By Claire Melinte
Asociația Bunul Samaritean is based in the village of Nicorești, in the Galați County. It was founded when a group of Irish volunteers came out to volunteer, just after the revolution, in the local orphanage where hundreds of babies and children had been abandoned in awful conditions. Those first volunteers (who today are still our biggest sponsors!) quickly realised that the only way to help the sickest of these children was by building a home for them, so in 2003 Casa Bridget was opened!
2018 is a very special year for us as we celebrate 15 years since Casa Bridget opened its doors to our first residents!
The last 15 years
We don’t often talk about the past, but sometimes it’s important to reflect on how things were, so we can appreciate how much things have changed. It’s difficult to imagine that 16 years ago, our happy, fun-loving, cheeky residents were living in sub-humane conditions: some were chained to beds without mattresses; others were left for hours in their own faeces; ALL were subject to terrible abuse and neglect. Many volunteers from the orphanage talk about the horrific smell and unbearable coldness in the rooms, the desperation in the children’s eyes and the rows of babies lying in silence, having learnt the futility of crying. 15 years on and our residents are happy, safe and very much loved!
We have a wonderful team of staff (trained by English and Irish specialists) that care for them every day, offer them both educational and fun activities and push them to be as independent and as happy as possible. Our guys have thrived in different ways, some have learnt to walk, to feed themselves, others have learnt to communicate or to show affection.
Sadly, some are no longer with us, but we know we made their last few years as happy as possible. We NEVER stop striving to offer our residents the very best care possible.
Here is the story of one our residents. Valeria (name has been changed to protect her dignity), with hundreds of others, was discovered in shocking conditions in the Nicorești Orphanage. Valeria was terrifyingly skinny, and her bones were twisted from spending days/weeks/months/years in a cot. Valeria was unable to walk and only got fed when someone took pity on her. As one of the weakest, she was vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Valeria lived in a small room where the smell alone would make visitors vomit.
The good news is that Valeria’s story didn’t end there, we at Asociația Bunul Samaritean quickly built a home for her and 15 other children with severe disabilities. In 2003 they moved in and have thrived ever since. Valeria can now walk, she is in good health and although she cannot talk, she understands everything and has found her own way to communicate! Valeria thrives on routine, likes going for walks and loves helping round the house. Valeria, and the rest of the gang are well looked after by trained, loving staff. Valeria has her own bedroom, eats her meals in the kitchen as a family, showers every day, has daily walks and has access to our medical assistant and our massage therapist. In the summer Valeria enjoys doing puzzles in our large garden, paddling in our pool and relaxing in our sensory garden. In the winter Valeria enjoys socializing in our playroom, relaxing in our Sensory room or doing crafts in our schoolroom.
Most importantly, Valeria feels happy, safe and secure, her horrific past is well behind her!
Adapting to the needs of the community
From the beginning it was clear that poverty was a huge problem; many homes are overcrowded and without running water or indoor bathroom facilities. There are still homes without electricity and horse and carts are still commonplace. Unemployment is high in our village and common problems include alcoholism, domestic violence, teenage pregnancies and delinquent behaviour.
The children in our village face several different problems. Many parents (who were often teenagers themselves when they became parents) move abroad looking for jobs, often leaving their children with elderly grandparents or neighbours. Many parents are illiterate so are unable to help their children with their homework. There are families with 7, 8 or even more children and the elder children are often kept home from school to help with the little ones, or to go to work in the fields. Schools in rural areas also face real problems with funding, equipment and attracting qualified teachers. So, in 2007, we set up a Day Centre to tackle the problem of education for our youngsters. Since opening over 300 children have had their basic needs taken care of and quality educational programming. The Centre provides children from families with a wide variety of problems and challenges with extra schooling, hot meals, hot showers, play time and a safe, loving atmosphere.
We also offer non-formal educational workshops in various topics/areas such as; woodwork, sewing, gardening, internet safety, cooking, human trafficking prevention, and domestic violence. We give these children a safe environment whilst encouraging them to choose a different future for themselves!
At the Day Center
Here is a story of just one of our Day Centre children. Ana (name has been changed to protect her dignity) was abandoned by her mum and her dad is an alcoholic. She was raised by her elderly grandmother in a simple, one roomed house with no running water. Her granny has a small pension which is not enough to feed them, clothe them, pay for medicines and bills. Many nights Ana went to bed hungry, unable to sleep due to stomach cramps. The next day she would go to school (of course, without having had breakfast) where she would struggle to concentrate due to hunger and exhaustion. After school, Ana had nobody to help her with her homework, her gran being illiterate and preferring Ana to help around the house and yard. Some days Ana would not have clean clothes, so she preferred to miss school rather than be teased. Ana was very withdrawn and had few friends.
The wonderful news is that Ana now attends our Day Centre (alongside 40 other children, each with their own story). Ana comes every day, after school, where she is greeted with kindness and a hot, healthy meal. After swapping stories about her day, Ana has a hot shower and puts on some clean clothes before going to play with her friends. At 2pm the teacher arrives to help the children do their homework. After lessons, the children are given another meal and then have more play time before the bus arrives to take them home. When Ana has a problem, she has access to our psychologist or our medical assistant. Once a month the children have a party to celebrate who had a birthday that month (before attending the Day Centre, Ana didn’t even know when her birthday was!) Ana also participates in different workshops: sewing, cooking, gardening, computing, personal hygiene etc. Ana, and all the other children, also help with the cooking, cleaning and tidying in order to teach them pride and responsibility.
Ana is now a different girl, her grades have improved, she enjoys school, she is more confident and she has learnt how to play. She has got her childhood back!
School dropping prevention
And we also have a project to prevent children dropping out of school early which is another big problem, especially in rural Romania. This project has been running since 2015 and has 4 elements:
- We offer free Math and Romanian Tuition to every child, in class (in two different villages) to give them a better chance of passing their exams and getting into high school. We also work with their parents to help them understand how important education is for their child’s future.
- We finance teenagers to go to high school (in the next town) and university (in various cities).
- These youngsters ALL receive counselling to help them prepare for the adjustment from village school to high school in a town. When at high school/university the counselling continues to help them resolve any problems as soon as possible.
- All our youngsters are encouraged to volunteer in our charity in various ways – doing activities with our disabled residents or Day Centre children, organising day trips, working in the yard, sorting and distributing donations, making and selling handmade items etc. This helps to give them a sense of pride and responsibility.
In those 15 years we have also set up numerous projects supporting people in our community. We have built or repaired hundreds of houses, we have connected 50 houses with electricity, we have paid for thousands of medical tests, hospital visits and essential operations, we regularly deliver food, toys, clothes and firewood to those in need.
The vast majority of our money, every month, comes from Crosscause (Ireland) and Noiperloro (Italy) to whom we are endlessly grateful. In recent years we have seen an increase in support from local companies and we’d really like this to continue and increase.
We don’t get any government funding but have paid taxes of over 400,000 Euros!
To help celebrate these 15 challenging but rewarding years, you can make a donation for the next 15 years here:
Banca: Raiffeisen BANK (Tecuci)
Cont LEI: RO62 RZBR 0000 0600 0499 1770
Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Fundatiebunulsamaritean/?ref=bookmarks or come and visit us to meet our big, wonderful family.