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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Barrow shoebox boost for deprived children in Romania

VOLUNTEERS from South Cumbria who travelled to Romania to hand out more than 7,000 Christmas shoeboxes to children spoke to JONATHAN HUMPHRIES about their trip

YOUNGSTERS struggling to survive in one of the world’s poorest countries were given a boost this week after they were handed thousands of gifts donated by the Barrow community.

Following the Teams4U Christmas shoebox appeal in November, six volunteers from South Cumbria embarked on a mission to a desperately poor area of north-west Romania on Monday.

Six volunteers helped with the distribution of shoeboxes around Oradea, a city in Transylvania near the Hungarian border.

The shoeboxes were collected at a warehouse in James Freel Court, Barrow, before being shipped to Romania.

The volunteers travelled to a series of Roma Gypsy villages around Oradea, in a minibus towing a trailer laden with toys, clothes and other gifts.

Rosemary Webster, South Cumbria area co-ordinator for Teams4U, reported scenes of utter deprivation to the Evening Mail in a series of updates from Romania.

Mrs Webster, from Crosthwaite, described the scene of the group’s first visit to an isolated Roma Gypsy community: “The children came out of their homes, which are usually ramshackle huts, made weatherproof with compacted mud and straw blocks.

“The children ran up and took us by the hand, leading us back to where they could see the trailer. It must have looked a bit like the Pied Piper of Hamelin!

“They had broad smiles and their families were excited to see us. The temperature was about 5C and many of the children were dressed in thin clothes.

“Families gathered round as we gave out the boxes. Each family, with maybe four or five children, lives in just one small room.

“On the walls there may be pictures, but the floors are earth. The only furniture is a bed, and there is no running water, no sink and no bathroom. The toilet is in an outside shed.”

One of the aims of the shoebox appeal is to give gifts to children who may never have received a Christmas present before.

Mrs Webster reported how one family, living in terrible conditions, were stunned by their gift.

“I noticed a little girl standing in front of me, while we were giving out the boxes. She was waiting quietly and patiently for her name to be called out.

“She looked very poorly nourished, and her clothing was dirty and ragged. She had two brothers at home, so we helped carry the boxes for her.

“It was shocking to see the ramshackle place that was all this little girl knew as home. It was made of mud and straw, and held together with wooden posts.

“The roof leaked and there were tatty sheets of plastic to keep the rain off one wall.

“There were no cupboards, no sign of any food or cooking pots, no washing facilities, no running water and no toys.

“There were three children and their father, and one child was deaf.

“At first they just looked at their shoeboxes, they didn’t know what to do. We helped them to open the boxes, and they couldn’t believe what was inside.

“They took everything out and examined it, with broad smiles on their little faces. Then they put everything back. The father was so grateful for our visit.”

“These are third world situations, but in a country which is in the EU. It doesn’t make any sense.”

After arriving back in the UK, Mrs Webster told the Evening Mail how poverty experienced by children in Romania does not compare with poverty at home.

“It is unbelievable that these situations exist just two hours flight away from the UK. The people here are absolutely destitute. Now I’m back I have images just flying through my mind,” she said.

“I can’t decide if the most memorable thing from the trip is happy or sad.

“The worst thing I saw, which was the worst thing I have seen in my life, there was a young woman who looked very ill with a baby who was crying. She put the bottle in its mouth but there was nothing in the bottle. She could not afford wood for the fire and she was trembling in the cold. She had no food, so we gave her what we had in the minibus.

“But despite all the poverty the welcome we got was so warm. The children would sing to us and in every home we were offered drinks even though the families had nothing.”

The volunteers – including Rosemary and Keith Webster, Judith Myers, from Coniston; Amanda Robb, from Kendal; Chris Turner, from Bowness; and Karen Simkins, from Kirkby Stephen – arrived back in the UK on Thursday.

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