The charity’s Treasurer of 30 years, Michael Evans, died on 13th January after a fall at home and subsequent illness in hospital.
Michael was Mary Gibson’s partner and supported the charity she had started with great dedication and efficiency, though he used to say “I’m a soldier, not an accountant!” It was his job to keep the charity’s accounts in order, recover Gift Aid and make payments to the Harja bank account each month.
Michael was on the point of retiring towards the end of 2020 and we had found someone willing to take on the role in his place.
Betty and the Harja carers keep in touch with the children who have flown the nest and were delighted to hear from Ancuta (29), that she is to be married this summer. She works in Brasov, a city about an hour from Harja, where she is a kindergarten teacher.
Covid restrictions have eased in Romania at the moment and Ancuta was able to join the celebrations for Maria’s birthday at her adoptive family home near Brasov, along with the children from Harja. A wonderful celebration that was even more special when people have been separated so long!
Our three eldest children have all passed their final school exams, taken during lockdown. Two of them, Ali and Diana, are applying to universities. Albert, strongly influenced by his upbringing, is interested in social assistance, and also in construction.
Diana is applying to do communication and foreign languages at Bacau University. She is a happy girl with a good sense of humour.
Georgiana has had enough of studying for now and plans to go to England with her boyfriend. She was a very good student. Now she wants freedom and no rules!
As we celebrate their success, it’s a time to reflect on how Friends of Children in Romania has helped them grow and given them stability, love and encouragement after very difficult beginnings.
Ali was brought to Harja from the maternity ward in the city of Arad when he was six months old. His mother had left him after his birth. He got in touch with her two years ago, but no relationship could be built up. He met his parents last Christmas but was very disappointed and said: ‘I realise now how lucky I was to be raised in Hârja by the charity and to have the love and affection and care of Mary and of all the staff involved.’
Diana came to Hârja when she was eight months old, after her mother died from an infection. She came with Lidia, her sister, who is now a graduate and lives in Cluj.
Georgiana was two years old when she came to us. Her mother took her to Child Protection as she had nowhere to live and they were sleeping in a park. She kept in touch for a few years until she went to live in Italy but it was never a close relationship.
Since their exams, all the children have been enjoying summer activities such as picking cherries and fishing. The older children ones have now returned from a well-deserved camping holiday in the Eastern Carpathians, paid for with money refunded to us by the transport authority, as a result of lockdown schooling.
Many thanks to all those who support Friends of Children in Romania. If you would like to make a donation or take out regular Direct Debit payments to support us, you can do so securely here.
Schools closed in Romania on 11 March and will not re-open until September. So now the children continue do their lessons online. This has posed a few difficulties as they have only a small number of laptops and tablets and all of them need to work on them at the same time. Thankfully, two people have generously donated funds to buy two more, so that has made life a little easier.
Betty has taken on someone to help teach the younger ones as they are all at different stages and it is too much for the carers to take on. They have much to do already with cleaning, washing and cooking. Instead of working their usual 8-hour shifts two carers stay for two weeks at a time, to minimise to-ing and fro-ing beyond the houses. They have all been tested for the virus and are fine.
The little ones are finding it hard to do so much online learning – hardly surprising! Betty felt Stefan was getting quite miserable, so she bought him some new Lego and he was thrilled. “How did you know that is exactly what I wanted to make me happy?” he asked her. He and Gabi built this pagoda of 1500 pieces in two days.
The older ones will still be taking their exams, and they are working hard. Sometimes the school makes them do tests at 8 in the morning – not easy, especially for teenagers!
The girls are brilliant cooks!
The children miss their school friends and sometimes get bored but as Lala said:
“I like that we get to know each other better!”
If you would like to support the charity and help us meet the unexpected costs of lockdown learning you can make a donation here.
Under lockdown most of us are restricted to socialising with just a handful of household members, or perhaps no one at all, but while our children in Hârja are not able to mix with their friends, they are enjoying the benefits of living in a big family. This means that they can still celebrate occasions, such as the start of the Easter holidays, together with their carers without gathering around a screen and connecting on Zoom!
And some of them are spending time cooking and helping out in the kitchen.
Everyone in Hârja is looking forward to Easter, which in Romania will be celebrated on Sunday 19th April, in accordance with the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Thank you for your continued support. If you would like to make a donation to the charity you can do so safely here.
Schools in Romania closed two weeks ago to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading. The children are continuing to do school work at home and they have also been helping with tasks at home.
Their houses are heated by wood-burning stoves and so a lot of fuel is needed. Supplies for next winter have already arrived and the children worked hard to stack it in the shelter. It took them a week! ‘We were very proud of them for doing such a good job,’ says Betty Grigoras, Project Manager.
We are happily sharing that Friends of Children in Romania hosted 31 youth workers, from 9 #EU countries in the “Training 4 Trainers” training course financed by #erasmus#erasmusplus from 20-30 October, in #Comanesti.
The #youthworkers developed abilities in working with youngster from disadvantaged areas through the following:
1. Practising training and presentation competencies for facilitating transfer of EU common values
2. Developing public speaking skills for presenting to groups and audiences
3. Engaging and managing group dynamics Gaining better rapport with the target groups
4 Improving personal professional and organisational development through self assessment and creating action plans
During the “T4T” Training Course group, joined another activity, a youth exchange group who attended the project “Be On Your Way 2” hosted by Asociatia Generatia Schimbarii and went for a “Ted Talk” event in #Comanesti at Colegiul Tehnic “Dimitrie Ghika”. ✊
👉 The participants in the T4T delivered speeches about “Success in Life” in front of the audience of 100+ guests.
👉 We went on further to visit the organisation AGES and run workshops with the youngsters participating in the Youth Exchange (56 people) on tools for their careers 👉 As an ending some of the participants offered to be “Living Books” in the Living Library organised by AGES NGO 🥳 The day ended with Romanian Traditions – Bear Dance & Romanian Wedding
Throughout the 9 days of activities the group explored through NFE methods a variety of tools, as mentioned above and had the chance to work a lot on managing states
and speech in front of a group, as well as giving feedback to each other.It has been challenging,getting the group out of the comfort zone. Furthermore, many sessions and individual interventions were recorded as a measure to have a clear track of improvement, and extracting learning points. A highlight was the moment when the group worked on humour and learning how to effectively use the microphone.
Even more, we had activities together with the youth group from the Erasmus+ project that happened in parallel, where our trainers planned specific activities for career guidance/ career development to be in line with their topic. And it was a great success.
As we reached the end of the training activities we managed to structure several follow-up projects in order to get the cooperation with the partner NGOs further. Some ideas are related to the commonly identified needs of the communities represented by the youth workers such as: Emotional Development, Entrepreneurial Skill-sets in Real Life simulations, Team Work Communication or Stress Reduction.
We would like to THANK the involvement of all the youth workers present, the support of our partner organisations, and Stephen Molnar for sharing new tools with a committed group of youth workers.
It has been an accomplishment for all of us, it brought new learnings, it created new collaborations, it managed to bring out follow-up ideas for future projects and made us willing to keep doing what we’re doing.
CONGRATS TO ALL!
Later Edit. (January 2020)
The Dissemination was a success in each of the partner countries, and we would like to share the photos and some of the remarks received from the youth workers.
A link to the T4T handbook with tools & methods for trainers can be downloaded here T4T_HandBook_Erasmus+
A summary of the first Experiential Learning Festival in the rural-Romania.
A moment in time of constant growth, of great discoveries, of continuous scientific development, of full attention being given to education in the European society, at global level where more and more attention is needed… and here we are. We became part of contributors to the education, with a big team of volunteers, an open-hearted group of artists and facilitators and an open-minded and helpful local community.
Our ideas have been embraced, and furthermore we felt the achievement of solidarity, cohesion within all the people who were present in Harja. Therefore we heard from the ELF-ers comments saying “we feel like we’re in a big family here” or “everyone I spoke to was so kind” or even “it feels so natural to start talking to people over here”.
Would those remarks come as a result of various workshops that happened and involved people. ELF created the space for them to communicate, and created a safe space all-over the Festival areas? We believe, YES and this is the blend of all the people and elements that we brought together. Was this a different approach to Education, ongoing for 4 days? Where youngsters, adults, locals, volunteers, elders, facilitators, artists, met, discussed, shared ideas outside activities? YES, and it’s been rewarding for all.
We danced, we jammed, we painted, we discovered labyrinth theatre, we played football, we made music, we meditated, we experienced yoga and acrobatics, we participated in contact improvisation, we went treasure hunting, we made new friends.
Will we organise a project like this next year and a festival?
For sure, and we invite you to join us! Follow-us.
It is with great sadness that we tell you that the founder of Friends of Children in Romania has died. Increasingly frail during the past year, Mary had a stroke in March and was taken to hospital in Dorchester. The next day a second stroke followed – a severe one. She was cared for beautifully in hospital and while she struggled to get words out, she always greeted the nurses with a smile. Her body was badly damaged but her spirit as bright as ever.
Mary was a much-loved mother, grandmother and friend and this charity her outstanding achievement.
How did it all start?
After the fall of Ceaucescu, the president of Romania, in 1989, news broke of over-crowded orphanages with children living in appalling conditions. Mary never waited for someone else to sort out the problems she was passionate about and she never saw obstacles. On a cold, January day, at the age of 62, she set out for Bucharest, roping in her son’s ex-girlfriend and a photographer she had met on Salisbury train station.
Romania was in a very different state then to how it is today. Soldiers begged for cigarettes at the airport; there were no streetlights, long queues for bread and little food available – other than jars of pickled cucumbers. She soon learnt to pack her own lightbulbs for hotel rooms.
In Bucharest she sought out the notorious orphanages. Inside, the stench of urine was overpowering. Worse still, they were silent. No laughter – not even the sound of crying.
What to do? An overwhelming task, you might think. So she started with the basics. One of the most urgent requirements, she had seen, was for nappies. Back on a train in England, she asked the man sitting next to her: “I don’t suppose you run a nappy factory, do you?” He didn’t but when she told her tale he offered to help in a different way. He worked for the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi. Publicity took off and fundraising went with a swing, including a concert at the Albert Hall. She addressed the audience. Next, she contacted Blue Peter, the children’s TV programme watched by half the country’s children. They decided to make her charity the focus of their Christmas appeal.
Her vision, and that adopted by Blue Peter, was to get children out of institutional orphanages and into family-sized houses, with carers taking on a parent-like role.
The appeal was hugely successful, raising more than £6 million. Huge sums of money, though, are not always a blessing. The charity had to appoint a professional, paid director to deal with the scale of the project and almost immediately, her vision started to unravel. At this point, many people might have been defeated. But not Mary. She simply got out of the organisation – and started again with a new charity – this one.
Friends of Children in Romania has given a home to more than thirty children over the years, mostly under the leadership of Betty Grigoras, who became her great friend as well as the best project manager she could have hoped for.
Mary visited Harja regularly, three or four times a year when she was younger, but still twice every year until her final visit last year, when the charity celebrated its 25th anniversary. She always took presents for the children – fun things, such as fancy wigs or hats, jewellery given to her by one of the market stall holders in her local town, posters of fast cars and pop stars – whatever she thought they would like.
She baked with them, joined them for walks in the beautiful fields around Harja and played in the snow along with them during her winter visits.
Throughout, she was always involved in decisions over the welfare of the children, talking to Betty and before her, Penny Munro, several times a week. She also corresponded with funders, produced the newsletter and was constantly on the look-out for new people to support the charity.
Mary will be much missed but the charity will continue.
Denise is 9 now. Ever since she came to Harja there have been times when she looked sad, when Elena or Moni (her carers) asked her why she said it was because she wanted a father. This Christmas a priest and his wife came with a group to sing carols at the old peoples’ home accross the road. His wife, remembering teaching Marcel, recalled that he had told her about his home, and so with their guitars and music they came to our houses. Ten days later, the Department of Child Protection phoned Betty and told her there was a potential adoptive family for Denise. That family was the priest and his wife. It was pure chance, there was no connection with the meeting at the carol singing. They were simply a couple who wanted another child in their family (they have 3 children, one of whom is Denise’s age).
Still longing for an adoptive family, Simone suggested to Denise that she should sleep with her crucifix under her pillow and ask God to give her a father. The adoption is going forward!