By Rob Bousie
Light into Europe is a British-Romanian charity founded by Stan Platt in 1986 with the aim of providing medical and humanitarian relief to Eastern Europe. We first started working in Romania in 1990 most notably establishing Romania’s air ambulance service with over 5,000 flight hours before handing it over to SMURD in 2003. Following this, the charity decided to focus its efforts upon supporting what was analysed to be a relatively unsupported group, blind and deaf people in Romania. There are around 98,000 blind people (IAPB Vision Atlas) and 40,000 deaf people who could benefit from our services.
Since this point, staff and volunteers for Light into Europe have worked tirelessly to set up support programmes, not to gain sympathy for those living with a visual or hearing impairment but with the aim of enabling and empowering our beneficiaries to live independently. This has included producing big print and tactile text books, which over 600 students have benefitted from in the past 3 years alone allowing them to read and learn in school, weekly sessions of creative education in the Schools for the deaf in Bucharest; encouraging life skills and communication through non-conventional education as well as teaching and developing courses teaching Romanian Sign Language, with over 700 people trained.
Our flagship project and the one many will know Light into Europe for is our Guide Dogs for the Blind Romania programme. In 2010 our 1st Guide Dog, Chloe completed her training and was matched with Gabi Nicolescu, a visually impaired man living in Bucharest. Since this point, with support from all around Europe including Guide Dog charities in the UK, Ireland and Sweden we now have 13 working Guide Dogs and Assistance dogs giving independence to blind people all around Romania as well as 15 dogs and puppies at different stages of training. It takes between 2 to 2 and a half years to train a working Guide Dog, which is the culmination of many people’s work. We are thankful to all the volunteer puppy walkers who look after our dogs each day during the first year and a half of their life, caring for them and taking them out to experience as many sights and sounds as possible to ensure they are calm and relaxed in any situation when they begin work. Following this, the dogs then come to our centre each day for training with our 2 Guide Dog trainers Anca and Severian who teach them to be fully working Guide Dogs; avoiding obstacles like the many cars on Bucharest’s pavements, finding where to cross the road, and making the blind person aware of steps up and down.
Alexandra, who lives in Bucharest, suffers from a rare hereditary ophthalmic disease resulting in restricted sight has been together with Guide Dog Bonnie since May 2016. Alexandra works as a special education teacher at the School for the Blind. She travels there each day guided by Bonnie walking to the bus stop, taking a trolleybus followed by a 10 minute walk to the school. Alexandra has very good spacial awareness but Bonnie aids her to avoid obstacles navigate traffic and find the correct routes to where she wants to go in a busy crowded city like Bucharest! She is someone I am happy to call a good friend and enjoys speaking a mix of French, Romanian and English languages!
It’s worth pointing out that the guide dogs also help a blind person to enjoy social inclusion, empowerment, trust and, of course, companionship.
All our services are free of charge to the beneficiaries, as even if someone is working they often receive a small salary. This means that Light into Europe works hard to support our work through kind donations and by raising funds through our 4 main fundraising events throughout the year. Our Scottish themed Caledonian Ball (Nov), Burns Supper (Jan/Feb), St George’s Day (April) and Bonfire Night party (November) are attended by around 1,000 people each year and help us to raise funds to support the work year round! So please come along and join us at one of our fundraising events, they are great fun and you will certainly get to meet some of our dogs and beneficiaries!
Scottish themed Caledonian Ball
If you are interested in supporting us either financially or by volunteering, I would love to hear from you. We always need people to be able to call on to look after our dogs, either long term or short term as we never know when one of our dogs will need a new volunteer, we are also planning to breed a new generation of puppies soon! If you would like to donate, we estimate it costs around €3000 per year to train and support each dog, so if you would like to contribute towards this, every little helps! You can find our bank details on our website – http://www.lightintoeurope.org.uk/Page/Services#donate . If your company is interested in supporting us, we would love to hear from you and even arrange a visit to your office with one of our dogs in training to tell you about the project in person! If you are interested, you can email me personally on [email protected].
Finally, for daily news and updates, you can follow us on Facebook @lightintoeuropecharity or on Instagram @romanianguidedogs