Friday 30 November 2018

Christmas Fair

Saturday 24th November was the Christmas Fair at Summerfield Hall in Whiteinch. This has become an annual event which provides the money for all our Christmas parties, allowing us to buy special food for each party as well as grocery bags for many of our families. 

Most of the children and families who come to our centre have nothing special to look forward to at Christmas - no presents, no special food, no parties, not much of anything really. We provide parties for all who come to our centre whether it's daily, weekly or once in a while. Our aim is to give as many people as possible at least one special day during the Christmas season - a day to eat well, to have fun, to relax and to feel that their lives are worth something.

Many thanks as always to Linda Spencer for coordinating the whole event and to Helen McDougal, Janis Forbes and all the other willing volunteers who made this such a lovely morning. Thanks also to all who made craft items for the sale and lovely cakes to go with the teas and coffees!   

Monday 3 October 2016

Street babies

One of the saddest parts of our work is seeing babies being born to former street children who are now street adults. Many children who grow up on the streets remain in their minds, children and refer to themselves as children even though technically they are now adults. These "children" in time become parents, but they are sadly ill equipped to care for their children. This baby is the grandchild of a homeless woman whose daughter grew up on the streets and has now herself become a mother. The chances of this little baby having anything like a decent childhood are very slim if the child remains on the streets. In part due to international pressure on Romania to reduce the number of children in care, the Child Protection services are reluctant to take children from their parents, but in extreme cases do so. It is a sad admission on our part that in the case of this baby, we were relieved to see a child taken into care by the authorities.

Friday 23 October 2015

The Secret Garden continues to flourish

 I (Kathryn) was allowed back to Romania for all of June and July and it was wonderful to see the daily activities at the Secret Garden continuing and children learning and playing.
 My niece, Rebecca joined the team for 6 months in March and has been a huge asset to the work

A Dream comes true for Maria

Maria has been coming to the Secret Garden for a few years. Due to severe physical disability and extreme poverty she has an incredible difficult life but she always amazes us by her positive attitude to life. All of us who know Maria are constantly challenged by her cheerfulness in the face of great adversity, her thankfulness for what she does have and her refusal to be negative. Every time we see Maria she thanks us profusely for the little we are able to do to help her and she thanks God for his blessings. At times like this, words fail. 

We had a visit from two new Irish supporters in July and one of them, Kevin met Maria while on th way to the market with Philip. Like us, Kevin was moved by her situation and impressed by her positive attitude. He asked Maria what her dream was and she she had dreamed and prayed for many years for an electric scooter.

 When Kevin returned to Ireland he posted photos of Maria on his charity's Facebook page "The Jacket off your back", appealing for an electric scooter for Maria.

 Fiona Kelly from "Road of Hope" Ireland shared Kevin's post and her good friend Frank Niesink from "Shoebox 4 Ro" in Holland saw the post and offered an electric scooter! Two days ago, Frank Neisink and Andre Nibbelink arrived at the Secret Garden with the scooter. 

 Maria was so excited she had not been able to sleep after Philip called her to tell her the good news. Frank and Andre showed her how to use the scooter and she was so excited she could hardly contain herself. It's not often that we are able to make a lifelong dream come true, but this was one of those rare occasions. Words are never enough to explain the joy we all feel for Maria. We can hardly believe how it was it all worked out for Maria to have her dream come true and we are so thankful to all involved!

Extreme poverty

There are days when I wonder if I can go on - so much sadness, day after day, so much suffering. Every day I hear stories that make me want to weep ... many times I have to turn away or go to another room to cry. 

For 'normal' people in the West it's hard to conceive of the level of poverty at which the poorest of the poor here live - to never have money for food and other essentials in a society where all your basic needs must be bought with hard cash is hard for us to comprehend. Mothers tell us sometimes of their children crying in the night with hunger and often when they do manage to feed their children it is with food with very little nutritional value. 

I feel guilty most of the time, knowing that I go home at night to a proper house, more than enough clothes, a warm bed and an evening meal. People tell me that I must look after myself so that I can carry on with the work and I can see the sense in that ... but it doesn't help. We live in a greedy selfish world where those who already 'have' just want more and more and it's always at the expense of those who 'have not'. 

Poverty isn't just a "natural" phenomenon, it's a human made one. Years ago in conversation about this issue a friend reminded me of an old "Star Trek" episode, the original "Star Trek" many years ago ... in this episode Captain Kirk and co are on some other planet and make the observation that there are no poor people. Their host informs them that on his planet they abolished poverty centuries ago. It's only a TV programme but it makes the point - poverty could be abolished on our planet if there was a political will to do so. 

Thursday 1 October 2015

Back to school project

For the past few weeks we have focused on trying to find school materials for children returning to school. School is free here but families have to buy the jotters / notebooks, pens, pencils, coloured pencils, scissors and other materials. Our families cannot afford it so we try to help to make sure their children go to school. Also lack of adequate clothing and footwear can prevent children from attending school.

It's vital that these children attend school and get an education of they are to have a chance of a better future.

We have been appealing for children's clothes and shoes and all kinds of school materials, jotters /notebooks, pens coloring pencils, coloured paper, glue, scissors, old school bags and pencil cases and much more!

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Our cancer year!

Wow, how the time has flown by ... but definitely not as in the expression "time flies when you're having fun"! Last March our daughter, Amy (studying and working in Scotland) was taken suddenly and seriously ill. After two months of taking turns to be with her in Glasgow, sitting by the hospital bedside, I (Kathryn) returned home to Arad. At the time I was feeling ill and in a great deal of pain but felt it important to return to Romania. Two days later, on May 6th I had to give in and go to "Urgenta" (A&E / ER) where various tests including a CT scan revealed advanced ovarian cancer. 

The rest, as they say, is history! Following a nightmare year of surgeries and chemotherapy, both in Romania and Scotland I am now doing well, on a drug trial and spending as much time as I am able in Arad.

Philip, Mari and Irina have done a wonderful job of keeping the work going but obviously some things have been neglected ... this blog being one of them! To those of you who check this blog for news regularly I offer my sincere apologies in the knowledge that you will now understand the reasons and forgive me! 

For some snippets of what has been happening at the Secret Garden centre during the last year, you can find news and photos on our "Vis de Copil" (A Child's Dream) Facebook page. 

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Street Kids

families like this have little hope for the future

The term 'street kid' was very popular a few years back, before we came to Romania to work with such children. In the 90's in some quarters it became almost the fashionable thing to do ... to care about 'street kids'. Sadly, like all fashions, this one has faded, giving way to other 'fashions' in social concern, leaving todays 'street kids' sadly neglected.

There are different 'varieties' of street child - there are what we sometimes refer to as the 'full time' street children - children and young people who live intirely on the streets, never going 'home' and having no links with parents or other family members. Then there are the seasonal street children who live on the streets during the warmer seasons but in the harsh Romanian winters return to the place some might call 'home'. Thirdly, there are the children and young people who spend most of their time on the streets, begging, selling, prostituting but at night return to their 'homes'. 

Calman grew up in an orphanage and then on the streets
Most of our full time street children and young people are now older, having grown up on the streets of Arad. Sadly several have already died on the streets of Arad and others may probably follow them. For those who are now over 18, which includes all those who were already on the streets when we started working with them in the Millennium year, life has been harsh. Now that they are no longer children, no longer cute or sweet, life is even harsher. Who is interested in helping a 20 something former street kid who has no physical attraction and whose behaviour often repels rather than attracts? What can we offer to our older street children, for somewhere deep inside, most of them are still children, they never grew up, ever developed, never matured. Often all we can offer is unconditional love and acceptance, a warm shower and a hot meal.
The 'Secret Garden' community centre
For the children who are still physically children, we offer the same love and acceptance but we also emphasise education. When our work began we had no 'Secret Garden' to which the street children could come, no safe place for them to spend their days, no warm and welcoming space in which to play and learn. Now we are blessed with such a place and we have hope for the future of our children. 

We named the 'Secret Garden' community centre after the children's novel of the same name in which an orphan girl and a disabled boy find new life in a hidden garden. In our Secret Garden we offer basic education to children and adults alike and we work hard to try and integrate children into kindergarten or school wheverer possible. We encourage parents and grandparents to come too so that we can build up relationships with them offering practical help and advice along with a cup of tea or coffee and a hot meal with their children. 

We believe that we have already helped some children to not become 'full time' street kids but we want more for them than just not being on the streets, we want them to have loving families, homes, enough food to eat, an education and most of all to know that they are valuable and precious.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Optical laboratory (or glasses workshop!)

Two (or was it three?) years ago we were in the process of making a room for the glasses making equipment. Before the room was ready the owner of the previous workshop died suddenly and his family wished to sell the house immediately. To cut a long story short the equipment, frames and lenses were all quickly brought to us and the workshop set up temporarily! 

Our UK partner, Dave Bennet has sent new equipment and a new stock of frames and lenses which arrived on Friday. Kenneth decided the workshop must be finished this time, so he emptied it, dismantled all the shelving and then worked like a slave all last week. He finished plastering the room, sanded the walls and painted them. Then he put in laminate flooring, window sills and finally doors and door frames. Now he just has to build up all the shelving again and arrange everything ...

Hopefully we'll soon be back into periodic vision screening and providing free or cheap glasses for poor people.

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.