Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Poverty and Bureaucracy

Life for those on a low income is extremely difficult in Romania. Many families are trying to survive on as little as 60 euros a month and we get tired of people from the West telling us that ' it's all right for them because things are cheaper here'! We need to be clear on something - 'things' are not cheaper here! Luxury 'things' like hotel rooms, meals in restaurants, alcohol, ice cream are cheaper, it's true - of course the very ' things' that foreign visitors can and do buy ... But the basic daily necessities of life are not cheaper here. To give just one example, milk is more expensive in Romania than in the UK! Generally the cost of living is at an EU level while salaries and benefits are not. 

Added to this general hardship faced by the majority of the population, many of the families with whom we work have little or no education. They gave difficulty in finding a job because even most unqualified work requires a basic level of education - how do you stock supermarket shelves if you cant read the labels?
State benefits and pensions for the elderly our disabled exist but they are woefully inadequate and difficult to access due to the bureaucracy left over from the Communist regime. If you have little or no education you simply can't complete all the various forms required. It quite literally is a bureaucratic nightmare!  

One of the many services we offer for our families is help with paperwork. It might only give a family a few extra euros but it makes a difference. There is enough work for a full time member of staff just advising and helping with various applications - help with school requisitions, winter wood assistance, social canteen meals - but of course we don't have a member of staff to do this. Most of it currently falls to our volunteer, Mari as we are foreigners and struggle to understand the complicated forms and are scared of getting it wrong and causing someone to miss out.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

We need more space!

For some time now we have been thinking that we need extra space in order to carry out all our activities at the Secret Garden. We often have two very different programmes (or more) going on at the same time and it's not easy when one of the activity rooms is accessed through the other. The afternoons are the worst though when we have our programme with the young people from the streets and also a homework club with children from 'disadvantaged' families. 

The apartment / house next door has just come on the market, it is fully renovated to a high standard and has 200 square metres of useable space. After an initial discussion with the owner we have been offered the property at 95,000 euros with payment over 12 months or possibly even more.

Our need is obvious in order to extend our educational programmes, but our financial situation is always pressing ... so for now, we are waiting and praying!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Computer time!

Every day the children and young people take turns to use the computers! As young as three years old they're getting a chance they would otherwise never have had - to learn IT skills that will help them in the future. After a little school work and some arts and crafts, there's always a chorus of 'please can I have a go on the computer?' If we had another five computers they'd still all be booked up!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Uncle Bill to the rescue!

Ani will miss Beeeeeell when he leaves!
finally ... the dining room shelves we've wanted for four years!
Maintenance manager / official photographer ... is there no end to his talents?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

PRYDE team at the Secret Garden (Pennyburn Regeneration Youth Development Enterprise)

We were privileged to have a community group from Ayrshire in Scotland with us for the past few days. They were a well motivated, hard working group who were a pleasure to work with! Jobs like clearing out the garage, which would frighten lesser mortals were tackled with enthusiasm and good humour ... Activities with children were fun, educational and very entertaining! Thanks so much Theresa and your excellent team, we enjoyed having you with us and we hope that you'll be back!
children and mums were delighted to paint on porcelain plates
captive audience at one of the village schools
making windchimes and sun catchers
making windmills
Theresa demonstrating how the sun catchers work
concentrating hard
''look, it catches the sun!''
re-attaching the chimes
Kalman, the street boy who had his throat cut a couple of months ago ... now fully recovered,
except that he can only speak in whispers and proudly holding his own hand painted mug!

Marius painting a mug for his girlfriend, Cristina
hidden artistic talent

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Annual NGO fair

Our stand at this year's charity fair
Kenneth with Ramona from the council's department for NGO relations
A Member of Parliament came to visit us
Fridge magnets and soft toys going cheap!
All packed up until next year!
Friends from the sports club for young people with disabilities
Our Red Cross Colleagues

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Hacking and viruses ... sigh!

Our communication with the outside world has been seriously affected by two major technical hitches! Our Gmail accounts were shut down due to a hacking attempt from the Ukraine. This meant that we lost emails, we don't know how many we didn't receive or how many others didn't receive ... so it is hard to remedy until people contact us and let us know (usually upset because they haven't received a reply).

The second problem is that following the Gmail episode our website was compromised due to a virus - we have no idea how and are seeking to remedy the situation, but this means that our initial contact email addresses are also out of action ie and 

We offer our sincere apologies to anyone affected by these issues. In the meantime, our daily news can be accessed via our Facebook page - you don't have to be on Facebook to see all our news and photos

Thursday, 26 September 2013

TV stars ... Not!

Recently I (Kathryn) had two TV interviews on West TV and yesterday was on TV Arad along with Philip and some volunteers from a local organisation ' Ofensiva Tinerilor' (Youth Offensive). It's a bit scary but we felt it was well worth it for the people with whom we work. It gave us a chance to speak about our work and future dreams and plans as well as generally to say some positive things about Romania and Romanians! We love Romania and her people and hate the negative image created by certain groups. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Visiting around Scotland

Just two of the lovely people we had the privilege to get to know on our recent visit to the UK. Raj and his sister, Gurmel came to stay with our friends Gordon and Kirsteen Dutton while we were there and we had a great time getting to know them!

It's good to be back!

After all the traveling it was a relief to arrive back in Romania. As always on our return there is a lot to catch up with and at least one of our utilities cut off due to late payment - this time it was the phone, internet and tv ... well better that than water or electricity! It's good to see that activities at the Secret Garden have continued in our absence - we have a good team and they have worked well. It's so lovely to see the children again, we really miss them when we're away.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Annual trek across Europe

At the beginning of August Amy, Nina and I began the annual drive across Europe, Kenneth having flown over to Scotland ahead of us for heart and other medical check ups! It was the first time either Amy or I had done the drive without Kenneth's help, so we were a little nervous about it - though to be honest I think Kenneth was far more anxious for us than we were! He made us up a folder with all our travel arrangements beautifully organised ... with money for road taxes in the relevant currencies and even coins for toilet stops and two pound coins for the Dartford Tunnel in London!

We enjoyed the journey and had a lot of fun together ... Nina kept calling it 'our girls trip out'! After several stops along the way we arrived in Glasgow and are spending the time catching up with as many family and friends as possible and sharing all the news about our Work In Arad.It's wonderful to have so many positive aspects to report on and very little negative ... it hasn't always been that way, that's for sure! 

Amy and Nina in Ikea in Traun, Austria
Nina at the Formula 1 hotel in Dunkirk waiting to leave
The 'White cliffs of Dover'"
A girl needs her pearls when she's traveling!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Irish invasion!

For the whole of July we have Irish volunteers coming to the Secret Garden to do a variety of activities with the children - it's wonderful! We also have some of our new Romanian volunteers coming in, so all in all things are looking very good this summer!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Our volunteers get to have soooo much fun!

We have the most lovely group of LDS missionaries who come and help us out with practical work around the Secret Garden ... they do some of the horrible jobs and we really appreciate them ...
This is 'Smiley' because he's ALWAYS smiling!
"We just love cleaning bathrooms!"
the bathrooms were due a spring clean!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tara lui Andrei (Andrew's country)

Albert has just submitted a project proposal to 'Tara lui Andrei' which is a competition run by the Romania oil company Petrom. Tara lui Andrei means literally Andrew's country, after St Andrew who is Romania's patron saint, in addition to being Scotland's! 

The project is for us to have a safe play area for children here at the Secret Garden and the public vote will decide the winner ... so if you can, please vote! Click on the link below to register and vote ... we are not sure yet if people can vote from outside Romania, we are getting Amy to try from Glasgow!

Thursday, 20 June 2013


I hate to complain about the weather ... but ... having had the longest Winter most people in Arad remember, and not much of a Spring at all, we have now entered full scorching hot Summer and are quite literally melting! Days now of a fairly constant 36 degrees is taking it's toll on us all, sapping our energy ... believe me it's hard to concentrate on anything when it's so hot. The office is the hottest room, as it is a new construction added on to the building, the rest is over 100 years old ... they obviously knew more about how to build for the heat in those days! I brought a fan from home to the office but it's pathetic efforts aren't helping a great deal, probably keeping us from passing out though! 

Think of us sweltering away but even more ... think of the families with whom we work who don't even have a fan to help them cope with the heat. Most of our families live in one rented room or a simple one room dwelling and the heat in some of them is unbearable ... but they have no choice but to bear it. Life is hard when you're poor.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

We love our multi-cultural volunteers!

One of the lovely aspects of the Secret Garden is that we have the privilege of working with volunteers from all over Europe and further afield. For our children and families it is a sign to them that people care about them, that they are not forgotten, that they matter to someone. For the volunteers it is an experience which most of them will never forget. For a few days, weeks or months they work alongside our Romanian staff or volunteers and with our children, learning about them, learning to love them. Walls which exist between people from different cultures are gradually being broken down, little by little. When you have spent time with a person, sitting with them while taking part in various activities, when you have learned to see that person as a human being just like you, though maybe poorer, then it is hard to return to your own country and forget them. Over the past few years we have seen volunteers come and go from so many countries and it has been such a positive experience for us all ... and I hope, for them too!