What a day.
Morning arrived with a group breakfast at 08:30 and we enjoyed coffee, eggs, ham, bread and cheese.
After breakie, we worked as a team to break down the goodies for distribution. We left the hotel with sweets, clothes, shoes, footballs and toys to give out on our various visits planned throughout the day.
First stop was ‘The Way of Joy’ headquarters and church where we met team members Vali and Adrian. Vali lead a talk informing us the background of the project and how it has evolved. One of the most poignant stories was about the so called ‘Phantom Block’, a place where no human being would want to live. A rat infested tower block with no water, electricity or toilet facilities. It was described as “hell on earth” and the “darkest place”. Where there were no bathroom facilities and a room was being used as a toilet, piled high with excrement. Each family owns a room, but electricity and water supplies by private industry when these people lost their jobs, following the fall of communism- perhaps a disadvantage of a new found freedom in a new Romania democracy.
Life was so bad in this building that parents and their children (as young as 12) had been jumping off it and taking their lives as they had no hope.
We were told how People against Poverty and its business networking organisation Business against Poverty have helped many escape the horrors of the ‘Phantom Block’. We met several ex-residents who were now working at ‘The Way of Joy’ project and are now living in safe, clean and warm accommodation. Two of the ladies Mariana and Mihaela made us both lunch and supper today.
We learnt of Romania’s identity issues and how one of the project workers Adrian was working with many adults and children ensuring they had proper birth certificates and identity cards.
After a quick sandwich we jumped in the minibus to attend a very special occasion, the marriage of a couple from Dallas. A place ironically named as it is a far cry from the capitalism and ultimate consumerism of the well-known 1980s TV series Dallas.
Romany gypsies Peter and Alina live in the Dallas ghetto with their two children and decided to seal the deal and become man and wife today at Iasi registry office. This is part of PaPs legal project to bring communities and people together. All eleven of our group attended and it was a very happy, but simple affair. We bought them flowers and used them to form a traditional arch as they walked out of the building- see photos below.
After the wedding we headed to Dallas and nothing could prepare me for what lay ahead. Picture a farmyard with sheds upon it that scores of people live in. Parts were like a quagmire with mud and animal excretion everywhere. The sanitation is so poor you can’t believe so many people are living there without more problems.. However, I learnt several had Hepatitis A, Hepatitis C and other ailments.
As I walked through the ‘yard’ with food bag donations and toys, the kids came running towards us. You can instantly see the kids are so deprived, two left shoes, grubby faces… But the smiles greeting us despite this were unforgettable. I couldn’t help but instantly reach into my bag and hand out sweets and toys. The kids were so thankful and it was great to be able to help in some way, however small (see photos below).
As we gave out the food bags we were invited into the families homes. One room shacks consisting of a lounge area that doubled up as a kitchen and sleeping space.
After visiting the homes, we were invited to the wedding after party/ reception. They had a sound system outside and were dancing in the yard to celebrate.
As we left Dallas my heart was heavy. I just could not believe people living in such conditions could appear so happy and content. Little did I know that the next visit, to a disused railway station would pull on the heart strings even more.
Ten families live at the disused station, but although it’s no longer a stop the trains regularly race through the area. It’s a death trap, the children play on the tracks and it’s an accident waiting to happen. It’s terrifying to think young tots are wandering around such a treacherous space.
The rooms at the station are just concrete cells, again with no running water, electricity or toilet facilities. I handed out some really handy little torches to the mum’s donated by Karl Paul from Swindon’s Smarter Media. It was dusk as we were leaving and it seemed so isolated, I couldn’t imagine how lonely and frightening it would be after dark- just for one night, let alone as a permanent base.
It’s been a packed day and writing this I’m just trying to digest what I’ve seen, where I’ve been and how I feel about it. So far, a mixture of sadness and anger that anyone could live in a place of such stark contrast to the day-to-day we’re used to at home.
The day of visiting ended for the rest of the group, but Val, Simon, Nicky and I went to visit a lady of 62 called Florenta. She’s sponsored by Simon, he met her on a previous trip to the disused railway station. She suffered a stroke there and due to heavy snow nobody could reach her. This left her with paralysis and she’s no longer able to speak properly. Simon’s monthly donation has helped moved her in to a warm, safe flat with electricity and proper cooking facilities. She has a career visit five times a week and life is much more positive and stable than it was for her. Simon and the BaP team are still fighting for improvements to her living standards though and have agreed to sort out TV for her. As she sits in bed all day, every day alone, she needs some mental stimulation.
As we drove away from Floreta and back to ‘The Way of Joy’ for dinner, I shed a tear and gave thanks that I could escape. Hopefully one day the continued work of PaP and BaP will give all of the families a way to a brighter future.
To find out more about the work of Business against Poverty and to register your interest in becoming a member visit: www.businessagainstpoverty.com