Whistle-Stop Tour of FARA Romania
Raphe Phelan became FARA Charity Shops Managing Director at the beginning of 2015. During the eight years he has been with FARA he has visited Romania many times. This is an account of his most recent trip.
"My alarm went off at 4:30am and four hours later I was at Luton Airport boarding a plane to Bucharest. My travelling companion was Kate from the FARA Charity Office. Three hours later, we landed and we were met by Cornelia the current Director of Operations in Romania and Ines her successor from 1st January. After a rather tortuous, eight hour car journey we arrived in Cacica cold and hungry at 11:00pm. It was wet and dark. On entering the accommodation we were met by lovely warmth and a fridge full of delicious food, a great end to a long journey on our first day in Romania.
On day two of the trip we visited St. Therese’s our centre for children with complex needs in Falticeni. It is managed by Andra and her team and operates out of three rooms made available by local Social Services. It provides various treatments for 47 children with physical and learning disabilities many of whom attend the centre several times a week. There is a long waiting list for the centre. As ever I am struck by the dedication and warmth of staff for the children in their care.
From St. Therese’s we travelled to St Mary’s and St. Joseph’s the homes which house ten and six young adults respectively. These young people have various disabilities most arising as a consequence of having spent time in State Institutions. St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s will be their homes for the rest of their lives. With pride they showed us around, their work, their much loved pigs, hens and rabbits and we enjoyed the funny stories they told us.
From there we travelled to Baia one of the four Prevention Programmes which caters for 126 children and encourages Roma children to attend school. It is hoped that by regular attendance and improved education they can be lifted out of grinding poverty. A hot meal is provided which for many of them is their only meal of the day. The programmes are overseen ably by Andreea and her team. The welcoming smiles of the children were heart warming.
From Baia we travelled to Bahna Arina the village which is the focus of FARA’s 2015 fundraising Appeal. In evidence here is abject poverty. Many large families live in two room houses not fit for purpose, with little to eat. It is fantastic to see how funds raised have been put to good use with new rooms being added, existing walls and roofs repaired, electrics being sorted out and new stoves being added to provide warmth in the sub-zero winter temperatures. The families are very grateful that someone cares enough to want to help and were all smiles and chatted happily as we visited. There is still much to be done but the future for these families in much brighter.
Day 3 and 4 were dedicated to reviewing the 2016 budgets for the 17 programmes and two offices which operate in Romania. The time spent with the programme directors ensures that the funds being sent out are spent as wisely as possible.
Day 5 was another day of visits to FARA programmes. First stop the Emmanuel Centre, a centre for children with complex needs located in Suceava. It is very well run by Alexandra and her team and was formerly the St. Nicholas home. First impressions are of a clean, happy environment in which 80 children with physical and learning disabilities are treated professionally and with great care and warmth. There is again along waiting list for places and it is hoped to expand the service in time.
Our next destination was the St. Michaels centre and the OAT Farm. These are located side by side in Spateresti. The St. Michaels centre is empty at present and is awaiting refurbishment to become the home for the new Foyer in Suceava mirroring the highly successful programme currently operated by FARA in Satu Mare in North West Romania. The Foyer programme seeks to assist marginalised young adults into paid employment thus out of poverty.
The OAT Farm visit involved inspecting the eight poly tunnels to see the organic produce being grown. Sebastian is the farm manager and advised us that the farm work was beginning to slow down in anticipation of the harsh winter which can get down to 20 below.
Our final visit of the day was a visit to the new St. Nicholas to meet with the very impressive Carmen and her team. A visit to the Children’s homes is always the highlight of any visit to the FARA programmes and this was no exception. The children were very excited by our visit although the large bags of sweets we brought may also have had some influence and chatted happily with us as they would do in any family. Among others we talked to Laurentiu (formerly Bebe) who looks very well despite his heart problems and the need for another operation.
All too soon it was time for Cornelia to catch her train back to Bucharest and for us to travel to Bacau to catch our flight back to the UK. As always, on returning from Romania, I cannot help but conclude that FARA has fantastic people working for it both in Romania and the shops in the UK and how truly privileged I am to belong to the FARA family. "