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Dear Godparents and Friends

On the 6th of July we set off for Romania in a reasonably well serviced vehicle. The trip to Romania was without any remarkable problems. It is now the 14th of September and we have finally reached home having spent 3 months away. I do not know if I have sufficient words to tell you about all the work we have done during this time. It seems like we were away forever and it was one nightmare after another, right to the very last day, which was quite eventful. We had just travelled over 2000 miles in 2 days in our old and severely wounded sprinter van. We had several problems but nothing serious to stop the journey, but would you believe it, on arriving outside the gates of Convoy aid's yard, we switched off the engine whilst the gates were being opened and the van just refused to start. We looked at all the normal possibilities, eventually we took it in using the fork lift. We went home in Gabriela�s car having got the Romanian lads settled in the caravan in the yard. We were very tired, both had the flu, I am on antibiotics at the present time; Gabriela is just in the final stages of the flu. We needed to go home and sleep and resigned ourselves to sorting the van out the following day. We called the RAC who were very helpful, but they only confirmed what Gabriela strangely predicted, that it was the diesel pump not pushing diesel through. Gabriela not being a mechanic I did not paid much attention to her diagnosis, but being a woman she was absolutely right, it was the pump. Whilst the engine was hot the fuel lines stayed open .When we switched off it was then impossible to start .It is just uncanny that it should choose not to start having finished the journey. We have been told this is a serious job which entails firstly stripping the engine of the pump, which means taking off timing chains, well let's say it is a lot of work. Worst of all diesel uplift pumps for sprinters are very expensive. We have an old van in the yard that has a pump but the mechanics are doubtful if the model would actually fit ours. We have been told by genuine people and the RAC that in a back street garage, to supply a second hand pump plus labor could be more than �800. The vehicle only cost £3000 some years ago and since then we have driven it daily into the ground on behalf of Convoy aid. We can't cry really because it has cost us less than £1000 per year, and if you look at it that way it is not too bad.

Never the less finding £800 plus will be difficult. We dare not even think about going to a reputable garage as most of you drivers will know , these people just add telephone numbers and zero's to their labor charges and seem to be on another planet , sniffing glue when it comes to charging normal people for a bit of work. So I am afraid it is the old story, if any of our Godparents or friends or anybody who is a mechanic or knows anybody who can supply a pump or even donate a little cash towards the repair, we would be most grateful. If our begging and pleading does not raise sufficient, we have to go back to the drawing board and see what we can do. We have so much work to do, so many things to pick up. We are heading towards the

winter and we really need to be on the road. You know we only use old vans and they really do not last forever. Before we left for Romania we had extensive repairs to do with shock absorbers, leaf springs, M.O.T., welding just to mention a few of the things to get us on the road for our last trip. Our friends in Workington can't move for boxes and bags that they have collected whilst we were away. They are waiting for us to go over to Cumbria to pick up. Our friends in Bristol need us to pick up, Sam Farmer in Somerset, Mrs. Tomkinson and friends in Blackpool are waiting too and the list could go on and on. Without a vehicle we are limited what we can pick up from people using a car and a trailer. I hope you do not mind me carrying on about it but I think you realize that the work we do revolves around having a vehicle to transport the goods with. We had lots of problems in Romania. I will not go on a bout them because we resolved them one by one as they came up. That is water under the bridge and no more than can be expected with an old van in a country where the roads are rubbish.

You are really not going to believe this but at this very moment we are sat in Gabriela's car, just off the A19 outside Crathorne village, two wheels on the road and two wheels on a grass verge. Gabriela is sat writing the newsletter on the laptop right now. We thought we may as well not waste the time , because we are waiting for the RAC to tow us home , as it seems like the head gasket has blown on the car for the second time. We had just left Convoy aid's yard and we were on our way home to start the newsletter and edit the DVD. The RAC has told me that they are 60 miles away in Scarborough and will not be here for another hour. As you all know we live in a little terraced house in a village 15 miles from our yard. So if we thought we had problems yesterday we really have problems today. The RAC said they will tow us home, and then tow us to a garage tomorrow. We have to take it from there. I am just adding this bit on now. It two or three days later and the garage in Stockton have given us the bad news about Gabriela's car. It was the head gasket but the head has been skimmed before, two of the pistons are in a bad condition and they believe that the engine block, being alloy, has also twisted. They put the new head gasket and a new water pump which apparently have caused the problems in the first place, and even though the car will not start, we still have to pay for the parts and labour. We have been advised to look for a second hand engine. Not easy. Anyway the car has been towed back to our yard and together with the Romanian lads we are busy trying to harvest all the good parts from our old van in the hope that we can transfer them to the broken down vehicle and get back on the road.

Anyway happily we have started the newsletter but I think it will take a little more than one hour to give you 3 months news. I need to tell you straight away things you do not really want to hear. Life in Romania is, I must report, as bad as ever and in some cases worse; it seems to be that the government and the people who deal with finances and the European Union donations are in a feeding frenzy on who is going to get what. I am slightly nervous about saying exactly what I know, as I do not want to end up barred, put out of the country or in prison. I think I am on firm ground saying that the newspapers and TV in Romania are full of stories of fraud and corruption and dodgy goings on as far up as the president. Everybody is screaming about it. If you are Romanian and you belong to a TV company or newspaper you are on fairly safe ground to say anything you believe to be true. However Convoy aid is not in the position to start pointing out where the poor people's money is being siphoned off to.

But the extreme poverty that exists in the non income families, is a sure indication that the money sent for them did not get through. Please do not blame the people for being poor, especially the children. This has been their life since most of them were born. Do not blame the old people for being old and not being able to access any help. Nor would I like to see people blame the sick who cannot afford to bribe doctors. People should scream and shout and say everything they need to say about the people in Romania who are in position of trust , who are actively knowingly depriving the poorest people in Europe of the help that is being generously given by the European Union. It is easy for people to say, if we stop giving these poor people our help, Romania will have to help them. My answer to you is this: it is a nice thought but it would not happen. The people will be allowed to suffer and if necessary starve or die of curable illnesses. I make no excuses for the Romanian government. Their policies are for the people who hold the purse strings and certainly not for the poor that I deal with .

It is my opinion that organizations like Convoy aid Romania will be needed to support the poor for sometime until somebody in Brussels has some real enforceable methods of getting the money down to grass roots for the people who it is meant for. A friend of ours from Bristol, Pauline informed us whilst we were in Romania , quite worried she was, that an organization who has apparently worked in Romania for some time , is advising people not to send clothing to Romania, as it was not needed. They are basically saying that because of the activities of the recycling companies in England selling second hand to Eastern Europe on a commercial basis, that there are second hand shops all over the country where people can buy clothing at a reasonable price.

Also that there is no need for charities like ours to take clothing to Romania and distribute it to the poor. They are saying that it is not logistically viable. As a man that spends most of his life working for the poor of Romania for the last 20 years I can absolutely and honestly refute this man's verbal rubbish. I am saying this quite strongly because this charity who is saying this, obviously does not work with the type of families we are dealing with. So in many ways, their outburst in Bristol really did more harm to the poor people than help. It is absolutely true when that charity said that non charities, that is businesses on commercial basis or recyclers, are collecting door to door and from schools in a similar fashion to what charities have always done. However they make no bones about it. They say upfront that they are not charities. What they do suggest is that these clothes are recycled and go out to places like India, Africa, Eastern Europe and are sold to traders who then pass them on at a very cheap rate to poor people. Well one can look at it in many ways.

But let me tell you the bit they left out and not told you about. Most of these thousands of second hand shops in Romania are ran for a serious profit. The clothes are much cheaper than the clothes in the shops that are not second hand. As in this country, second hand clothing is generally purchased by foreign students and most definitely by employed people who have the income to buy those clothes. I have even seen doctors who are on extremely good money buying clothing from second hand shops in Iasi because they find that the second hand clothes from England are generally of a better quality than Romanian made clothing.

What I have never seen and never will see, is any member of a non income family with no money in their pockets coming out of second hand shops having bought clothing. Believe me, if you have no income or very little income you do not shop for clothes anywhere. In our case, our families just hope and seriously pray that their Godparents, sponsors and friends in England will help them with clothes and to date we have managed to do this very very successfully.

 On this last trip alone we must have given out at least 20-25 tones of good useable clothing and shoes not to mention household articles like mats, carpets, pictures, lamps, ornaments, cups, sauces, knives, table cloths, curtains, bedding, pillow cases, quilts and even beds ,wardrobes , portable gas cookers , and much , much more, especially toys , bicycles, medical equipment and of course food. For those of you who can watch our DVD, you will receive a multitude of visual evidence that what I am telling you is the truth and that our work is both needed and appreciated. You will visit on our DVD houses that none of us would ourselves care to live in. These are houses that most of us could not even survive in, given the extremes in temperatures. You will see clothing getting delivered to people, food and in fact a very big cross section of how we work.

A lot of our time was spent putting floors in houses, putting in new ceilings, roofs and in one case practically rebuilding a house. All these families had mud floors prior to our arrival .We dug a well for one family and also had one well to clean out. At the same time we have finished off the physio centre in Bivolari which will be very soon completely up and running. We have been ploughing fields with the tractor, emptying sess- pits with the slurry tanker, helped out the local fire brigade with new reels. We went to visit the church in Roscani where Paul and Cristina donated the marble and filmed the floor they put in. I must say they have done a very good job of it. This is the church that our friend in Hayling Island, Mrs. Popplewell helped a lot with. Please watch the DVD to see more about it. We also visited the children in Tg Frumos, we have managed to take some photos and images. Two of the children, although we have seen them, we could not take pictures of them because all batteries on the camera were empty after a long day filming. We arrived there quite late and we did not have the time to return to the place for more photos because it is some 150 miles away from where we are based. But all the children are in decent health and doing fairly well learning a trade.

Interestingly, one day we had to go and pick up some mud bricks from a place where they are made, close to the river. As you all know these bricks are made from a mixture of mud and sand mixed with water and hay. Generally they are made close to the water but this summer water was practically non existent, but this is another story. So water had to be brought on a horse and cart in big barrels. We purchased bricks and made an order for them and when we went to pick them up I thought it would be interesting to get a bit of film of how they are actually made. We were in a village called Trifesti and I was videoing some children making mud bricks. They were walking about in bare feet in the in the mixture. I automatically surmised that the children were making the bricks for their homes. When I asked the young girl if they were for their own house she said no. I asked then if this was work for them and she replied yes. I asked her who she worked for and she indicated the man whom we bought the bricks from. Obviously my next question was how much do you get paid. Her answer was nothing, he paid them in food. I felt really sick and then when one of my Romanian helpers told me that this girl actually has a godparent with Convoy aid I felt even sicker. But the reality afterwards was that this girl was taking the food home to help feed the family, quite a large family too. Her father had recently had an accident and injured his back and shoulder and could not work and the mother was often with them helping to make the bricks. I had to console myself that although the man made a profit from the bricks and a profit from child labor, at least the children and family benefited from some food. Mattreses, food, clothing and more donated to a very poor family in Perieni But as you will see from the DVD the very next day , to try and compensate I got the young girl involved in a village project run by Convoy aid painting some pictures on a big board with a young student artist teaching her. For this she was paid a normal Romanian village wage. It was probably the first time when the family had cash money in the house for a long time. Anyway when we left Romania schools were starting and the girl is now back to school. Hopefully the parents will not keep her off school to make bricks but we have seen this happen.

We have been very busy giving out school materials, pens, paper, drawing books, pencils and a huge amount of paper donated by Ellie Doak. On this new DVD you will see the new addition to our animal corner, a cross bread alsacian type dog, puppy. We were called to a place between two buildings where this dog was supposedly trapped. It turned out it was not trapped, it was injured and hiding. No water, no food it was skin and bones, a bad injury to its bad as well. As you will see from the video when Florin grabbed the dog it spun and tried to bite him. It is totally wild and has no human contact from what we can see. It has been with us about 2 months, living in Convoy aid's yard, sleeping under any shelter it could find. It seems to get on very well with the other dogs but none of us have yet been able to handle it or get anywhere near it. The regular food and rest and as you can see from the DVD, He is picking up nicely. As you will see from the photo below Gabriela has christened a new Godchild for herself with a proper church ceremony and the baby's family are absolutely over the moon that the baby has a Godparent in the religious sense who is in the position to look after the child's interest into the future. This family came several times and asked me and Gabriela to be Godparents to their youngest child. What I am trying to say is this: Godparenting in Romania is very important and when Convoy aid first started the Godparent project and poor children started to have English Godparents , which are known in Romania as Nasi, it was quite worrying and quite perplexing for families to get their head around the fact that their child was seen by a foreign person as a Godchild and this was not done through a religious ceremony and a promise in the church to be like a second mother and father to the child.

But after so many years people are very happy and very proud that their children have British Godparents. We would like to see more Godparents maybe sending photos of themselves and their family because the children who have received these, I have notice, that the photos take pride of place in their homes and it makes it easier for them to relate to their Godparents. Even if I do say so myself, this project is so positive, works so well and benefits so many. I just need to congratulate you all and thank you all for being Godparents for these children. Please do not forget our Christmas appeal . We are told that this winter in Romania will once more be very severe. So, we have set the truck dates for the 25th of November, to allow us enough time to get in and do the distribution as quickly as possible before the ground makes it impossible to get about. We have had several people enquiring about volunteering for the Christmas trip.

We are having to look at this very seriously from a safety point of view, accommodation is limited this year. But next summer we hope to be able to accommodate all of you who wish to see their sponsored children. On this last trip out some friends of ours, Brenda and Bill Bird from Stockton had volunteered to come out with us. This had to be postponed because conditions in Romania, just before their proposed arrival, were getting very serious. We had no water for weeks and weeks, the temperatures were seriously high, and we could not breathe or sleep at night. Mosquitoes were rife, no water for toilets and bathing. Conditions were quite hard and although Brenda and Bill are quite active pensioners, we all decided over the phone that it would be better if they come another time. Lucky for them they managed to get a cruise to the Arctic Circle, visiting all over in Norway. They said they enjoyed it very very much. We love it when people come out to Romania but if conditions are very bad and people are over a certain age, the added stress of being absolutely sure that the people are looked after can actually slow our progress. But more importantly if somebody was to be ill in Romania due to extreme conditions I think people will quite rightly blame me and Gabriela for not having foresight to see this coming. But thanks to Brenda and Bill for their offer and since we have been home we have already collected a van full of aid that they have managed to collect whilst we were away. We are still good pals and they will come out soon. Our friends in Blackpool raised just under £100 to help the old man, his wife and two grown children who were living in the street in an area called Rossetti, under plastic sheets. The money was to put towards building a more substantial shelter or hut for the people.

We were told if we did this we would receive a fine and building will be put down. Apparently you were not allowed to build any semi-permanent or permanent structure on a pavement in great use by the local pedestrians. From day one the story got more bizarre as it went on. Initially we offered the whole family accommodation in the village of Bivolari. One or two trips were made and they liked the accommodation offered, but they were not happy about leaving Iasi as this would have entailed changing their ID cards, putting in for benefits of any kind that they were entitled to and also would have meant being taken off the so called housing register. Anyway I could understand this. We managed through the name of the charity and media friends to bring a lot of pressure on the mayor's office to do something about this family's predicament.

We were going backwards and forwards on a, if not every other day basis, at least every 3 days. We went one Monday morning to find the plastic gone, all their goods gone and them gone. We were told by the security guard that the mayor office had re-housed them. We decided to find out where and it took us over one week of fights and arguments, just to get a lead as to where they have been moved. The answer we got from the social services who acted on behalf of the mayor, was that they could not tell us anything about individual families and it would be a breach of that family's rights if any information was given out about them. Eventually a policeman in the street told us about a block in central Iasi where problem families were housed more for political correctness and nuisance value than any wish to genuinely re-house. We drove around and around and eventually two other street security people pointed out the block. You will see this block on the DVD. We were told by the security men that this time of night it would be very silly and dangerous to go into the block because it was used to house the criminal element of the street gypsies. The block was made up of very small rooms with a communal toilet on each landing. Outside in the street as you can see it on the DVD, there were very many aggressive young men and young girls and they were showing a great interest in our English van that kept going around. We went the following day and Gabriela and the two Romanian lads went into the block and found the family. They have been given a very very small room and they were sleeping on the mattresses that we have given them on the floor. We managed to get them bunk beds and cases to put their clothing in; we got them some food and a small cooker. We supplied them with a couple of lamps as the lighting in the premises was not always to be relied on. So the situation now is , although the conditions are not good , on the night time they barricade the doors for security and on the day time one member of the family has to stay in the room at all times to protect the little that they do have . We understand that they are getting some mental health benefits for the two younger, yet adults children.

We have asked these people if they want us to continue to help but they seem convinced that they will eventually one day be given accommodation away from this horrible place. We will continue to assist them with food, medicine, clothing, bedding, shoes, the general consumables that people need to make life livable. I hope our friends in Blackpool consider that we have done everything we could. When we left Romania we gave these people the equivalent of £50 in Romanian currency to help them. We will keep you informed as to their progress. From previous newsletters I thin you will all remember the name Carol Holliday. Of course now she is Mrs. Carol Cliff. Carol has done a lot for Convoy aid , has Godchildren in Romania and still helps with the fundraising as well as being a wife and mother to two lovely boys.

I think we told you that we went to her wedding in Balmoral castle. Since then Carol has opened a chocolate shop in the village of Ballater where the royal family spends a lot of time. They now have a small B&B. Believe me, Carol has never asked me to tell anybody this but I do so because Carol is such a nice person, I would imagine it would be an absolute treat staying at a B&B ran by her and Paul, her husband. And it might just be that our Godparents or their friends and relations may well be interested in visiting Ballater, in Scotland. I can absolutely recommend it. Our stay was short but we really enjoyed the village, the area, the mountains and the drive up there. So if anybody wants Carol's number please let us know, unless Carol gives us permission to put the number before it goes out to you.

 Thank you all again and please watch the DVD.