Written by Livvy Bathe, a 22 year old university graduate from England.
Five years ago, as a student at The Ashcombe School in Surrey, England, I was fortunate enough to take part in a nine-day trip to the city of Iasi, Romania, working with the charity Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia, run by Arpad (Arpi) Foszto and his family. The experience with the Fosztos at the Fundatia Link Romania hostel was such an poignant and influential one for me that in the Spring of this year I decided to get in contact with Arpi’s daughter, Miriam, via social media to inquire about making a return visit.
On June the 15th I arrived in Iasi airport where Arpi and his son Edi were patiently waiting for me. Over several emails it had been arranged that I would spend two weeks staying at the Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia hostel accompanying Arpi and Edi on their trips to rural villages on the outskirts of Iasi and the homeless living within the city. Along with some craft equipment and toys that I had purchased in England for the children, we also took food packages with essential items such as rice, oil, sugar and flour to some of the families. This provided an opportunity for us to enter these families homes, mostly one or two room structures made of compacted mud, dim and stale inside with low ceilings and roofs often in a state of disrepair. In one case, the juxtaposition between four neatly dressed, polite and charming young siblings and their tiny deteriorating home was so startling that it took me some time to believe that these two worlds, a world of youthful freedom, energy and potential, and a world of deterioration and abject poverty, could possibly be associated with each other. In fact, it was once I had seen their deprived living conditions that the immaculate appearance of these children became even more remarkable to me, because it proved an immense determination on the behalf of the parents to make their children look and feel as valuable as any other child, despite their extremely difficult financial circumstance.
Working with these children undoubtedly altered my perspective of my own life and about the things that were of most importance to me. Suddenly any material aspirations, hopes for an iphone, a new pair of trainers, or of one day owning a big house, seemed entirely futile. It was my family, the ability to get food and water whenever I wanted it, the stability and safety of my own home, my easy access to health care, and my eighteen years in full-time education for which I felt truly blessed. Back at the hostel that evening I savored every second in the shower, appreciated every mouthful of dinner, and my clean comfortable bed.
I was very grateful to be able to speak with Arpi and his family over the next few days and reflect on the things that I had witnessed. This ability to off-load some of my feelings of confusion and anger was particularly useful when it came to the meeting the homeless in a small, shaded park that, ironically, had once been part of the King’s residence. These men and women with their sun-and-dirt-browned faces, their hunched posture and their (self) scarred arms, were orphans who at aged eighteen had been made to leave their orphanage and fend for themselves, often without a coin in their pocket or a single contact in the outside world. These people were not drug-addicts or criminals; they were simply neglected children whose difficult lives had shaped them into dysfunctional and vulnerable adults. A round of “mulţumesc” (thank you) could be heard as Edi handed out the cans of fizzy drinks and hamburgers that the charity had bought for them. They shook Arpi’s hand and welcomed me into their group, allowing me to take pictures and ask them questions. At no point did I feel unsafe. I found the experience with the homeless really enlightening because I realized that though there are multitudes of homeless people in the UK, some of whom I have had a direct experience of, not once have I ever offered a homeless person a drink or something to eat. Half-looking so as not to seem indifferent and half-turned away, pretending not to see, I have spent years walking past homeless people with a sick guilty feeling in my stomach that I have just chosen to ignore. Due to the time spent with the homeless in Iasi I have learnt not to be so quick to automatically judge someone who lives on the streets as a bad person who has made bad choices, but as a human being in the own right who deserves to be treated in accordance with their actions and not their appearance, like everybody else.
Towards the end of my two-week stay Arpi and I discussed the situation of each family that we had met and decided upon three larger investment projects to focus on.
The first of these projects involved buying new timber for a family home because the wooden structure had become carbonized after a house-fire and was therefore extremely weak and hazardous. Daniel, the husband and father, knew the likelihood of his home collapsing on top of his four children during the winter weather and was desperate to reconstruct the roof however could not afford the new materials. Thankfully, we were able to purchase new wood and corrugated metal sheets with some of the £400 that I had fundraised for the trip. With the remainder we hope to create a fence around the perimeter of the house to prevent neighboring dogs and other animals from killing the family’s rabbits and chickens – much needed food sources – as has happened in the past. Buying the materials needed to reroof and fence off this family’s home was a hugely worthwhile investment because it will potentially save their lives, and definitely prevent larger future costs of having to rebuild their entire home or pay hospital bills, and will reduce the families’ reliance on regular financial aid from the Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia organization by enabling them maintain an independent food source.
The second project that we foresee involves raising around one-thousand British pounds with which to purchase sixty sheep for a hard-working father of two young girls. We intend to purchase the sheep so that the family has a source of financial income and an independent food supply, but do so as a loan rather than a donation. In theory the family will be given a couple of years to pay back the cost of the sheep once they start to make a profit. Arpi believes that by loaning rather than giving this money the father will be more inclined to take good care of his sheep and be more likely to successfully increase both his own skills and his family’s prosperity. Furthermore, the returned money can then be reinvested into a similar loan scheme to help benefit another rural family. For the time being, these two projects are going to be the main focus of the Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia organisation, alongside more simple duties such as food package delivery, which will endeavor to raise as much money as possible in order to carry out the plans both quickly and effectively.
The final project in mind is the construction of an extension onto an incredibly small and scanty house, again belonging to a family of six. At present the sixteen –year-old daughter sleeps with her eleven and eight year old brothers in a bed adjacent to the bed of her parents, who in turn share with their 1-year-old child in a room roughly six foot by seven foot. Desperate to increase his earnings and lift his family out of such a deprived situation, the father of this family saved for a flight to Europe, where he got a job laboring all day, six days a week. For this work he received €300 per month, a disgustingly small amount that left him penniless once he had sent adequate funds back to his family in Romania. This situation got so bad that the father couldn’t afford food, let alone a flight home to be reunited with his family who so relied on him, that he ended up selling his shoes to someone in exchange for bread. Eventually, the father managed to return to his family because of the kindness of a wealthier Romanian he met in a German market, though did so financially worse off and bereft of the early months of his youngest child’s life. The extension this family so desperately needs will not be a cheap or easy undertaking; the house is in an extremely isolated position and not even the concrete foundations for the extension have been laid. A project like this desperately relies on the generosity of people like you, and if successful, will be utterly life changing.
However, not all of the Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia endeavors require such extensive aid. For example in the case sixty-four-year-old Huşanu, who needs 70 leu (the equivalent of £12) a month to take part in the governments’ food distribution scheme. Having grown up in an orphanage at a time when Romania had very few regulations about the welfare of the children within these establishments, Huşanu was turned out onto the streets at eighteen and survived by doing menial work around the city. Though Huşanu did eventually move into a house when she married and had children, she immediately lost the property following her husband’s death and is now, once again, homeless. Huşanu hides her face from me when she arrives at the hostel, muttering angrily to herself for her tears. She is ashamed at having had to come to Arpad for money. With her head bowed, ignoring Arpad’s requests for her to stop and rest, the woman frantically sweeps the pavement outside the hostel under the 42 degree sun. This twelve pounds needed to prevent Huşanu from starving is the same as the total price of one Costa coffee per week each month.
But how do we know our investments will be successful? Of course as with anything there is no guarantee. However, I would like to share with you the case of C. I., an orphan just like Huşanu, but one whose situation is far more hopeful. Several years ago, C. came to Arpad asking for the money to buy a piece of land in a village outside Iasi and, deciding to give him a chance, Arpad loaned him the money. Shortly after C. returned asking for more money with which to purchase additional and, though skeptical, Arpad again accepted. Today, thanks to the Fundatia Link Romania Moldova loan and his own determination and hard-work, C. lives in a sturdy, three room house with a neatly tiled red roof that looks over the plot of land that he farms for means of income. Not only that, but C. is also now serving as a councilor of the mayor, taking part in regional council meetings to discuss public affairs and help benefit others who grew up in a similar situation to himself. Despite all that was stacked against him, C. never gave up on his ambition to better himself and, with the help of the organization, has more than succeeded. It is this “can do” attitude that we could all greatly benefit from.
Though my time with the Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia organisation has not been without its own challenges – the car breaking down on the second day and a persistent period of forty-six degree heat – there can be no doubt as to the benefits that I have gained from this experience. The people I have met, the children I have laughed with, the bond I have formed with the Foszto family, and the important lessons I have learnt have changed my philosophy on life for the better, and for this I will be eternally grateful. I would highly recommend the Fundatia Link Romania Moldavia organisation and their clean, comfortable and centrally-located hostel to anyone. I know for a fact that the little effort it took me to raise some money for the charity and give up time to come out to Iasi has been paid back several times over by the benefits that I have gained from the experience. Never has the quote by Anne Frank that,
‘no one has ever become poorer by giving’
seemed as insightful as it does to me now.
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