Carusel is an NGO that has been operating in Romania since 2011 when it was established by three college colleagues Marian Ursan, Sorin Briceag and Alexandra Alboiu. The organisation works with marginalised people and those suffering from serious vulnerabilities, often multiple vulnerabilities.
by Douglas Williams
“We work with the people who, basically, no one else will work with,” says Marian Ursan, president of Carusel. “One of the cruel things about the vulnerabilities that we work with is that they tend to lead to further vulnerabilities, there’s a sort of snowball effect.” He defines Carusel as a Human Rights Harm Reduction organisation.
A fairly typical Carusel “client” would be an individual who is a drug addict, is HIV positive, has hepatitis, tuberculosis, is a sex worker, has no official papers, no medical insurance, is Roma and is homeless.
“Our biggest battle, our toughest job, is to expand these people’s horizons,” says Ursan, 39, who, besides his role with Carusel, is also an associate professor at the University of Bucharest. “Many of our clients, in their thinking, they live hour to hour possibly a half day at a time. We work to get them to think beyond, to think about their lives in terms of months and even years.”
The vast bulk of Carusel’s efforts go into direct medical, social and psychological services. Much of these are delivered by way of a special mobile unit that goes into the areas where vulnerable people live and it provides medical check-ups, HIV testing and general care of the many wounds vulnerable people are prone to.
“We try to build up relationships with these people, a lot of what we do is about building trust. We do an evaluation, we figure out exactly what their situation is and what they need and we build what we call an ‘intensive case management’. Then, in conjunction with the client, we build an ‘Intervention Plan’. We try to ensure we work with the individuals, not communities as such.”
The Carusel team sorts out identification papers and insurance and they liaise with hospitals to ensure their clients get the treatment they require. They also chase what funds these people may be eligible for and they help them in hospital to ensure they know how to behave, since it’s often their first time in such an institution, and they also provide hygiene products, toothpaste, shampoo etc.
Carusel works across metropolitan Bucharest in areas such as Ferentari, Pantelimon and Colentina and each year roughly another 2,000 clients are added to their list.
“Recently we met a large family who were living in a derelict property in downtown Bucharest,” recounts Ursan. “The father was incarcerated, so absent, and the mother was struggling. The older children were already addicted to drugs and it later transpired they all had HIV. The younger siblings were malnourished and there was a real danger the family would be separated and the children taken into local authority care. Carusel intervened and ensured the older children got the proper medical treatment they needed and that they received the government allowances they were entitled to, we organised a residential property for the mother complete with furniture and equipment like fridge etc and we got the younger children into a community centre where they could get an informal education along with some proper meals.”
Marian Ursan (second from right to left) and collaborators
Carusel is keen to maintain its independence so doesn’t take any public funds. It has an army of around 70 volunteers. Last winter Carusel ran a shelter which housed over 50 people per night but this winter funding won’t stretch to cover this unfortunately. Instead the mobile unit and the volunteers will be collecting materials such as sleeping bags, warm clothing and food to take to their clients to try to help.
“Many of these people, they are just so tired, they just think in the immediate. We try to get them back on their feet physically and emotionally and to get them to think seriously about their future. We help them put together a CV and we help them find work. Often their first job isn’t ideal but it’s a step in the right direction and it means they have to contemplate their future,” says Ursan.
Such is the nature of the people they are dealing with Carusel also has to deal with their deaths. They organise the funerals and coffins and even the graves. “That’s the thing with many of these vulnerabilities, they are extremely serious. Often our clients are so numb they don’t even realise how serious their situations is. Often we are the first people to have really listened to them in their lives, nobody has ever paid any meaningful attention to them. They have no hope. So we try to fix that, one step at a time.”
See Carusel’s Facebook page for how to get involved or how to donate.
December 2014, “La mama” Restaurant, Alba Iulia Square
Sleeping bags for the homeless