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 ...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Truck arrival

Yesterday a truck arrived from Scotland - about a quarter of its contents was for us, the rest having been delivered to another charity. We spent from 1400 until 2200 unloading the truck onto the driveway and into the courtyard of our house and then taking some straight to the day centre and the rest into the house wherever it would fit. Trucks can't get into the wee street in town where the "Secret Garden" is ... it's the only drawback to our lovely centre! Still, we can live with that! Photos and more info to follow!