Christmas Trip 2015

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On 11th December, Pete, Tracy and Klara travelled to Eastern European on behalf of the charity taking fundraised money and donations to provide practical support and gifts for Christmas along with 58Kilos of toiletries and make-up which had been given by supporters of the charity.

On arrival in Bucharest we were met by our long serving, dependable driver Dudu, who drove us to our hotel and then on to the Vidra institution, just outside Bucharest. This institution is ‘home’ to 21 young people who are HIV positive, eight of whom also have learning disabilities and are very dependent.

With Klara’s help, we arranged for pizza and puddings to be delivered in the evening which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. While everybody was eating and looking at the cosmetics we had distributed, we took the opportunity to look around the building.

As we walked around, we were seriously shocked at the living conditions endured by the disabled group. Each room consisted of a disgusting, worn, urine soaked bed, with no bedding or blankets. There was no other furniture in the room, no possessions or clothes of their own. The beds were appalling and certainly not fit for any human being to sleep in as they were so worn and springs were protruding through the mattresses. The bedrooms were worse than any prison cell.

The living conditions of the able group were reasonable and it was interesting that even they could not understand why the disabled group were so neglected and living in such grim conditions.

We left Vidra that evening shocked at what we had seen and later felt that maybe we should have done more, though not sure what and how.

Next morning we said goodbye to Klara and headed off with Dudu to Bulgaria. Once over the border we stopped for a short visit to the SGH, part of Child and Space in Ruse. We received a warm welcome from Dima, the manager and the children who were lovely. We wanted to buy the home some goodies for Christmas, however Dima said they did not need anything and were just happy to see us. Dima did say that they would really benefit from some volunteers, which we promised to look into on our return home.

We then departed for Samuil arriving early lunchtime. We met in Razgrad, where we took a group of women to the hairdressers and then for a pizza.
We spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday shopping for clothes, food and fireworks. We held a big party at Samuil and we visited the two local group homes where we distributed the rest of our toiletries and cosmetics and found donations had also included jewellery and watches, which went down really well, so this is something we will be doing again.

It was interesting to note during the party at Samuil that there were around 14 staff present, who were probably there to ensure control and reduce the likelihood of “inmates” assaulting each other. When we attempted to walk around the building there were always staff present, which meant it was less likely that we would witness poor care or neglect.

Since the trip we have fed back to the Helsinki Committee as they requested. We reported that Samuil residents are much the same as they always are, with no furniture, no possessions, no clothes and no toiletries inc toilet paper. Many residents have scratches and bruises on their faces, as the few staff on duty cannot protect these people. The building is looking a lot better as it has been nicely decorated, with the sitting room areas a massive improvement, however inmates are still afraid and are living in fear, so a nice lounge will not resolve that issue.

We left Razgrad on Tuesday and headed back to Bucharest with Dudu. The plan was to take the more able group from Vidra out for a meal and to the cinema and to also meet up with Klara. As we started to get close to Bucharest we decided to amend our plan and go back to Vidra as we had been feeling that we should have done more for the disabled group and this had been gnawing away at us whilst we were in Bulgaria.

It was very difficult to get into Vidra as Klara was not with us, however eventually the security guard allowed us to go to the office and here we met the deputy director and five administrators. We were in no mood to be ‘fobbed off’ by these people as we demanded to know what was happening about changing the beds. They said they would replace them on Christmas Eve and we said that was not good enough. We asked them if they had seen the state of the beds and they said they had not. We asked them if they would sleep in the kind of beds they had reserved for their most disabled. They could not reply so we ‘stormed out’, letting them see we were angry. During the drive back into Bucharest we received a call from Klara, who had spoken to the deputy director who had said they were sorry that we were upset and angry and that they would replace one of the beds !. We felt this was a real result; though also felt they should replace the beds because it is an obvious need and not because we were upset.
We had a lovely last night out in Bucharest with the independent young people from Vidra, who really loved the cinema and meal out. They are very grateful and very appreciative of the help we are trying to give to Vidra,

The plan on arrival home was to put pressure on Catalina, the director at Vidra to make the necessary changes. If she is not prepared to co-operate then we will find out who else we can talk to as we can’t leave those young people in such appalling conditions.

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