Christmas Trip 2016

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Volunteers – Pete Brady, Tracy Robbins, Klara Rostas

Arrived in Bucharest on the 9th December and we were met by our regular driver DuDu.
We checked into the Ibis Hotel next to the parliament building. Very good price and great location. We met Klara at the hotel and headed off to Vidra with Dudu. On arrival at Vidra we checked the conditions for the young people with learning disabilities, which we found to be acceptable, though all are crammed into a small building with no communal living space.

The main building is now empty and we were told it is to be re-furbished – for what ?
We gave out gifts of cosmetics which had been donated. As before, these gifts went down really well. We bought pizza for everybody and then we met Catalina, the Director who had just returned from a group holiday to Brasov. She was as distant as ever, though showed us some photos and then disappeared and went home.

Next morning we drove to Ruse in Bulgaria with Dudu (for a good price). We stopped briefly at the small group home in Ruse. Dima was not available; however we were welcomed by the single staff member. We spent a short amount of time here with the kids and we gave out gifts that we had taken.

We then drove onto Samuil and checked into the Mimoza hotel, which is really good with nice staff and a friendly relaxed atmosphere and also a very good price.

We met Yuksel and a group of inmates who we then took to the hairdressers. After they had their hair done we went to an awful smoke filled restaurant for lunch which only seemed to bother me and Tracy. Later we went shopping for second hand clothes and bought huge sacks of quality jumpers, sweatshirts and coats and socks.

The point of taking Klara with us was to ‘train her up’ as a Volunteer Co-ordinator so that she can meet new volunteers in Bucharest and take them to Vidra and Samuil with Dudu. Whilst initially she was a little nervous and reluctant, her confidence grew and she eventually agreed that she felt able to undertake this role.

On Saturday we met Yuksel and Bulgarian translator Polina with another group from the institution who we also took to the hairdressers. We treated everybody to a nice lunch and then did more shopping, which included the usual purchase of fireworks for the famous display on the next day. We also did a short trip to the so called ‘Zoo’ near the Mimoza hotel. Poor animals living in awful conditions. Would not recommend future visits.

We discussed the plans with Yuksel to open a pottery workshop and we were shown a really grotty outer room, full of junk. Yuksel said he was committed to getting the room into shape and that he was willing to get his staff member trained. We will see before we commit to anything.

On Sunday we took the rest of the cosmetics to two small group homes and we also did a big supermarket shop for the party at Samuil. We gave out the cosmetics which they loved and we then had a dance to celebrate. Back at Samuil we did the usual party whilst creating mayhem. We had provided pizzas, chocolate, fruit and drinks which was thoroughly enjoyed by the inmates.

We were given a tour of Samuil and found many of the usual problems associated with institutionalisation. A relaxation room previously provided by HOH we found in excellent condition, though locked and obviously rarely used, though I’m sure it will always impress visitors!

All bedrooms were clean and too tidy as they were obviously rarely used in the day and probably only used for sleeping. No noticeable possessions for inmates apart from the favoured few, who do receive some personal belongings. No soap, toothpaste, shampoo or toilet paper were evident. When we quizzed the director he said inmates eat these items.

There is a lovely new ‘unused’ lounge upstairs, which is like a showroom, unfortunately unlikely to be used by inmates. On the ground floor we found inmates crammed into the lounge, which enabled the too few staff to maintain control. We did the firework display and inmates were herded ‘en masse’ outside to watch. I miraculously escaped with my life again!

On the Monday morning we were picked up by Dudu and taken back to Bucharest. I had been informed that Vidra inmates did not want to go swimming as previously arranged and wanted to go to the cinema instead, which we did as well as treating them to fast food, which they enjoyed. Next morning we said goodbye to Klara and Dudu and headed back to Luton.

Whilst we may have concerns regarding Samuil, we have been told that it is the 5th best institution in Bulgaria and they are very proud of that. We now have to see how committed they are to the pottery idea. We are meeting as a group of Trustees at the end of January at which time we will discuss and agree future projects and commitments.

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