The Romanian Aid Foundation
UK Registered Charity Nr 1060828
Trip Report: Jac Burgess, Oct'03
Having spent the last 10 years hearing about Romania and the work that the Romanian Aid Foundation (RoAF) does, I jumped at the opportunity to accompany Dad on his next trip out there to see it for myself.
On October 9th 2003 we met up in Horley, Surrey, where I settled into our new 'home'- the cab of a 40 ton arctic lorry, and, after sorting out the endless paperwork we would need for the trip, we set off for Romania. Getting through the borders was a real eye opener for me; the unhelpful attitudes of the officials and the disorder of frustrated drivers, all competing to get their papers stamped next, was a bit of a surprise. However, we had a good journey and arrived as planned in Dorohoi four days later. My first impression of Dorohoi was of the beautiful landscape surrounding the town itself. Large open fields and small roads were lined with vibrant autumn colours that framed the numerous horse-drawn carts that rode along them - quite a contrast to our modern lorry.
Dad & me with the loaded lorry ...
Driving through the city itself was very different. Rows of small shops are built under a sea of accommodation blocks, from the balconies of which hang the family washing. One part of the city is particularly striking; the gypsy quarter, where the buildings are either crumbling or near enough ruins. We went to the Condrea's house where we would spend the week. I was pleasantly surprised by their home, which apart from having a limited water supply (just 2 hours each morning and evening) was very comfortable.
Our first day in Dorohoi was spent unloading the lorry into the warehouse: clothes, food (approximately 7 tons of balloti beans), mattresses and zimmer-frames amongst other supplies! The warehouse is only small but well organised thanks to the work of Beni & Ionela, a couple who organise much of the administration and logistics involved in the distribution of the aid. Asociatia Neemia is the Romanian counterpart of RoAF and it provides an important link with the community. Nehemiah has an office where needy local residents go to request aid. Whilst there we saw numerous people who came here for help - the food seemed to be of particular need. It asks nothing back of them in return and in this way the Foundation spreads the Word of God and basic Christian values to increasingly responsive individuals. A shop has also been set up which is allowed to sell up to 10% of the aid delivered to Dorohoi. This allows people a means of buying good quality items such as clothing which they could otherwise not afford, whilst providing the Foundation with a source of money to run such projects as well as providing employment to a number of people.
Peter and Lesley Butcher moved out to Dorohoi 3 years ago, where they built and now run their centre 'GLIA' ĖGodís Love In Action (fig.2). Its name indeed reflects the work that is done there. Three days a week the centre prepares food for those who are in need of a meal (fig.3) and it is always open for those who need a shower. People come to GLIA when they are in need of help and the trust between those in the centre and the local community is continually growing.
Fig 2: The Centre of Hope
Fig 3: Eating at the centre
Whilst there, two Romanians came to the door. The man's grandson had been mauled by a pack of 15 dogs whilst on his way home from school. After 2 weeks in a coma this 7-year-old died and his family had turned to GLIA for help, either for some transport to fetch the body from the hospital or some money to help provide a proper funeral for him.
The work of the centre is not confined to the building itself. Actions truly speak louder than words and Peter & Lesley frequently visit local and needy families, helping financially when possible or simply to comfort or talk to these families and in doing so ministering to them. Whilst we were there we went with Lesley to visit some of these families. One such family comprised of 7 members, all living in just 2 rooms of a small flat. The mother and two of the daughters sleep on a thin foam mattress on the living room floor whilst the remaining children and grandchildren sleep in the other room. There is a third room, but it cannot be used because the window is broken and is consequently too cold to inhabit. There is no running water in the bathroom; in fact the sink wasn't even attached to the wall (fig.4)! One family member, a 10-week-old baby, was taken to the local hospital because she couldn't keep her food down. The hospital advised the family that she had an intestinal problem and that there was nothing they could do to help. The hospital suggested they take the baby to Botosani, a nearby city, to leave her there to die!
Fig 4: The Gherasim family bathroom
It is for examples such as this that the work of the centre, Neemia and RoAF (especially the distribution of vital clothing, food and medical supplies) is so critical. Personally, I find it amazing that such things still occur in a country that is soon to join Europe. Although the UK media rarely feature the problems in Romania now, there is still a definite need for aid. A solid relationship with the local residents is also important and this is being established by the work that Peter and Lesley are doing with GLIA and through the constant and reliable help provided by all involved in the RoAF trips to Romania.
I must admit, there were times on the trip that I got frustrated at how little some of the Romanians seem to do for themselves. There were occasions when I felt they could have helped themselves more but for their still communist attitude. Not in big ways, but for instance using items they have in their homes to mend things, such as the broken window and such like. However, the problem for many is a lack of income (there is an 80% unemployment rate in Dorohoi) and there are very few, if any, opportunities to make any money, especially in the cities.
Out in the countryside life is also hard. However, such families have the advantage of being able to live self-sufficiently off their land. The problem in these areas seems to be more so in obtaining items that cannot be produced on this land, such as the equipment RoAF has taken out to the medical centre there. We visited a primary school when we went to the countryside, where we gave the infants Christmas boxes packed by children in the UK. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the school and I felt really privileged to be there, with the children singing songs and reciting poems for us. The school had been donated some playground equipment some 8 years previously and it was good to see how well it had been looked after and was still being used by the children there (fig.5).
Fig 5: The children with their playground equipment
Whilst in the area we went to visit both a children's psychiatric hospital and a children's AIDS ward, an isolated ward within a medical hospital. Many of the children in the psychiatric hospital shouldn't be there - they have been sent there for 'bad behaviour', not because they have genuine psychiatric problems. It was heartbreaking to meet the children at the hospital. Many also have physical defects due to a batch of medicine that had not been tested properly infecting them as children. One 15-year-old lad, Andre, had his entire lower body (except for his feet) facing in the opposite direction as a result of this, as well as being infected with the AIDS virus. He was, however, an extremely bubbly, ordinary lad and it was humbling to see him so happy with life, given his circumstances. A number of these children may have passed away by this time next year.
It was eye-opening to see how so many people are forced to live, through no fault of their own, but although I found it difficult at times I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to witness it for myself. I can only praise the work the Foundation and GLIA do, both in Romania and over in the UK. Without the continuing work of these organisations and the valuable support they receive to make it all possible, a lot of people would suffer. I would really like to return at some point in the future but hopefully when I am in a position to help them more than I felt I could this time - maybe after I get my HGV licence, so Dad can stay sleeping in the bunk some mornings!
Jac Burgess, March 2004.
RoAF can now accept on-line donations towards our work in Romania.
© The Romanian Aid Foundation, September, 2014.