and wood from the old door and window frames and mess everywhere ... sigh!

To add to all our stresses our bank contacted us to say that Barclays bank in England accidently paid money into the charity account here and now they want it back - all at once. I must add that the said 'mistake' took place in April and the money is long spent on general running costs. For us it is quite a large sum of money and we cannot pay it back all at once, neither do we feel we should have to. So ... our charity account has been blocked meaning that we can withdraw no money. Fortunately the builders and double glazing company were both very understanding and have agreed to wait for their money ...

Still, let's look on the bright side! The courtyard is looking lovely thanks to the UK team we had just before Johanna's wedding. Andrew Bradley from came out with a few folks from two churches in Perton, Wolverhampton and some guys from "Positive Futures" project in Liverpool. They came to even out the courtyard surface and put up a high fence. In the end the job was bigger than they had thought and they settled for levelling the courtyard and re-concreting parts of it and making a lovely rockery at the front entrance way. (At this point I would add some photos, but of course I can't and unfortunately my mum doesn't have any on her blog, so you'll have to wait!) The team are providing the money for us to get a 'fencer' in to do the fence in the near future ... but if anyone from the team's reading this, don't pay it into the account just now guys because we can't touch it!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

back to work

Having been away in the UK for a few weeks Kenneth and I returned to the usual chaos. The problem of not having enough people to do the work is that when we're away everything just piles up. We returned on Thursday evening and in the early hours of Friday morning Kenneth had a phone call from a distraught Amy on holiday in turkey with granny. Apparently granny had fallen, hit her head and ended up in hospital. Both are now back home but shaken and Kate's mum is still in a lot of pain. In addition to everything else going on since our return we have a performing arts group with us at present much to the delight of many children whose lives have been brightened by the fun and games ... more later when I get a chance to write!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

A "street family"

Dani and his girlfriend Eva come regularly to the day centre with Dani's wee daughter, Larisa to have showers,wash their clothes, have a bite to eat and some time out to relax and play cards or watch a film while Larisa plays.

Dani and Eva have both spent many years on the streets but in many ways they are just like any other young couple. They struggle to make ends meet and to bring up a young child, they have the occasionally health problem, they worry about the future and as you can see from the photos they also have fun sometimes. Dani asked me to take a photo of him being macho and holding Eva ... then not to be outdone, Eva grabbed Dani and lifted him up - I was well impressed as she is a tiny wee slip of a girl and doesn't look like she would have the strength.

For a while Dani had a proper job and a salary but it's very hard to hold down a regular job when you have no regular home and several of the young people have tried without success.
Even the few who manage to get off the streets find it extremely difficult to keep a 'proper' job and a regular programme. In the future if we are blessed enough to see any of these young people manage to leave the streets, this will be one of our biggest challenges - helping them to find and then keep a 'normal' job.

Another major challenge for people living on the streets is keeping their children in kindergarten or school. Wee Larisa should start Kindergarten in the Autumn but it will be so hard for her and for Dani and Eva to make the commitment. We promise any who want their children to attend kindergarten or school that they may bring them every day for showers and clothes washing and also that we will provide the materials necessary eg. school bag, pens, pencils, paints etc. but it is still far from easy when you live on the street, particularly for older children ... I mean, when your classmate asks where you live, what do you say?

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Eye testing and break in!

Last week we were privileged to hold our first eye testing clinic at the day centre. We have had the pleasure of becoming friends with Dave and Beryl and their son Mark, who have been doing eye testing and health screening clinics for several years in several other areas of the country.

We warned them in advance that ours would hardly be the orderly affair they have in other places, with proper appointments and people waiting in nice organised queues ... but amazingly this didn't put them off - brave souls.
On the morning in question, last Thursday, Kenneth and I were phoned by Irina who had arrived ahead of us that the day centre had been broken into. Initially we were a little shocked and upset but when we realised that only a few items of clothing were missing and that nothing had been damaged. Irina couldn't understand our calmness until we explained that in the UK such an event would usually be accompanied by acts of wanton vandalism.

At 1100 intrepid eye testing team arrived to find the place swarming with Police - three round the back dusting for fingerprints and looking for other evidence and two taking statements (one in above photo). A rather novel start to the day we thought ... at least things are never boring.

The Police were great and very pleasant too - we were impressed by the speed at which they arrived and by their thoroughness. For us it was another first as we all had our fingerprints taken ... great fun for all concerned. I found the three page long statement in Romanian challenging and had to keep asking for help with the finer points of Romanian grammar! As the Police left we invited them to drop in for coffee if they're ever in the area.

Meanwhile, Dave and co. had set up their gear and were ready to start testing. A local pastor came to help out by doing the initial registering and taking blood pressures and a local girl also came to help with translation.

Many of the homeless people had their eyes tested, as did several people from poor families and some of our neighbours - Dave had said to invite them as a gesture of goodwill for all that they put up with from our "clients" ... what a great idea, and be
sides, most of them are quite poor too.

Some received glasses there and then and were delighted, others had them made up and we are in the process of giving them out, but others with more complicated problems have to wait until September when two Optometrists are coming out. In Romania, poor people don't ever visit an optician as there is no free provision for people on no or low incomes. One woman said she had simply accepted the fact that she hadn't been able to see clearly for years and never would again. How sad that something so easy to correct and something we in the west take for granted is out of the reach of so many people in the world. We were moved to see the gratitude of some of the people who were helped with a simple pair of glasses and are hoping to develop this aspect of our work as part of our future basic health care programme.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

visit to other charities

I have been away for the past couple of days in a small city called Petrosani (pronounced Petroshan), a four hour drive away from Arad, up into the mountains. Petrosani is a sad place; once a thriving coal mining town, now most of the mines have closed and the unemployment rate is over 60% and expected to rise in the near future with more mine closures. Unlike British miners in a similar situation, the mine workers of Petrosani received no redundancy settlements and the social security payments they receive are not enough for them to survive on. The future looks bleak unless businesses can be enticed into the area or the tourist industry developed. As this is an area of incredible natural beauty, many believe that the latter may offer a solution to their problems and a hope for the future.

Although I am not very well at present (I have been diagnosed with one problem and am still waiting for test results for another) I am glad I made the effort to visit. I spent time at two charities working with the poor in Petrosani and had the opportunity to see what they do and how they do it, with a view to learning how we might be more effective. Both centres have been running for much longer than ours and have more staff, funding and resources but they encouraged me and assured me that they were once small and struggling too! I was privileged to meet some lovely people with a real heart for the poor and came away much encouraged.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Barbara and team

Every year Barbara Rose, a professor at Roberts Wesleyan College in New York State brings a team of students to Arad to get involved in the work of several charities. Barbara (pictured with Calman making a friendship bracelet) is an amazing woman and along with her friend, Anita does a wonderful job of leading her teams. We have some lovely friends in the States from various trips and consider their annual visit to be one of the year's highlights. If any of you past Roberts team members read this please get in touch ... we have had over two years of problems with email and had a computer crash, losing information and so have lost touch with some people.

We were privileged to have Barbara and team with us for a day and they did a whole host of activities with our street children and young people. Several designed their own t-shirts ... they loved it!

Some of the young people struggle with even the most basic of activities which we take for granted, but the team members were always ready to help. In some cases I think the team member did all the work with the young person 'supervising' the process!

Others, like Cipri pictured here managed to do most of the designing and drawing themselves and were so proud of their achievement. For young people who have either never attended school or managed one or two classes even colouring in difficult. Most of the street children and young people cannot read and write, some can do the absolute basics but with effort. For us and for the majority of our volunteers it seems incredible for children not to have been through school. It is hard for 'normal' people to understand what a handicap it is to go through life with no education.

Irina had a good time too ... as well as t-shirts to design the team had brought a couple of aprons ... Irina's design consisted of writing things about Kenneth and myself - she wrote "Ken - President of Vis de Copil, Kati - my colleague, sister and crazy". Honestly, you just can't get the staff!

New toys for the Secret Garden

Our recent truck arrival brought much needed clothing and tins of soup, but to the delight of the children it also brought some very nice durable toys. Larisa and Amalia come almost every day with their parents and they love playing with the new toys. When their parents come they are usually too preoccupied with taking showers, getting their clothes washed and having fun to take much notice of their children. We do what we can to entertain them and the new toys have helped a lot. The young couple on the street who have children are themselves still emotionally children which makes it hard for them to be good parents. We offer help and advice where we can and encourage the parents to bathe their children and check them for lice and other problems.

Wee Viorica, or Ica mica as I like to call her (pronounced eeka meeka) loves the new scooter and plays on it every day. she is a really bright child and we are keen for her to start school in the Autumn. Viorica lives on the streets with her dad. They used to live, together with her mum and brother with a charity outside Arad but a few months ago ended back on the streets along with several others who had stayed a number of years with the same charity. I often look at wee Ica and wonder what she makes of the turn her life has taken. One day in a decent home, attending kindergarten every day and the next living in a barrack behind the railway station.

Friday, 13 June 2008

an afternoon in the park

Last Sunday volunteers from the Milennium Project in Arad organised games and activites in the children's park. Volunteers in the project come from all over Europe and further afield - we have young folk coming to help us at the 'Secret Garden' from France, Holland, Germany, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.

It's great to have such a multicultural group of volunteers and that in itself is educational for our children and young people. Our children and also our 'older children' (!) enjoyed fishing for prizes, making bracelets and getting their faces painted!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Birthday boys and the BBC!

Yesterday two of our boys celebrated their birthdays - Petre's was yesterday and Cipri's (pronounced Cheepree) is today. To our amazement the boys turned up at 1330, half an hour before our programme with street people begins with several carrier bags full of bread, salami, tomatoes, pickled cucumbers, cakes, biscuits, juice and non-alcoholic champagne! Petre and Cipri served everyone with champagne. Kenneth was in Timisoara with Johanna at the time - Johanna has Pneumonia but had an exam and didn't want to miss it. she couldn't manage buses and trains so Kenneth took her and then waited for her..
Meanwhile the party got under way, everyone enjoys dancing and singing ... and in the middle of it all Irina came and said "Katy ... those two English Gypsy guys are here again". Sure enough two Romanies from England who have been here several times on visits to Romania had turned up again. On previous visits they have visited out day centre and been out and about with us to visit some of the very poor Roma families with whom we work. They contributed financially to the re-building of Cornelia's house last year (see earlier blog for more details!)

Imagine my surprise (horror? shock?) when Gypsy Billy and his pal were followed by a cameraman and sound man who introduced themselves as being from the BBC. They asked permission to film in the centre and after receiving permission from our 'clients' proceeded to film them dancing and generally being entertaining! When they asked me to do a short interview Amy (she comes after school whenever she can) burst out laughing ... "you can't do an interview looking like that - you look a worse state than the street people mum! As well as the street folk we had four volunteers in from various European countries and then, in the middle of my interview a Danish couple who have a small charity and want to become partners in our work arrived ... followed by Kenneth and Johanna with baby Yasmina. I'm obviously destined never to impress anyone because every time visitors come they find me in the midst of chaos!

Apparently the programme will be shown in September as part of a series on BBC1 called "Inside out". I said when they do a series called "Upside down" to give us a call ...