Monday, 28 November 2011

Christmas card workshop!

At last ... photos of the pre-Christmas activities ... I thought I had already posted some, but it must have been on Facebook and I was confused! Our all time favourite activity, enjoyed by all was making Christmas cards! Kate's Uncle Bill came to visit, (a regular "wise man" bearing gifts!) card making materials and led a workshop on card making ... he was a huge hit with the kids and parents alike. In between making cards he fixed sinks, showers and one of the hundred year old blinds!
It was a messy activity but such a big success that we want to continue card making ... Ist March is a celebration here, then there's 8th March "ladies/mothers day", followed by Easter ...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

winter is upon us

Some famous Romanian once said "Vine Iarna ... si Iarna nu e ca Vara!" (Winter's coming ... and Winter isn't like summer!) Probably in reference to some political event or situation, I don't know ... but HE WAS RIGHT! Our summer this year lasted right up to October with temperatures still hitting the 30's and then suddenly, minus temperatures and frost .... brrrr!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Justice for the poor?

The Bible speaks a lot about the importance of justice for the poor. It is clear that God holds justice very high up in his priorities. We, his created beings don't share his passion for justice, and that's a tragedy.

Our street folks were condemned today - officially branded guilty of being an organised crime gang trafficking human beings. Sentences ranged from 5 years for the one in the so-called gang who is still a minor, to 14 years for the "head" of this super organised gang.

Several of the "testimonies" of the witness against them stated that they formed a single "very well organised" gang with Stelian at its head. Said witnesses denied large parts of their statements in direct questioning by the judge. I was informed by at least three of the so-called "victims" that a policeman called "Domnul Nicu" affered them cigarettes and 10 lei if they would sign declarations which he had written. All the so-called victims were sought out by said policeman, none of them went of their own initiative to the police.

Police statements that these "gang members" had been under close observation for several years then begged the question of why they had done nothing earlier - if said victims were locked up, beaten daily and forced to beg and prostitute and the police knew about it then why did they wait from 2004 until 2011?

The whole case is extremely suspect. As I have said before, I believe that the majority of Police are decent people trying to do a good job, but there is a minority who are corrupt and without mercy or humanity ...

Obviously, in this case at least there is no justice for the poor. God help them and forgive those who have treated them so unjustly ... one day they will all face a greater judgement - may God have mercy on them at that time, they will surely need it.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

trial of street "kids" has ended

The trial of 8 of our young folks from the streets has finally ended. I hope the judge will see the "evidence" for what it is ... contradictions, mistakes and some downright lies with some truths thrown in occasionally for good measure! It was awful sitting through all the court sessions and not being able to say anything except for the one occasion when I testified as a defence witness.

I know there is a lot of pressure on the police and the judicial system to put an end to organised crime and human trafficking, and rightly so ... but this is just nonsense. While a fortune has been spent on the trial of 8 poor homeless people, the real traffickers go free.

The judge now looks through all the testimonies and "evidence" and she will make her decision on the 3rd November ...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Financial support

Running a small charity is always a struggle. We never have enough money and struggle to pay the bills, especially in winter. We feel a huge weight of responsibility to those whom we serve ... daily we worry - Will we have money for food? Will we be able to help a mother buy medicines for her sick child? Can we afford to put the heating on yet? Believe me, it's a terrible thing to be surrounded by such poverty and suffering and to be able to do so little about it.

However, the work does have a positive side, it is always such a great delight when we hear of a gift from a generous friend or member of the public, even a small amount makes a difference. A few months ago Kate's uncle came out to Arad to visit her mother who had been very ill. Within a few short weeks Uncle Bill had begged, borrowed but I hope not stolen from his friends and neighbours to sent out boxes of craft materials and clothing! Other donations followed including a large one from a local small church in Royton which Kate's uncle doesn't even attend! Following up on this we have just had a donation with the payment for shipping of a box of clothes and £100 in cash from Graham Young, the new MD of Uncle Bill's old company Naughton Finance Direct Ltd, Leeds. What a unexpected surprise that was!

We have had many other donations, many of which are regular gifts and for them all we are extremely grateful - without them this work would not be able to continue - PCF Romania Projects, Humanity at Heart, West Glasgow New Church, Vis de Copil (A Child's Dream) Scotland and many individual donors both known to us and anonymous. As an example of what your donations can do, £100 will pay for a simple nourishing meal for 30 people for two weeks ... thats 300 meals!

Thank you everyone who has helped in any way, it really does make a difference in the lives of some of the poorest people in Europe. We cannot thank you enoough ... you know who you are!

trial of street "children" continues

Of course the "street children" concerned are all now over 18 (except one) so no longer children in the eyes of the law. However, it should be mentioned that these are all people who have lived on the streets for many years, in some cases from quite young childhood, have little or no education and have had several years of continued solvent abuse. All these factors have affected their mental capacity and those of us who work with them would consider them to be people with "diminished responsibility" who shouldn't even be on trial as "normal adults" in the first place.

One of the boys, when the judge read out the accusations against him, turned to the others and said "what did she say?". The judge repeated the charges and asked him "do you understand the accusations?" and he replied "uuuh ... what?" at which the judge tried a third time. By then I could keep quiet no longer and I called out in court "No he doesn't, he hasn't a clue what he's accused of and the others don't fully understand either!" The judge didn't look too happy at my shouting out but she did have the grace to ask me to present myself! I then explained very briefly who I am and that I have worked with street people for 11 years and that they don't realise the severity of the charges against them.

The day I was called to testify, three of the "victims" made some accusations against me, that I have tried to force them to change their testimonies. I suspect that the same policeman put the idea into their heads as part of his way of making my testimony invalid. When I was called before the judge to answer the charges I said that I had at all times advised all of "my" folks, accused and accusors to tell the truth, nothing more, nothing less.

The next court date is Monday 17th October so we will see what joys that holds for us. In the meantime, we continue to hope and pray for justice and mercy.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Victims on trial

For the past few months we have had an on-going case with eight of our street folks who are accused of being an "organised crime gang" and of human trafficking. Irina and I have appeared as witnesses for the defense ... the only ones so far, as opposed to more than 20 witnesses for the prosecution - all fellow street people and all approached by the same policeman and strongly encouraged to testify against the accused. It was quite a frightening experience for me, my first time on the stand and in my second language, I was quite emotional about it all.

As I have said before, it is society which has failed these young people, they are not complete innocents and I don't want to pretend they are, but guilty of organised crime and human trafficking - no, no and again no! This is a trial in which both the victims and the accused and are victims ... victims of a European society that doesn't want them.

I attend the court every time, not because I think I can actually do a lot to help, because the truth is that the odd are against them, but to show them that we care, that they are not forgotten - not by us and more importantly, not by God. The photo above is of two of the children waiting outside the court for a final glimpse of daddy before he is taken away from them again ...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

building team from wolverhampton

In August, immediately on our return from our flying visit to England, Scotland and France we had a small team come out from PCF Romania Projects in Perton, Wolverhampton.

PCF - stands for Perton Christian Fellowship (now renamed Lakeside Community Church, Perton) were our earliest supporters in the work and have remained faithful during the past 11 years of our service here in Romania.

Andrew Bradley came out with Elliot, Richard, Lucy and Dave (his two older brothers Matt and Dan have been out several times to help)

Most of the team's work was at the house, to improve the team/volunteer accommodation, but they did a couple of jobs at the Secret Garden too ... they prepared the wall for our new disabled access and painted the courtyard walls.

The walls of the courtyard at the bvack of our day centre were previously painted in ultra-dazzling brilliant white ... on a sunny day (and most days are sunny here!) you couldn't even open your eyes it was so bright! The guys painted them a nice apricot colour (though it looks more of a yellow in the photos!)to match the colour of the new office extension ... it looks much better now and has the added bonus that you can actually see the children when you're out in the back playing with them ... and believe me, that helps!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The wonderful Irish!

For four weeks of the summer we had a great team working here in the Secret Garden.

They came from Northern Ireland for a month in total, two groups each here for two weeks.

The team shared their time between three centres in Arad, so they split into three groups, with one group coming to us each day on a rota basis.

With there being only Kenneth and I running the charity, doing everything - running the day centre, doing the accounting, keeping authorisations etc up to date, co-ordinating teams and volunteers, home visits and caring for our two young children (not to mention trying to "be there" for our three grown up children) it's hard.

On a daily basis at the centre there's usually only me and Irina, Kenneth often being tied up with so many other things.It was particularly helpful for us to have a group here doing activities with the children, young people and parents. They were a really well organised group and didn't need "looking after" which is always a bonus!

Our Irish volunteers did a wide range of activities with the children and older folks, including finger painting, making jewellery boxes from lollipop sticks, (I remember that one from my own childhood!) painting t-shirts and much more ...

Nneedless to say everyone loved them and we were all sorry to see them leave. Still, we're hoping to see them return next summer!

A highlight for me was seeing one of our young mums make a jewellery box for her boyfriend who is in prison awaiting trial and then to my delight seeing her write a lovely letter to him! Three years ago this young woman could neither read nor write and wouldn't have dreamed that she would learn to do so!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

an unjust world

Just before Easter eight of our street folk were arrested on charges of human trafficking. Are they guilty? Of trafficking in the true sense of the word ... definitely not. Are they guilty of being victims of society who live their lives on the streets ... yes they are. Street life is harsh and the "street kids" live in "families" in which the younger ones produce the money and the older ones protect them, and look after them, and yes, ocasionally hit them if they refuse to go out and make money.

Is it wrong? Yes it most certainly is. Do I agree with this way of life? Do I sanction it in any way? No I don't. Do I recognise that it is a sad part of the reality of life on the streets? Yes I do!

International pressure on Romania to "do something" about the problem of trafficking is probably the main reason for the arrests. The real human traffickers, the ones who make good money out of it are too clever to get caught or have connections in high places and escape justice. As is so often the case in this unjust world in which we live, it is the ones at the very bottom, those who have no money or influence, those whose lives are already a tale of woe and suffering who pay the price.

Several of the "witnesses/victims" in this case are illiterate, yet their statements display a high degree of literacy, using words and phrases which I am convinced they have never heard of or used in their lives. Three have told me that they were offered cigarettes and a small amount of money by someone if they agreed to the statement and put their fingerprint of cross on it.

As both the accused and the accusors are all young people with whom we work, I love them all and feel only pity for them - all are victims in one way or another. If found guilty those accused face up to 20 years in prison ... a lifetime locked away, and for what? For trying to survive life on the streets in whatever way they can.

Do I blame Romania, the prosecution or the local police for this travesty of justice? Ultimately, (with a couple of exceptions) no - most of them are just trying to do their jobs in the best way they can ... the pressure on the "system" here in Romania to be seen to be doing something is immense. Because of its geographical location Romania is a country of origin, of transit and of final destination of trafficked human beings but the traffickers are from all over Europe and beyond. Once again, Romania's geography is against her, just as it was in past centuries when she was repeatedly invaded and looted by armies from every direction.