During Christmas 2021 I read a book by a local man, Phil Pugsley, who has successfully built a charity making a real difference to children and their families in Uganda. The Book is called How NOT to Start A Charity. It is a brutally honest account of the struggles he faced trying to meet the needs of the people he wanted to help. After our first experience raising money to help a family in rural Romania, I think I could write the first chapter of a similar book myself.
In 2021 we returned to visit the Popan family who we first met in 2019 in Maramureș. They have been very hospitable towards us, despite experiencing hardship themselves and we wanted to do something to help them. The situation in these remote areas is complex and I had struggled to think of a way of helping. Our guide told us that he had spoken to one of the children, Tina, and when asked what she really wanted in life she said she would love to see the sea. That was something that we thought we could achieve, so we set about raising money for the family and other local children to have a holiday on the Romanian coast. We put on an exhibition and starting giving talks to camera clubs to raise the funds. Then, a good friend kindly offered to match fund 50% of whatever we raised, so we soon raised enough to fund the trip.
In January 2022 our Romanian guide returned to see the family and told them of the plan. They were initially thrilled with the idea, but after a couple of days when our guide asked if we could start planning they said that they couldn't go. Their situation had changed since our last visit and it was not going to be possible for the parents to take the children away. We knew that they took contracts working in western Europe to earn money to cover living expenses. They were almost out of funds and needed to get a contract soon. They were concerned that they may have trouble getting contracts because of Covid. With the commitments of the farm, the only time they could go away would be August, but this year both their cow and their horse are due to give birth in July. They wouldn't be happy to leave these young animals in anyone else's care. Other problems were mounting too. The family of six also live with the father's mother and she was starting to suffer with dementia. The family only have a two room house with a kitchen / bathroom annex, so the grandmother sleeps in the same room as the children and her behaviour was beginning to affect the children and spoil their childhood. They needed to find a way of building another room.
So our plan turned out to be inappropriate for their needs, but at least presenting them with the opportunity allowed us to find out what they really needed, something that I doubt they would have revealed if they hadn't had to give us reasons for declining the offer. Discussions with Tina also revealed that she agreed having a separate room to sleep in would make a big difference to her life. The result of this is that we have offered to pay for the building materials. Our guide will present the invoice from the builders merchant and we will cover the cost. The work will be done by the father and his brother (who takes construction contacts in Europe and has the necessary skills).
We still want to do something for the children and when we return in May this year we will see if we can come up with another idea. We will also explore the possibilities for supporting the elderly in need and the education of local children. Please sign up to our newsletter via the link at the bottom of the page to keep in touch with developments.