This is the diary that the Shoebox team write when they distribute your shoeboxes. This year they went out to Western Romania and here’s what happened:-
The team from Link to Hope arrived in Oradea, Romania to be met by Nelu Foit, whom the charity has known for many years and does amazing work amongst the poor. This year the group consisted of Lisa, Maria, Malcolm, Sylvia, Harold, Val and Judith
The first stop was the village of Varga. We had to cross a rickety bridge in the snow and then climb a steep slope to get to the family we were visiting. We met a grandmother who has been left to look after her grand-children as the mother had gone. When we arrived, the grandmother starting thanking God that we had come and that He had not forgotten her. This elderly lady received glasses in her shoebox and was crying as she could now see her surroundings more clearly.
We visited a mother and her 4 children. The father had been violent and an alcoholic and she had been forced to leave him. As we arrived at the house, it turned out that it was one of the little girls Stephanie’s birthday, so we sang to her. The family already had 4 children of their own and took on another little boy (very shy) from a family member who had also wanted to leave another child as they were leaving the area to seek employment and didn’t want their children. We were told the boy hadn’t smiled since his parents left, so we were all shocked when a smile appeared as he was given the shoebox and opened it. Lovely presents were inside.
It was still snowing as we arrived at a river bank. Here lived 3 families, living in 2 houses on the other side of the river. One of the families father had previously had a stroke and was paralysed. Once they had thanked us for the presents, they went to return to their homes and there was only one way to do that. The sight of them crossing over the river clutching parcels was quite something. They had to jump from one slippery stone to the next without falling into the river.
The next house we visited had one grandmother and 8 children. The parents had been trafficked, presumably having been promised a job and were now begging in Spain. The 8 children were living in three small rooms with no water (that came from the neighbours), or electricity. The house is not theirs and attempts had been made to remove them. A new toilet had been built for them outside but the grandmother is unwell with cirrhosis. They adored the presents which was something extraordinary for them to receive.
The next lady had lived in the South of Romania with her husband and 7 children. They moved to Oradea to escape his abuse. They have no income but survive with help and donations. They all live in 3 rooms in a house owned by someone in Italy, who now wants to sell it and remove them. Two of the girls are in high school and are doing well. The older son has webbed and shortened fingers, but is brilliant at school. Another has missing bones from his rib and hands – a deformity from birth. They were over the moon with their boxes
Next stop was the old people’s (men) home which was an extraordinary place. It looked like a very ramshackle barn, run without any state aid but financed by a private individual, but with considerable care for the people there. The cook makes and prepares the food as the elderly men have no other home. Many have a missing limb. However a smile from a man with no legs who got socks (amongst other gifts) and a toothless man getting a toothbrush (maybe it can be used for gums and tongues!) They were so lovely; one man had made lots of cardboard models of houses and churches and kept trying to give them to us as a gift to say thank you. Malcolm gave a shoebox to a man who reminded him of his brother – his appearance, his age and the same name! Amazing place.
The second homeless place was larger and more modern- 15 women and 30 men obviously well cared for. We gave out presents and spent time chatting to as many as we could. They had nothing to give but their thanks and many were crying as they were so overwhelmed. We gave out blankets to the women there and one was so disappointed not to receive a knitted blanket. Fortunately one was found and given to her and she was very happy!
We went to visit 2 villages where the crowds were ALREADY gathered and the local pastor had a very strict list of names and gave the boxes to the child of the family. In the next village we were surprised to go into the church to be greeted by a full gathering and children’s choir – over 300 people were inside! The lady Mayor was there organising things with the community leaders. It was frightening to think that these people had made such an event of something so simple as receiving a shoebox – the contents of which we would think little of! They were genuinely delighted to receive them and it showed.
We travelled to Cluj and spent the day with Petrica and Rodica and their organisation. One of their projects the ABC project helps Roma people in Pata Rat which is a huge rubbish tip that families and children work on. Petrica has established a small school which we visited and the children gratefully opened their shoeboxes and were delighted. One little girl who should have been in school was not allowed to attend, as her parents told her she must go on the dump and search for saleable items such as plastic, tins which would fetch a small amount of money for the family.
This was one of the worst places we have ever visited and we were so glad it was so cold otherwise the smell would have been totally overwhelming. Such a grim and terrible existence, made worse by the presence, physically across the road, of a huge rubbish dump, complete with seagulls. On the further side, children roaming about – they pick off what they can find to be of use. “They burn the plastic bottles they find, and smell them – and then things are all right….” (quote from one of the helping team, about the community in Pata Rat). Eva – the teacher – and her husband serve diligently in this village and have adopted a little boy who was found on the tip in very poor health as he had been bitten on his ears and body by rats! It took 2 years to organise the paper work and all the details. He is now healthy and loved and his name is Emmanuel.
After lunchtime we visited two further hostels for the homeless. The first housed men and women homeless for a variety of reasons – break-up, alcohol, thrown out by family, financial problems etc. One of the men was an excellent accordionist, who accompanied a group of the residents who wanted to sing to us to say thank you. We responded with WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS which is the only song we all knew. The second home was similar but also included some people developing dementia – and a family of children completely unsuited to such an environment, but with nowhere else to go.
We then met up with Pastor Cornel who is a wonderful project manager. We travelled to locations through and around the Gherla area. In the schools there are a few gypsy children, but the majority are Romanian from deprived backgrounds and low rural income. Help for the schools comes more from the EU rather than from national/local government. We went to one large school with 100+ pupils in eight classrooms. They were overjoyed with their parcels. Again only 4 hours of schooling and not much chance of further education.
One little boy, on being told that it was a “family” parcel, came up to Cornel and said “I don’t have a mum or a dad, so I can share it with my neighbour….” – what can you say to that? They sang to us before we left. The next school we went to was so small it only had one classroom (it felt as if this was the only room in the block being heated) with one teacher, trying to teach all four lower-school grades together (including special needs) – an impossible educational position. Again, they were overjoyed to receive their shoeboxes.
We visited two other communities, the first in a worse condition than the second. Lots of baby clothes were distributed (which had been specifically requested), and woollens, as well as the boxes. Just as well – today has been a raw and unpleasant one so far – a reminder of the severity of life for the poor. The recipients included a girl who looked about 13, but we were assured that the woollies would benefit her 5-month old baby back in the house. Pastor Cornel is particularly trying to change the age of marriage within this community which is as early as 12 (legally in Romania it is 18). He is now slowly getting them to understand that this is too young and by 2018 they will have to be 18 to marry. In the meantime 2016 is 16, 2017 is 17. He does not charge for officiating the marriage if they comply! The second village was one that Cornel has been working with for a number of years and there was such a change, they were so friendly and it was a joy to see the change in people.
The final act was delivering Judith’s parcel! One of our number Judith had recognised a shoebox as one she had packed, from the writing and the notes of the content. As it was so special we wanted to give it to someone special. Three years ago a woman in the village had been given a shoebox. She was so ill that the room she lived in was almost too unbearable to go into as the smell from her incontinence was so bad. It was mentioned in the Link to Hope Newslink and sponsors came forward who bought a new bed, mattress, cover and pillow cases to make her life easier. Recently she died and her husband wanted to meet the people who had helped his wife. He himself now had Parkinsons very badly but we went to visit him and Judith gave him her box and opened it with him. He was overcome and so grateful and surprised and every gift in that box was perfect for him.
Diary written by Harold Liberty and the team. Photography by Maria Scard www.mariascard.com
Thank you for your all your help and commitment to the Shoebox Appeal and Link to Hope.