Tuesday, 27 October 2009

our newest volunteer

Petre (pictured here with his neice) is one of our street boys who we have known since first coming to Romania. Petre, his brother Cipri and their three sisters all ended up on the streets. Petre has been coming to help for a few weeks now and he is proving to be a good help. He is keen to make a better life for himself, but as with all the young people from the streets the temptations are many and hard to resist. We're pleased that some of the young people want to help others like themselves and in the long term we want to encourage it as a form of peer education - after all, who knows better than a street kid what life on the streets is like and what the dangers are?

Monday, 26 October 2009

winter's hardships begin

We had a very cold spell which caught us all by surprise, but the weather is milder again. The mornings are often misty and quite chilly and in the evenings the temperature drops considerably, but the days are mainly warm and sunny, around 20 degrees which is pleasant, especially for October. The cold mornings and evenings remind everyone of the cold weather to come and as we go about our work we hear people talking about the winter and wondering how they are going to manage. At this time of year there is always unspoken fear in people's voices "what if ... ?" Many women like this one pictured here come during the day for a while to do their washing or have showers or just to chat while the children play or do school work. Living in such poor conditions as most of our families live, life is hard all year round, but in the winter washing clothes or dishes becomes a major task.

Our work becomes harder too in the winter. Firstly because it's hard to see children and families and work with them knowing the conditions to which they return each day. At the end of the day it's so difficult seeing the street folks all leave, knowing that they have no proper homes to go to. In addition to that they bring with them more dirty clothes to wash and generally make a lot more mess in the day centre ... more cleaning for us when everyone leaves at 1900.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

human trafficking

Trafficking in human beings has been around for centuries and the effects of the slave trade in Africa devastated a continent. In recent years trafficking is again on the increase, according to some sources being more profitable than drug trafficking. One of our street girls was recently taken to France and sold to some older man and another girl, only 11 years old has also been sold. Obviously we are well aware that these things happen every day, but even so, when it comes to girls we have known personally for a years it's painful to hear about it. Our street girls and also those from very poor families who are not adequately supervised are greatly at risk of being trafficked, but finding out the names and nationalities of the trafficants is not easy. Getting victims or friends of victims to speak out so that we can contact the police and Interpol is not easy because there are huge sums of money involved and people are threatened with physical violence if they dare to say anything.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

a little about the roma (gypsies)

“We pass like the wind on the lake of the world without leaving a mark. And yet, without us nothing would be the same. Always thrown out, always hunted. Despised and envied. And always unknown … “
from Tchalai’s Zigane Tarot (1984)

Many of the children and families with whom we work are Roma (Gypsy) and as such, live on the edge of society, often in squatter communities on the margins of Arad and surrounding towns and villages. Pictured are two of our Roma girls who come daily to the centre. They are lovely, warm, kind hearted people who have become friends. Here they had just dressed one of our volunteers in traditional skirt and the red ribbons usually seen in the hair of little girls (just as I used to see when I lived in India!) Roma have been the victims of discrimination and mistrust for centuries. Linguistic and anthropological evidence indicates that the Roma people originally came from northen India and migrated across Asia and Europe between the 10th and 13th centuries.

Throughout their history the Roma have repeatedly suffered forced assimilation, persecution, banishment and deportation. Few people realise that the Roma were also victims of slavery in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere until 150 years ago. During the Third Reich in Germany the Roma were targeted for extermination by Hitler but I am not aware of any special memorials or days of remembrance for them and if such things exist then they are not well enough publicised.

The Roma are one of the most persecuted ethnic minories in Europe. Racial stereotypes and myths developed over the centuries in order to justify the persecution of Roma – they were accused of being lazy, thieves, witches and child abductors “The Gypsies are coming, the old people say. To buy little children and take them away …”

Any study of history shows us that a people who are marginalized and rejected have to find alternative ways to survive in society and often such people become the victims of social problems such as alcoholism and unemployment. Discrimination in all it's forms is an evil to be fought against and we at Vis de Copil (A Child's Dream) constantly look for ways in which we can help break down the barriers which exist between the Roma and their neighbours.

I'll finish here with the words of Indira ghandi, the former Indian Prima Minister in her opening speech at the International Romani festival in Chandigarh in 1983:

“There are some 15 million Roms dispersed across the world. Their history is one of suffering and misery, but it is also one of the victories of human spirit over the blows of fate. Today the Roms revive their culture and are looking for their identity. On the other hand, they integrate into the societies in which they live. If they are understood by their fellow citizens in their new homelands, their culture will enrich the society’s atmosphere with the colour and charm of spontaneity.”

Thursday, 15 October 2009

crisis in the government

The following is from the BBC news website:

The government of Romania has fallen after losing a vote of no confidence, the first such measure since the end of Communist rule in 1989.
Parliament voted 254-176 to oust Prime Minister Emil Boc's government, which lost its majority when its coalition allies pulled out earlier this month.
Romania has been hard-hit by the global economic recession and is dependant on an IMF loan to pay state salaries.
The vote followed the collapse of the ruling coalition 10 days ago.
Mr Boc has been struggling to pass economic and social reforms which were a condition of the IMF loan.
Speaking after the parliamentary vote, he said it was "an honour for a government to fall for pitching reforms aimed at suppressing privileges" and that he was convinced the reforms would be passed.
Under the Romanian constitution, President Traian Basescu, a close ally of Mr Boc, will appoint a replacement prime minister to run an interim government until presidential elections on 22 November.
Mr Basescu, who is favourite to win the vote, said he intended "to keep this period of crisis as short as possible".

Please pray for the Romanian people ... they deserve a better deal than they get.

that's a lot of washing!

I love this photo with all the washing hanging to dry, and just imagine, those of you reading this from the comfort of your modern home complete with washing machine ... all this was washed by hand with water carried from the pump several hundred metres away from the houses! These are homes to some of our Roma (Gypsy) families on the edges of Arad - people who live on the margins of society wherever they live, all over Europe.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

winter ... with a vengeance!

After an early warm Spring, a very long hot Summer and an extremely pleasant warm and sunny Autumn, Winter arrived yesterday with a vengeance. The day was cold and windy with driving rain and the weather forecast said we could even have snow soon ... All who found their way to the Secret Garden were soaked through to the skin and pleading for dry clothes. We managed to give children and adults alike some warm clothes and socks, but I found myself thinking how good it would be if we could provide everyone with waterproof jackets (the cheap plastic kind that look awful but don't let any water in at all) and wellies (for the non-Brits that means rubber or plastic 'wellington boots'.

At the end of the day it was so hard seeing the street folks head back out into the wind and rain, knowing that they have no proper homes to go to. Some stay in derelict builings like the one above, others (the fortunate ones) have managed to built shelters around the hot water pipes that feed the city.

Poor families usually have home made stoves which run on sawdust, like the one below.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

our first time at the n.g.o fair

Yesterday and today the annual NGO fair (for the uninitiated, non-governmental organisations)in front of the Primaria (Town hall) took place. For the first time we participated, even though we had little time to prepare and were afraid of not doing a good job of it ... imagine taking place in an event which is meant to raise the profile of your charity and making it a laughing stock instead!
... In the end after a couple of anxious weeks and a lot of hard work and stress it all went well, including my presentation of our work - in Romanian so I was very nervous! while I was away at a conference a couple of weeks ago, Kenneth and Dana attended the planning meeting for the fair and volunteered me to present our work ... how very kind of them! On both days there was quite a lot of interest from the public. Dana, our new Social Worker did a great job of talking to all the interested people, telling them about our work and outlining volunteer opportunities. We offered sweets and face painting to all the kids and Shaneka our new Peace Corps Volunteer braided hair - it was a big hit!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

flying seagull again!

We were honoured by a second visit from the Flying Seagull team at the end of this summer, led by the slightly crazy Ash Perrin (sorry Ash, but you know it's true!) and many of the children and young people with whom we work again had a fantastic time. Ash brought with him Matt who we knew from last year and three others, all lovely and a pleasure to get to know. We took the team into some of the very poor commuities in and around Arad and brought a little joy into a lot of lives.
These families live in conditions of abject poverty with little to bighten their days and were over the moon to see us returning. We drove through the communities, some of the team on top of their van and Ash leading the way on his springy stilts (sorry again Ash, don't know their technical name, but they're great fun!) and the kids all running after him in hordes, sort of like the pied piper, only without the pipe and a lot taller ...

With all the kids and some parents following Ash and his team led the way to a suitable place for a performance, in this case the nearby forest. It was a fairytale setting, the sun's rays filtering thought the green of the trees and for the children what followed was equally fairytale as they watched the show and joined in with the games and clowning.

One of the days we had a performance in the Secret Garden ... of course the young folks loved it and thoroughly enjoyed themselves joining in all the fun and doing some clowning.

Monday, 21 September 2009

sometimes we fight ...

Just the other day one of the street boys (we'll call him Stefan) came to the Secret Garden very drunk. We don't turn them away if they are drunk or high (some days there'd be no-one there if we did that!) but we do insist that they don't bring alcohol or solvent onto the premises. It was one of those days when you feel the trouble simmering just under the surface and you find yourself waiting for it to erupt.

Sure enough, as the afternoon progressed, one of the other boys, Claudiu kept making wee comments and annoying Stefan. I repeatedly told him to leave Stefan alone and to keep his mouth closed before he ended up getting a beating ... but would he be quiet? Of course he wouldn't! I had to leave the room for a minute and heard what sounded like a murder being committed. Running back to the activity room I saw Stefan in the process of throwing himself at Claudiu, stool in hand. Times like this are thankfully rare, but you have to act quickly so I placed myself in front of Stefan and put my arms around him while talking to him to calm him down and leading him outside. Once away from the source of his anger, Stefan calmed down and apologised in tears. When I told him I had two young workmen inside working in the kitchen who had heard the commotion and were probably scared out of their wits, he hung his head in shame and asked me to apologise to them for him!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

more clokes!

Finally, two weeks late and after a long labour baby Rafaela Alisa More honoured us with her presence! Mummy, daddy and baby are all well, though it was a stressful time, especially for daddy! No time to write more just now, but thought this photo of her wearing the bonnet her great auntie Betty knitted for her was rather sweet.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

working together

One of the agencies we collaborate with is the "Anti AIDS association" in Arad. At least once a week staff from the association come to the Secret Garden and engage in informal education about sexual health and other topics. They also offer help with contraception, counselling and AIDS testing.

Staff from the association approached us some months ago, having heard about us from the young people who live on the streets in the station area. They said they had heard that we had a good facility
and would like very much to use our place for counselling sessions and health checks. We were delighted as we are always happy to collaborate with others who wish to help the street community and we are especially pleased to share our Secret Garden with anyone else who appreciates it's healing qualities!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

back home (in Arad) at last!

Eric, a good friend in darkest Wolverhampton took this photo of us. We hardly ever get photos taken together and never put them on blogs, so this time I thought I'd make an exception.

In July we had friends from Falkirk in Scotland visiting us, along with their two children. It was lovely to have them with us ... we hope they feel the same! They drove back with us to Falkirk, a journey of three days and the kids (Conor, Rachael and our wee Yasmina) were absolutely great.

For three and a half weeks we travelled around visiting and talking about the work here in Arad. It was good but very tiring for us and while over we received some very bad news. The son of dear friends here in Arad died from cancer - we were shocked and deeply saddened by the news. Then two weeks after that we received news that an old friend was found in the river Clyde, no-one knows exactly what happened but she was a lovely person who devoted her life to helping others and was still only in her 30's. On our way back through Europe we received the news that a colleague in the eye screening project also died, also from cancer. Then on our arrival in Arad Johanna's father-in law had finally lost his long battle with cancer. Words are inadequate at such times and we feel deeply for those left behind.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A new life in France?

One of our street families left Arad yesterday in search of a new life in France (pictured with me and Irina and Viorel at either side of them. Secret and Tatiana and their wee girl Amalia came to the Secret Garden to have showers before leaving for the bus station. Life is very hard for young people who live on the streets and it is extremely difficult for them to get a new chance at life with all the ties that bind them to street life. Several of the homeless young people we know have moved away from Arad, some to other countries in search of a new life. For a few it seems to be working and the change of scene has enabled them to leave behind old habits but sadly for others the basic problems in their lives remain and they end up on the streets elsewhere or eventually make their way back to Arad. Secret and Tatiana want a better life for their daughter, it's not going to be easy for them but we hope and pray that they succeed.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Secret Garden ...officially open

As many of you know, we had our official day centre opening on the Saturday 6th of June. We had lots of work to do to get the place ready so we would like to thank all the various volunteers and visitors who helped us get everything together and supported us on the big day. We'll post pictures soon, but here is a presentation of the "Secret Garden" Day Centre accompanied by some lovely traditional European Roma (Gypsy) music!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

please pray

For any of you reading this blog who are able, please pray for the son of very dear friends of ours here in Arad. Claudiu is only 23 years old and newly married and has cancer which has spread. He is very seriously ill. I don't know what else to say other than please pray for him, his young wife and his parents and grandparents.

Monday, 20 April 2009

the audacity of hope?

Our good friend and fellow Scot, Tom Kennedy called round this evening for a wee chat and he showed me something on the Internet that moved me to tears. If you haven't already seen the very ordinary Scottish woman from the wee village of Blackburn an hour away from our city of Glasgow now's your chance. Susan is 47 and it's been her life long dream to be a singer ... she didn't have a chance but she dared to hope! Go on ... click on the link and prepare to be moved. Thank you Susan!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Easter at the Secret Garden

Easter in Orthodox Christian countries such as Romania was a week after the western Easter this year. It varies from year to year - it can be as much as five weeks later and only occasionally coincides. The Romanian word for Easter is Pasti (pronounced Pasht) and is more strongly linked to the Jewish Passover than in the West, the same word being used for both. It is a beautiful time with some lovely and interesting traditions. Our favourite part of Easter is the "Inviere" (Resurrection) service on the Saturday night. At around 23.30 everyone gathers at the Orthodox church and waits with candles in their hands for the priest to come out of the church. When the priest appears everyone lights their candles from him and then from each other and proceeds around the church following the priest and his entourage. After three times around the church the priest then goes to the door of the church and sings the words of the Gospel about Mary and the other Mary going to the tomb of Jesus and finding it empty. This is interspersed with the congregation singing a short refrain which goes something like this "Christ has risen from the dead, with (his) death trampling on death, and to those in the graves he has given life" and at the end of the "Inviere" a pure white spotless lamb is brought into the church (thankfully not to be sacrificied!)

Another of the traditions which we love and always keep is the painting and decorating of eggs. Eggs are hard boiled and then dyed a variety of colours, the most important being red or painted with beautiful designs.

At the Secret Garden we spent the whole of Good Friday (or Great Friday as it's called in Romanian) painting eggs, followed by watching the "Jesus" film.
As children arrived with their mums we presented them all with hard boiled eggs and felt tip pens and wax crayons and explained to them that we were having an egg painting competition.
The expression of the faces of some of the mums was comical ...
"not us, we can't do that!" they said ... "Oh yes you can!" we
replied, "but women like us don't do things like that" they argued ..."Why not?" we asked, and as they thought about it, they realised that there was actually no reason why not so they picked up eggs and pens and got stuck in! As you can see from the photos, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves!

It was a somewhat chaotic day in some ways as not only did we have a whole room full of people all busily painting eggs but we
had others coming and going.
Some came hoping for Easter food parcels, but we'd only been able to put together 30 this year as we had no money. We would have liked to be able to give to all the families who come to the day centre, even those who only call in occasionally but we just couldn't.
... and finally, as each child left they recieved a goodie bag and the mums a bag of groceries - not a lot, but a small help for them at this time of celebration.

Monday, 13 April 2009

you get knocked down ... you get up again!

Wee Amalia was so determined to ride the "trotineta". It's not easy when you've only just turned two and you don't know how to balance yet! She was so determined to ride it and so pleased with herself when she managed to gain her balance ...

what a great picture! Mum and dad stand proudly by, watching their daughter's achievment.

Look at me, look at me ... I can do it! I can do ...

Then comes the wobble ... can she hold on?

no ... yes ... no ... and she's off! Daniela looks on sympathetically, she's had her share of falls too.

Our wee Amalia is a tough wee thing, not to be deterred by anything so minor as banging her head on a wall.
"did you bump your head?" say daddy, "come on, it's nothing, try again ..."

All that effort finally paid off ... just look at her now! Isn't she great? Imagine this darling wee girl is one of several who live on the streets with their parents, sleeping wherever they find a derelict building or making a hut alongside some hot pipes in the winter. hard to get your head round it, isn't it?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Mary and Joseph

Maria and Iosif (Mary and Joseph) are two very ordinary pensioners who have lived hard lives, through the years of communism and the latter years of the Ceausescu regime when there were ration books and food queues. They pop in to see us from time to time and when we first heard their names we joked with them, as no doubt many have done over the years. Maria and Iosif are such a sweet couple, struggling along on their far too small pensions but not complaining and not asking for anything. Maria told us sadly but without bitterness that two of her four children died and the remaining two moved abroad, trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. Their combined pensions bring in just over £100 per month - not really enough to live on but like so many of the people we know they scrimp and save and do the best they can to make ends meet.

Prices here are at the same level as the rest of Europe and in many cases higher for basic necessities but salaries and pensions in general remain pitifully small. We saw a report about milk production in Europe on the Euronews channel which stated that Romania is the second most expensive country in all of Europe for milk. Tea, coffee, breakfast cereals, rice, cheese and many other basic food products as well as utilities such as gas are all more expensive here and if you worked out prices compared to salaries then literally everything you can find in the shops is more expensive here than in the UK or elsewhere.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

homeless families

These children live with their parents on the streets and they're not the only ones. We have several families who visit regularly with their children. It is always hard to see the little ones and realise that they don't have much of a future to look forward to. Of course our hope is that one day we will be able to help families such as these off the streets, but at the moment that remains a dream. A father called in today who has lived at one of Arad's homeless night shelters for more than two years. He used to live there with his children but has now placed them in a small children's home so that they at least can have a chance of a better life.
Obviously our dream for all our young (and less young) people is that one day they will leave the streets, but for the long term homeless that sadly often remains just a dream.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Looking for wives!

The boys asked me to post this photo of them and say that they are looking for wives ... of course they were only joking (I think). What a bunch of likely lads eh? These lovely young men all live on the streets and get by as best as they can. They are regulars at the Secret Garden, taking showers daily and keeping themselves clean and tidy. We hate it when people talk about "the homeless" as though they are somehow less human - they're not at all, they are simply hurting people who are loved by God and deserving of our love too. In among the hardship of their daily lives, it always amazes us that they manage to retain such a sense of fun. We who are so privileged by comparison have something to learn from them, don't we?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

"One minute Romanian"

Wow ... is such a thing possible? Wish someone had told me when i first came here! Eight and a half years later and I'm still struggling ... anyway, here's an email from a friend - anyone planning to come and visit/help, you might want to give it a try!

for a while I've been downloading various free language lessons from iTunes, all produced in Glasgow by
radiolingua.com. i've discovered today that they'd run a romanian basics class in november 2008 at http://coffeebreakspanish.typepad.com/oneminutelanguages/one_minute_romanian/ and wondered whether you'd want to let your newletter recipients know - it may help for any who are wanting to come out and see you too. i haven't started yet - and i don't imagine in 10 one-minute podcasts we should expect to become expert orators but even if it just teaches "hello, how are you? would you like a coffee?" it'd be nice for visitors to feel less foreign!
hope all's well. i'm still waiting for house stuff to be sorted out and am yet again house-sitting waiting for my own place. not for much longer, hopefully!
... and in the meantime, here's a photo of our beautiful Romania!

Monday, 23 March 2009

look how hard we work!

During the early part of the day at the Secret Garden children of all ages can come along and join in work and play activities. Many of the children who come should really be in school or gradinitsa (kindergarten) but for many reasons don't attend, often because their parents' lack of education makes it difficult for them to take such a step with their own children. Other factors such as extreme poverty and the transitory lives some of our families lead add to the difficulties of sending a child to school. We are trying to encourage parents to allow us to help prepare children to be integrated into the system this coming Autumn. Some are already too old for normal school so we will have to look at other options, others hopefully will be able to enroll. Sometimes when a child comes to us for the first time they literally cannot even hold a pencil or crayon and to see them make progress is truly amazing.

One wee girl, Vetta who started coming in January this year wouldn't even sit on a chair for five seconds (I'm not exaggerating) and she drove us crazy by her refusal to do anything at all that we asked her to do ... now she sits for as much as an hour colouring in, drawing and trying to write letters and is really sweet and desperate for our approval. For mother's day on 8th March Vetta made a card for her mum and learned a wee poem! Just look at her below on the left in the red top, isn't she a sweetheart?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Dancing on the streets?

I haven't tried to put a video clip on before so will see if this works! Some of the young folk from the streets having fun and doing a bit of 'gypsy' dancing ...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Where's Yasmina?

Johanna and Philip looked after Yasmina for us yesterday while we were out all day at the Secret Garden. She ususally has to come with us as we have no other option, but I don't really like it as I have to keep an eye on her all the time as well as trying to deal with all the people who come. It's not ideal for her or for me and it can be quite stressful, but at the moment there's no alternative. In the Autumn Yasmina can start 'Gradinitsa' (Kindegarten) so that will makes things easier.

Anyway, back to yesterday. I think Yasmina had a great day ... Philip lets her watch her favourite children's programme, "Balamory" - for those who have never seen it, you just don't know what you're missing!

At one point during the day Yasmina went into her room and closed the door behind her. Johanna and Philip were sitting in the living room, Philip was working on his laptop, Johanna was enjoying a cup of tea and they weren't paying attention. After a good few minutes had passed Philip asked "what's Yasmina doing all this time?" so Johanna went through to have a look and got a huge fright. No sign of Yasmina ...

Johanna went right into the room and it was empty and quiet ... she was getting quite worried when she suddenly caught sight of Yasmina - she'd taken her 'noo noo' (her name for her dummy) out of the cot and crawled in between her cot, the book shelves and her ball pit and fallen fast asleep!