You will find here the latest newsletter JANUARY 2010 

JANUARY 2010 Newsletter-

 

Dear Godparents and friends

 

It is time once more to bring you news of our work in Romania. I would think that most of you will have seen or have been told about the BBC News over Christmas about the institutions in Romania. For those of you who did not see it, we have managed to capture the written report and included it in the newsletter on separate pages. I hope you  will understand that I have personal observations from my time in Romania regarding this documentary. I suppose, like most things, it can be seen differently from many directions. Although I am pleased that the BBC has brought out the horrific truth it is practically exactly what I have been screaming about for the last 20 years. Yet the other side of the coin is that the secret filming also has an adverse effect on the conditions and the unfortunate misery of these children /adults .It always leads to a clamp down on visitors, a total shut down of information and makes the institutions more like prisons than mental health institutions.  None of these people are not and will possibly never be anything other than children, and as children need constant help, protection, love and reassurance that only caring people can give.

The excuses used in Romania today are the exact excuses given to me by the people in Romania 20 years ago when on my first visit I asked the question "Why and how is it possible for this not to be stopped?". The answer then is the same answer you get now. If you first prove to an individual in Romania the circumstances under which these people live, the answer is always "we did not know". If you ask somebody in the street now about conditions in institutions the answer will still be "we do not know". This is really quite a truthful answer. I know for you it must be hard to believe that the Romanian Government with the help of the church and other institutions, particularly the office of child protection, have managed to keep secret the internal procedures of orphanages and mental health institutions and hospitals .It would be rather impossible for a member of the church to visit these institutions and not see the inhumanity that is there. On the same basis it would be equally as impossible for members of the office of child protection to visit and not see these problems. I would add the question everybody does not ask, including the BBC, were these institutions ever visited by the World Health Organisation, UNESCO or officials from the Parliament of the European Union.

Is it possible to believe that the Romanian orphanages and institutions could successfully hide these terrible things? You may not believe it, I personally believe that it is possible with a big effort to slow visits down, to have very lavish hospitality functions, to only show certain rooms and to keep people in conference, in the mayor's office, prefecture's office and show them touristic places of interest. It is quite common to put cars at their disposal, interpreters, to show them around the town, anything but what they came to see. I have personally witnessed an official inspection where doors were locked and no matter the insistence those doors were never opened. And how many times things were best left unsaid, unseen, do not rock the boat, call it what you will.

I believe that the majority of Romanian people do not have access and possibly do not know what is going on. I do not believe that officials do not know. They know and choose not to look. It has always been considered in Romania that it is a waste of resources to throw money at handicapped people, mentally or physically, who are considered to be non contributors to Romania's well being. Compassion, standard of care, empathy, these are things that have been forced on Romania by the West.

 We, as a Romanian foundation of 20 years with a very very good reputation, find it difficult to get access to institutions or get information regarding inmates. We constantly fight this and to date we have been quite successful except in three institutions, one in Tg. Frumos , Hirlau and one in Iasi.

Good will visits allowed to us, are on the basis that we go and visit, take no photos, give the humanitarian aid direct to the inmates and leave and there is an unwritten understanding that we are supposed to keep what we see to ourselves. For the benefit of those that we visit to date we have kept to these imposed rules.

Let me put it this way: when Convoy aid and its volunteers, most summers go to an orphanage or institution we take our paint, our brushes and our cleaning materials. We insist on a lockable room or work from the back of a locked van. We physically paint the rooms. Once the paint is on the walls it cannot be stolen. If we were to give 20 tins of paint (emulsion) one or two things would happen: at least 50% would be stolen and out of pure village ignorance the remainder would be contaminated by them adding water to make up the volume. As we all know you do not add 100% water to English emulsion, if you do it dries out and covers nothing. I have been told by orphanage staff that it is their opinion that the inmates cannot appreciate if a wall is freshly painted and because they have no means of appreciation they consider it fair to take this paint home, paint their house where they can appreciate it. I have even seen staff stealing shoes from the orphanage, and when there has been a big cry about it, they have actually brought back broke unwareable shoes being under the impression that inmates really do not care what they are dressed in. Believe me or not, I have seen orphaned mentally handicapped children seriously happy and enjoying the new paintings, especially when we do our animated pictures, I have seen mentally handicapped children actually picking their own cloths admittedly mostly by colour.

I do not pretend to know the answer, yet there must be one. I do not think that answer is going to come from government or from big charitable organisations. I think the answer is going to come from continued help from the small hands on unpaid caring charities, one of whom we are proud to be.

I need now, at whatever risk, to confirm that the majority of what the BBC has documented is absolutely true but in my opinion does not go sufficiently far to describe the true conditions and in some cases the character of the people running the institutions. The reality is that some of these young and not so young , should we call them patients(?) ,are too far down the psychiatric road to even hope of any normality but there is no reason that I can see why these people should be hungry, dirty, cold or mistreated, especially physically mistreated. WE ARE TALKING MONEY! I am of the opinion that many millions of Euros enter Romania from the European Union for the early quick relief of these patients. I am also of the opinion that this money never gets much further than Bucharest .I am absolutely sure that the Romanian authorities would say how do I know this, can I prove this, who am I to have an opinion? I have a right to have an opinion because we work with these people and the proof is to me that I cannot see or be shown the benefits of the millions donated by the European Union. Although I can tell you I have seen many institutions directors' offices and waiting rooms furnished to an unbelievably high western standard that huge amounts of phones, TV, DVD's computers, laptops have all been purchased for the running of the institutions and in many cases only yards away from patients in terrible extreme conditions.

Institutions still continue to receive from Convoy aid medical aid, food aid, cleaning materials, bedding, clothing even incontinent pads. The fact that institutions need aid from a small charity can this not be counted as evidence that the money is not getting where it should be?

It would be very easy for our supporters, our Godparents, volunteers to walk away from this asking the question"why should we bother if Romania is not interested?". As a Godparent myself, I know exactly why I do not give up and walk away. It is because no matter what the Romanian Government or institutions are guilty of these poor people and children are guilty of nothing. And they are also in the position they cannot mentally or physically help themselves. And the genuine people who would help them are being excluded by the state.

I still consider that being a Godparent with Convoy aid is worth the effort because we are somewhat unorthodox in our methods, because we are outspoken and because over 20 years we have stood our ground. The BBC can show you many very disturbing situations, Convoy aid can show you equally as many that we are addressing and we can show you hundreds and possibly thousands over the years, of people who have and continue to benefit from the actions of our small charity. We cannot reach the whole of Romania, but the people we come onto contact with and help, do benefit greatly. Can I say at this time that many of the Godchildren and their families without your support through Convoy aid possibly would not manage so well? It varies , some families need a little help, some need a bit more, some need specific help and many others are just desperate even for food and dare I say it warmth. They are living throughout the winter where, in some cases, homes are so poorly constructed that no fire could mean death for the very old, severe illness and death for the very young.

There is so much to tell you, so much to explain, I could probably write a book and still not tell you the whole story about poverty in a country within the European Union, and only a few days drive away, 3 hours by air.

Romania needs help generally and specifically in the institutions and in the countryside .I think I can honestly tell you that in my opinion Romania is a third world country within Europe. Brussels should be ashamed of it. The entrance to the European Union was purely political .it was about a military line separating Russia from the west, a military NATO line from the North Sea to the Black Sea. The only big improvements in Romania are in central Bucharest and the US military basis around Constanta and the Black Sea. The entrance to the European Union was dictated by Romania's strategic position not on its merits as a good trading country. In Ceausescu's time everything was corrupt and I can report business as usual, nothing has changed.

We are dealing every day with orphanage children fostered into the community having serious mental health and communication problems where the foster parents are not always capable of looking after themselves. But the promise of a bit more money to foster perpetuates this situation. The only good difference from our point of view is that in most cases we have access to these young people like Ion, Nicoleta, Nicolae, Constantin and many others who are indeed , if it can be imagined , given their circumstances at the present time , enjoying with our help , a far better life than in the institutions.

I left quite early for Romania expecting seriously bad weather. There was snow in the mountains on the way in and snow on the mountains on the way out. Fortunately for me the weather was very kind. We only had a little snow during the whole trip but there was extreme cold and icy conditions, roads were a bit slippery too. The schools were still open so we did that first and then we started to do the named boxes, parcels and clothing donations for the Godchildren and named people. It was well balanced, some people visited me in Bivolari and some people received visits from me with the van where possible, other received visits with horses and carts. But I can report that all the parcels were delivered and this year we took 2000+ shoe boxes from lots of schools.

Unfortunately for us since the teacher, Mark left St Bega's school, there has been no one to step in his place and we were down in numbers this year. It is a terrible shame because we have always had a wonderful relationship with the children from this school. Maybe next year, who knows?  But as usual the response from the rest of our helpers in  Hartlepool has been wonderful. Stockton, Middlesbrough, Bedale, Castleton, Teesdale, Blackpool, Bristol, Taunton, Whitby, Leicester, and Darlington schools all helped as usual. Unfortunately we left it very late this year to contact the schools , mainly because we were in Romania until very late. Anyway we hope the normal schools that support us can help us with our Easter appeal or even next Christmas shoe box appeal. The fact that I got on to deliveries in Romania early was very good as we had somewhat of an emergency back home in England. We are not quite over it as yet but things are looking much better. About one month before I went away to Romania Gabriela took quite ill, problems with breathing, pains in the chest, generally feeling not too good. One day she took so ill she was taken from the university to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough where she was examined with ECG, chest X-rays etc. At that time she was told they found an inflammation of the sternum called costocodritis and that it would be referred to her doctor to deal with it.

After 2-3 days Gabriela perked up and went back to the University. It was put down to stress, tiredness and overworking for exams. Everything was looking ok and I set off for Romania. Just as I was finishing my work and sorting out some institution visits that were not important but I would have liked to have made, I received an urgent call from England that our doctors has sent for Gabriela and it was explained to her that the radiologist at the hospital had a second look at her x-ray a month after she had it, and the result was that she had one opaque area (shadow) on the bottom right lung. She was not very well once more.

I immediately packed my bag, jumped in the old van and together with the two Romanian volunteers set off over the mountains for home. I think you can imagine how I was feeling when I tell you I left Bivolari at 4 on an evening and arrived at Calais ferry port in less than 2 days, for a very rough channel crossing. When I arrived in Dover, Kent was covered in up to 10 inches of snow, roads like glass, arctic conditions. I am told this was the start of the bad weather. It was only a few days before Christmas.

I managed to drive up England to my house at 10 o'clock, having left the ferry at 8 o'clock in the morning. It took me 14 hours to travel up England. From Bivolari to East Harsley took just over 48 hours. It is the first time and the last time I hope to travel so far and so quickly in such conditions. You know they say when needs must everything is possible. Nonstop the lads were making coffee after coffee, eating on the move, stopping to sleep for the odd hour as the vehicle cooled down inside, then have to get moving again quickly. But it is nice to know that at 62 years old I can still manage it.

Gabriela is now showing some improvements after lots of antibiotics and strong steroids; she is still not 100%, we have not been out over the Christmas and New Year and still waiting for diagnosis.

The cottage we were in at East Harsley address was full of damp, mold on the walls particularly in the bedroom and the doctors believe it could be that inhalation of the spores is responsible for the bad health. To be honest before I left my breathing was chronically bad but during my time away from the cottage, my own breathing actually improved. Anyway, the bottom line is that we have managed to find a flat back in Middlesbrough that is only 5 minutes away from Gabriela's university, close to the hospital and it is more convenient not having to drive every day to and from the village. So we are busy at present moving home, not something we really like to do. Consequently we have a change of address with the post office so if you have already posted something to East Harlsey the mail is redirected and it will get to us.

The address to send all mail and parcels is :

Convoy aid Romania

Unit 4 Bellerton House

Blue House Point Road

Portrack Ind/ est

Stockton on Tees

TS18 2PW

Now the Romanian volunteers are living in the big caravan at Convoy aid's yard, security for the yard and mail is not an issue anymore.

 

At this stage I would like to tell you about a new project for Convoy aid. We were contacted before Christmas by  a very nice lady from Potters Bar in London who has read somewhere about our problems with our dogs. This lady runs a dog rescue in London and helps support dog welfare in Romania .What she has done, she has given us 4 dog cages folded up that take up no room plus collars and leads, drinking bowls and dog food, we take them to Romania to a girl in Galati and when we are ready to come home, normally empty, her friend will fetch us 4 cages containing 4 dogs to be brought to England for people who have already agreed to give them a home rather than be destroyed. Each person apparently pays £150 per dog to assist the work. This money is passed on to Convoy aid's bank for our transport. 4 dogs is £600 which goes a long way towards our transportation cost to Romania. Eventually we hope to transport 6 dogs at the time and practically cover the transport costs for the small van to go and come back. Each charity is helping one another with no extra effort needed.

We have to stop of course to feed the dogs, walk them; we also have to stop on the way out of Romania to get the dogs deloused and wormed and then because of the quarantine laws I have around 48 hours to get from the Romanian border to Calais. It is a nice thought that these dogs are going to have a nice life in England with a family, and it is for sure that they had a terrible life on the streets in Romania. Also, our friend Chrissie in London has promised to give us some supplies of Dog food for our orphan dogs in Bivolari. By the way, these dogs have been quarantined, chipped and have current passports before I set off. I always wish I could do this for certain children in Romania.

Talking about children the Rossetti street children , as I think of them, who are actually in their 30's now, are all doing fine, I visited them, help them where I can, supply clothing and shoes and in a few cases , helped out with medicine and doctors. Nothing is perfect but we keep contact with these people and most of them have a card with the contact number if they have serious problems.

In our last newsletter we were informed by our friend Pauline Sparkes in Bristol about a well known charity advising people that it was no longer necessary or needed to send clothing and shoes to Romania .The reason given was that there were ample second hand clothing shops in Romania, and that clothing was reasonably priced. I can only confirm one piece of that advice: yes, there are very many second hand clothing shops in Romania and Eastern Europe in general. I cannot confirm that there is no need any longer to send clothing, shoes or household goods and the reason is this: people with no income, no work or practically no social assistance can never shop in these second hand shops.

In the main these shops are generally in big towns and cities, very rarely in the villages or hamlets. What we are starting to see is second hand market traders that come to the villages , but again, I repeat , these people do not give away clothing. So I ask the question, where does the section of the community that have no income , receive their cloths from, especially people who are huge with glandular problems, etc. ?Let me answer my own question: in our area of North east Romania these people get them from Convoy aid Romania. Many of these people do not have a Godparent in England who sponsors them. Please do not ask me how we do it because I really do not know. But we do. It is a huge effort, it needs many hours every day, 7days a week and although we receive clothing, etc., free we also have the problem of financing the transport. Our vans do not run on water.

I need to go back on many  of our newsletters mainly for  the benefit of hopefully new Godparents, for the children who are desperately waiting for them. Over the last 20 years it has cost £1 per week per Godparent, multiplied by the number of Godparents that currently stands at around 550. This can vary slightly up or down. Monthly this is our total budget that we work from. We all know nobody gets paid, nobody gets money from this, and everything goes in. We struggle to do what we do.

I personally am of the opinion that we could do more. I am also realistic enough to know that we suffer from our naivety. There are people that say that we are experts on Romania, in particular the orphanage situation and the poverty situation. We are quite often consulted to give expert opinion to newspapers, radio stations, TV's.

This is all very good. There was a time when we used to run a Romanian       information centre helping other charities intent on working in Romania. We do not do that now because we are one of the last remaining charities still working. Most foreign charities have been pushed when refused entry to an orphanage; some would spit their dummies out and march off home. We still believe we are needed.

Our main problem is, as I see it, the charity world is competitive; everybody is competing for a slice of the charity cake. Convoy aid's slice is minute in comparison, yet our work load is huge. We have never changed the £1 a week for 20 years so we can never be accused of chasing money, that is for sure. But we have never been very good at, or had the time to raise money unless for particular projects like the milk project in the early 1990's when we raised £10.000 in 10 days for starving babies or the syringe program in the middle 1990's when we saved possibly thousands of lives from possible cross contamination of HIV virus through misuse of syringes.

Other charities have fundraising departments and paid fundraisers, special events to raise money. We do not agreed with paid fundraisers and we cannot run a fundraising office without paid staff, although the money would help us, the whole procedure would I think, put us on that slippery slope. We do manage and I think when you are hungry, lean and mean , you tend to be far more careful how you use the small amounts of money that do come in. What we actually need is not large amounts of money; we really need another 200 Godparents. You see, in our office in Bivolari we have a social register of 2000 families spread out around a huge area, Bivolari being the centre and the villages spread out around it. Some are big some are small.

When we say 2000 families, that is not to be mistaken for individual persons. From those 2000 families we have an inner list of around about 300 families who were the first on our list. Although these families may have multiple children, an individual family may have 2 children or one child with Godparents in England. Quite often the godparent would include presents or something for the other children of the family. We probably have another 4000 named children in the 2000 families on the waiting list for actual Godparents, somebody that the child can say" I have a Godparent in England". Never in our wildest dreams do we ever hope to find £1 a week sponsors for that many children .As we have said another 200 would help us.

The reason for this is that it is not all about money. It is purely about overheads in the form of operating finances. Everything practically that we take out to Romania is donated free and sometimes I have to turn things down, not because we do not want them, not because they are not needed but we do not have sufficient money to actually transport it to Romania. Is it not sad when somebody rings up and says, I have all this help for you but if you do not take it and cannot store it we will have to burn it or send it to the skip. So you see 200 new Godparents could make the difference.

We started off around about the same time as Canine Defence League, now the Dog Trust who have a huge fundraising operation going on and at present have thousands and thousands £1 week sponsors for dogs. We have 550 for children. I am saying nothing bad about the Dog Trust, what I am saying is we do not have professional fundraisers , we do not have hundreds and thousands of pounds for TV adverts, car stickers, canvases in the street. They turn over millions a year and spend millions on advertising. We do not and cannot walk this road. What we can do is keep trying , ask our Godparents to try to find another Godparent, make up some leaflets to take to work, get their local newspaper interested, go to their local churches and schools which we cannot reach, just a little gentle push by all of us , we might find the Godparents we need. Until then we will keep on doing the work.

If you can help we are including a sponsorship form, please pass it on and see what you can do.

20 years ago we set the price at £1 a week, mainly because I wanted to sponsor a child with World Vision and they wanted £15 a month or more, I cannot remember. At the time I could not afford it , so Convoy aid's £1 a week was set so that anybody , no matter their financial circumstances, could if they truly wished, sponsor a child with Convoy aid, because remember Godparents are not obliged to do anymore than that, which enables us to do our work on their behalf . We were reasonably successful at the time because every other charity was looking at the middle class working population of the country who possibly had £15 disposable income per month. But whenever you switch your TV on now, every day you will see several repeated appeals on behalf of various charities for amounts from £2/£3 per month to whatever you can afford. Well known charities with huge reserves, whose publicity bill far exceeds our total resources for the year . Convoy aid cannot compete in that market place, nor do we wish to. When we come home from Romania there is usually nothing in the bank, no reserves, nothing. We start new every time.

Ok, I had my little cry let's move on. If you can find me a Godparent please do; if you cannot do not beat yourself up. It is not an easy thing I am asking you to do. Believe me, it is easy to find a sponsor for a panda bear than it is for a child, and by the way I like panda bears as well.

Gabriela is still at the university, she goes back on the 12th of January and I have to be back in Romania around about the 28th of January. I am to do general distribution of aid, visits; etc which we hope will be paid for by Chrissie and her dog charity. I would not normally go out because I could not justify the cost at this time, but this way I can take out a big van and a big trailer and as long as I bring the dogs back it will not cost convoy aid anything. Not a bad deal. Gabriela is studying for a doctorate in Psychology and when that is accomplished things will be moving much better because we can actually then go into mental health institutions and orphanages on Gabriela's medical credentials. It would be very difficult to keep a psychologist out without good justifiable reason. In the meantime we are looking at the legal rights of the children ad particularly those of mentally retarded young adults, because at this time in Romania, it is our opinion these children and young people are not only not represented but are totally misrepresented and that one day the institutions may be forced to use good practice.

Thank you so much for reading, I know I have gone on and on again and believe me I could do another 20 pages but Gabriela would not let me .Thank you very much for all your support and please remember that without you we could do none of our work. It is so strange, when I am shopping in ASDA in Teesside, the amount of people that come to ask if I am the man that goes to Romania, I answer yes. These people go on about the good work that we do, and if it was not for people like us that do what we do.... they want to shake my hand. This happens every day all over the area. If we are so well thought of why are we struggling for Godparents? It is very rare that these people ever donate anything to help our cause, very rare indeed.

You would not believe how many people have a bereavement in the family, they telephone us and yes we are extremely grateful for donations of clothing, etc., and it is always sad but very few ever think how I manage to get all these things to Romania. One of the most frequent questions I get from strangers is "how do you fund this?". When I tell them that it is with great difficulty I never get a reply" let me help".

So if you are a school or a local Godparent please remember we urgently need clothing for any age, shoes, toys, tools all urgently needed. Even if you live some way off and you could collect and save them up for us so that it is worth coming for on a special trip, please let us know first.

The trip I am doing in January is a short one off but for our summer trip we already have Val Shepard's son coming out to help with the distribution and any general work , especially regarding farming as he is a farmer . We did have a volunteer who was an artist, but we lost track of him. We are looking for one or two artists to help with our summer painting project doing animated jungle book type painting life size on institution walls. If anyone wants to volunteer there is no money in a way of wages and unfortunately we can advise on travel, but we cannot pay fares. Likewise volunteers buy their own food locally in Romania, we do supply free accommodation. There is some possibility at the moment of free transport in Convoy aid's van.

We would also be very thankful for any paint, emulsion or gloss, brushes, rollers, trays, etc.

Yours sincerely

Rod Jones