Saturday, 2 October 2010

Eye Testing

We only returned from the UK two weeks ago but it seems like an age. Last week I was away at a conference Monday and Tuesday, while on Tuesday Kenneth picked up two Optometrists from the UK and headed off with them to the next county to do eye testing in two different towns. They returned to Arad on Thursday night after midnight and on Friday spent all day testing at the Secret Garden and today (Saturday) all day in another town. During the year we carry out screening clinics and then all the referred patients are re-called to be seen by the Optometrists. It's a very busy week for them and us. As I write it's 2315 and Kenneth, Jane and Ian are still busy making up the glasses - there are a lot of pairs to be made!

In addition to all the busy-ness of the last week, Angelica dropped a real bombshell on Friday - she has been offered the chance of a good job (with a good salary) in Spain from next week. We We didn't demand that Angelica works her notice because she would lose the job if she wasn't available immediately. Angelica is a wonderful woman who has been a real pleasure to have as part of our small team - in spite of pretty awful home circumstances she is never ruffled and has provided us with a calming influence that has greatly helped us all in our stressful work. Her leaving means I will have to go back to being on site pretty much all the time ... there goes the time I thought I had for looking for funding and sponsorship!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


We lost one of our regular visitors to the Secret Garden while we were in the UK. Viki had been ill with cancer for a good while. A very poor woman who didn't have much of a life, she used to come regularly, bringing her two daughters with her, one with severe mental disabilities and HIV positive and the other with two young children, one a baby with health problems. Viki refused our offers of help to get to the hospital in Cluj 5 hours away, where she had a chance of a new treatment. She said to me that she couldn't go because she had to look after her family for as long as she could.

The last time I saw Viki was just before I left for the UK. She came in a wheelchair as she could no longer walk. We do not yet have a disabled ramp due to lack of finances but we usually manage to lift people up the four steps. Viki was swollen up with fluid and too heavy to lift, but she struggled out of the wheelchair and crawled up the steps on her hands and knees as she wanted to have a shower. I cried as I watched helplessly at the sight of this poor lady struggling away in order to be clean. After her shower Viki talked to be about the future - she was worried about her daughters and grand daughters and she said to me "I'll do my best for them while I still breathe but when I'm gone then God will have to take care of them, there's nothing more I can do."

Friday, 27 August 2010

Falkirk mobile library moves to France!

Kenneth and I are over in the UK visiting friends, family and supporters. It's the annual marathon of rushing around the UK for a few weeks traveling to as many places as possible and seeing as many people as possible in as short a time as possible - great but exhausting! Sincere apologies to those we don't manage to visit.
Our "French Connection", Malcolm and Jan have been trying various initiatives in order to raise much needed funds for the work. Malcolm's latest project has been selling books in his local market in France. Then he and Jan came up with the amazing idea of buying the former Falkirk mobile library and taking it out to France. Malcolm and Andy from our Scottish support group set off yesterday to drive to France ... what an adventure! So if any ex-pat Brits in the Poitiers area of France are reading this blog, get over to Malcolms mobile bookshop and get yourselves some bargains!
As you can see by the photo below, Yasmina fancied taking a turn at the driving ... it was a hard job parting her from the steering wheel.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Roma (Gypsy) slavery

As a people the Roma (Romanies, Gypsies) have been devalued for centuries. Most likely originally from northern India they migrated across Europe or were brought as slaves, possibly slave soldiers. Slavery already existed in Europe when the Roma came, non-Christian groups including Muslims and Jews were enslaved and according to the customs of the times it was considered normal to have Roma slaves. Roma slavery was finally abolished in Romania in the mid 19th century.

Discrimination against Roma is widespread - Ian Hancock, a Roma university professor from the US cites several modern examples of shameless racism against Roma: A Romanian woman when asked about murders of Roma in Hidareni said that killing Gypsies wasn't murder because murder is when human beings are killed! Hancock quickly adds that such opinions are by no means confined to Romania, quoting a member of the British government who declared publicly that Roma were "not human beings in the normal sense" and an Illinois detective who stated on television that American Gypsies had not yet developed genetically "like other people" to know right from wrong. Unbelievable!

In our work at "Vis de Copil" (A Child's Dream) we work with many Roma families and we also work at building bridges between the Roma community and the wider population. Our experience is that people are people, no matter what their nationality or ethnic background - most Roma are just honest, decent people trying "to make ends meet" and bring up their children.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Secret Garden - a safe place

Dina usually comes to the Secret Garden once or twice a week and stays for two or three hours. She is in her twenties and has mental health issues and is a very timid young woman, easily scared and very wary of us getting too close. We don't know so much about Dina's past but the scars she bears tell a sad story of abuse and neglect. There are so many Dinas in this world - unloved and unwanted, passed around children's homes and finally ending up homeless on the streets of one of the world's many cities. What can we offer this young woman and others like her? Sadly, not a home, nor a family ... but we can offer her a safe refuge and a place to which to come and not be judged or ridiculed or worse.

Friday, 9 July 2010

daily activities in the midst of renovations

The renovation work on the basement medical room is almost completed - we are just waiting for the plasterwork to all dry out before the final finishings can be done. It's taken much longer than planned because of the unbelievable weather - May and June have had more rain than ever for the time of year since records began and their have ben incredible storms and severe flooding in parts of the country. During the course of the work in the basement the workers were flooded out several times.

But as they say, the show must go on ... and we have continued the daily programme almost as normal, without the use of the courtyard for the children to play outside. Children who come daily to the Secret Garden are enjoying the more leisurely programme during the school holidays. We still put them to do a little school work to keep them up to date because the holidays are long and children forget but we do more games and leisure activities each day. Yesterday we completed the lovely forest scene pictured above - isn't it great.
As well as various activities some of the children have showers and all of them have a meal (we try to feed everyone who walks through the door!) Recently we received another generous donation of frozen food from a local company - we have had several donations of frozen fish and profiteroles, this time we received lots ... and I mean LOTS of traditional dumplings stuffed with a mixture of fillings - chocolate, sweet cheese and apricot! We couldn't store them all so we spent a whole afternoon and evening driving around delivering them to other charities in Arad and some very poor families in our own community. For two weeks now all our clients have been eating soup and dessert.We try to get the mums and other carers involved in our activities and they often take part, but sometimes they just want to sit and watch and relax a bit ... can't blame them, they have such hard lives.

Below is a tableau of paper flowers made over the past couple of weeks by Dana, Angelica and the children. It's painstaking but the finished effect looks beautiful on the wall of our entrance hall.

Friday, 2 July 2010

homes for the homeless!

After weeks of queues and form filling and anxious moments waiting for home visits to check current living conditions Irina (friend, colleague and former street girl) was one of the fortunate ones who finally received the keys to her new "social housing" apartment today! It has been a stressful few months for Irina (and us) and many others of our "clients" but today was truly a sight to behold.

Irina was so overcome with emotion that after signing and receiving her keys she threw her arms around Erica Stark the Director of social Services for Arad city! Erica used to be the manager of the emergency section of the Arad County Child Protection and we have had many years of fruitful collaboration with her.
Irina has known Erica since she was a young child living on the streets of Arad and has many fond memories of "Doamna Erica", so it was particularly special for Irina to receive the keys from her.

Argentina (yes, her real name) is one of our regulars at the "Secret Garden" day centre. This young woman and her husband and two young children have been living in a makeshift hut in one of the poorest communities of Arad for several years. If you met her, Argentina would impress you with her quiet faith and attitude of thankfulness for what she has ... which has never been much.

Argentina and family, overjoyed with their first ever proper stable home. One room, a kitchen, bathroom and store room might not sound much to some of you, but for this family it's a palace!

This wee darling also comes to our centre, her family one of the many who have come to us for showers ... now they have a real bathroom with a bath and running water!

After receiving their keys some of the disabled young men from our dear friend's Linda and Harold's foundation asked for a lift back into town ... then two of our street folks who have been given an apartment joined them ... then one of our poor families ... but will they all fit in, wheelchairs and all?

Yes of course they will ... and as my father used to say "a good day was had by all"

Thursday, 24 June 2010

first aid training!

The recent visit of a group of nurses from Scotland brought with it many laughs as they tried their best to teach us all first aid! We took them out and about in some of the very poor communities doing "street clinics" where the people would queue up for advice and help from the nurses. Problems ranged from minor cuts or skin irritations to fairly serious infections and worse. We had many happy patients, particularly children who managed to get a plaster out of the nurses (band aid for our American friends!) But the highlight of the trip (for us at least) has to be the staff training ... while obviously being essential for our staff and volunteers, it was also hilarious!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

sewing workshop

We recently had the privilege of having Michelle Ellel (trying saying that three times quickly!) from Humanity at Heart in the UK with us teaching a group of ladies how to do patchwork. Michelle showed us photos of some of her own work ... we definitely don't aspire to anything as wonderful, (if you're reading this, Michelle, you're an artist and ought to be rich from the proceeds of your beautiful work!) but hopefully with time and patience we might eventually produce a quilt or wall hanging!
Michelle explained to us all about patchwork making traditions in the past, where groups of women would get together and make quilts as a social event ... during the time they cut and sewed they chatted and gossiped.
Most of our women are so poor and so disheartened by life that it's extremely hard for them to find the motivation to do anything. We don't expect miraculous results but if we can offer women a relatively simple activity to do while they chat over their coffee then it's worthwhile. The main point of the exercise for us is that it's something women can do together and enjoy each others company while at the same time making something beautiful and practical.

Who knows, with time they all might end up with a pretty wall hanging or bedspread to brighten up their simple homes.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Linda Rushbrook

Our hearts are heavy today as we remember our dear friend Linda who passed away yesterday afternoon. Linda was an amazing woman who worked here in Arad for many years with some of Romania's most neglected "orphans". The many young people helped by Linda and her husband Harold grew up in "orphanages" for children with physical and/or mental disabilities and for many of them, knowing Linda was the first experience of love and acceptance in their lives.

Linda gave of her time and love sacrificially and never ceased in her efforts to make this world a better place for some of society's most marginalized people. We have been privileged to be her friend and to work together on occasion. In a conversation with Linda seven years ago she said to me "As a Christian what can I do that others are not doing? I can love unconditionally and never, ever give up on them!"

Linda never gave up on people. Those for whom she laboured might not always have been fully capable of appreciating what she did for them, but they will surely miss her and there will be many tears shed in the coming days for her passing. We will never forget her.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Scottish Gymnastics at the Secret Garden!

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of visitors and activity ... we have had four different lots of visitors and have also been away visiting two projects in another city. First came Dave and Michelle, with whom we travelled to the city of Petrosan. Dave is our partner in vision care from the UK - he came to check up on Kenneth's testing and glasses making techniques ... ha ha! Michelle is from "Hunanity at Heart" a small charity in the south of England which is very kindly paying our social worker, Dana's salary for a whole year.

While we were in Petrosan with Dave and Michelle, visiting two separate charities there, our next visitors, Robert and Jean Callahan from Falkirk arrived, having driven over from Scotland with a van loaded with goodies!

Next to arrive were Lau and Vali, very dear friends of ours from Galati, on the far side of the country. Lau and Vali have worked for many years with street children and poor families in Galati and the distance between us prevents us from seeing each other more often - it takes a 9 hour train jouney followed by a three or four hour one to get to Galati!

When lau and Vali set off back to Galati, and Robert and Jean back to bonnie Scotland, Lynsey and Callum finally arrived (also from Scotland), having been delayed by the volcanic eruptions in Iceland and ended up coming across Europe by train instead of by plane.

So ... April was indeed a busy month. Our children and young people have cartwheeled, back flipped and roly-polyed to their hearts content, our ladies have learned to do patchwork with Michelle and we have all benefitted from the song/dance children's cd's Robert and Jean brought for the warm ups ... "

Friday, 9 April 2010

millenium centre comes to secret garden

For the past couple of years we have been privileged to have young volunteers joining us from all over Europe via the Milennium Centre in Arad. So far we have had young people from Estonia, Spain, Poland, Georgia, Slovakia and many more (apologies to volunteers whose countries I didn't mention!) We have had some truly amazing young people helping us at the centre and the children and young people have appreciated the great variety of volunteers. Here is a video made by Eve from Estonia and Magda from Poland ...

Day in Kathy center
ÎncĂ„�rcat de evearm. - Discover more life & style videos.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

watch this music video

Amy drew my attention to this song by a group called Daughtry ... it has very thought provoking words and moving images:

Friday, 26 March 2010

visit of liz kearsley, photographer

Well, I can't believe it's a month since I proudly declared that we are "back on the air"! It's quite ridiculous ... where does the time go? You might think that in neglecting my blog I've been keeping up with everything else ... not so! Still not got the photos of Christmas - my friend Estela from Peru took them as I was so busy and worried about Kenneth etc that I forgot the camera. I will get them and post them soon ... I will ...

In the meantime why don't you have a look at Liz Kearsley's blog. Liz is a professional photographer from Scotland (and latterly Wales) who recently moved to Canada ... confused? She probably is! While with us in Arad she took some excellent photos of our work and then travelled to visit two other charities working in Romania. Here is Liz's blog address, just have a look at her lovely photos and read her account.

Friday, 19 February 2010

back on the air ...

After a run of illness, culminating with Kenneth being very ill with pneumonia over Christmas, a broken laptop and an annoyingly erratic Internet Service Provider we are finally back. As soon as I get my act together I'll post photos of our Christmas parties.

Life at the Secret Garden continues to keep us all busy and never bored. Yesterday the first half of the day was quiet with only a few children and two women from the homeless shelter coming, but at 1500 with the arrival of the street folks the relative peace quickly disappeared. We did a random control for solvent which resulted in 5 being sent away (we have a strict rule that no alcohol or solvent) enters the premises ... three went quietly, as they say but the less said about the other two the better!

One of our boys (I'll call him Marcus) arrived clutching his neck and covered in blood, having cut his own throat. After an initial few moments of panic a closer look showed me that the wound wasn't as deep as it first appeared. Marcus refused to go to hospital and in the absence of a medical person at the centre at the time, I had to clean him up and pull the wound together with adhesive strips and then put a sterile dressing on. Marcus has been having a rough time the last few days and he was so sad that I found myself crying with him as I cleaned him up. What kind of a life is it for these young people?