Paws2Rescue 6th annual Christmas shoebox campaign in 2018 collected donations from across the country, from Scotland to Cornwall, and at the start of December, we loaded the articulated lorry full to the brim of Christmas gifts for the orphans, low income families, and the children who would otherwise not receive a present this year.
Whilst we are in Romania every month helping the abused and abandoned dogs, each year, our Christmas trip is about the children – trying to bring a few hours of joy to those in desperate need of help.
We were absolutely overwhelmed with the kindness of so many people across the country, and as the lorry left, our UK team prepared to follow a week later by plane.
As we waited for the plane to land, desperate to arrive in Romania, we never dreamed that what we would see there would shake us quite so badly…
We were entertained with traditional songs and dancing by children in a local community school in the South of Romania, and then we took to the cars with our donations.
One home we went to was a basement flat in an old apartment block. In just one room, with a tiny kitchen and bathroom attached, were living a mum and her ten children. Ranging from a baby to a 15 year old, we asked where they all slept. There were three long sofas along the walls – which had seen better days, and which doubled up as beds for the whole family. The clothes for the whole family were kept in a single wardrobe and we were saddened that these children would be struggling to live – every single day. Clearly living well below the poverty line by European standards, the floor was lifted up and damp. We were told that when the rain comes, or the snow melts, the water ours in through the small ill fitting window, and the floor floods. At least it explained the damp smell, which we maybe thought was the empty and ancient fridge. The final sight to sicken us was the clear infestation of cockroaches in the bedroom: shocking to us as they ran around the walls, the children didn’t even seem to notice, clearly used to seeing these awful bugs living with them.
Leaving the family with Christmas presents, we went on to other homes – all in similar conditions, with many families living inside one room. With no locks on front doors, boarded up windows and no heating, it was devastatingly clear that whilst care for children is alleged to be improving, there clearly is a very long way to go to even bring these children near to the poverty line.
Some of the privately run orphanages were better, and sadly many were worse. We had the absolute joy of visiting once again the orphanage run by the lovely Mia, where the children sang to us and delighted in the presents which we brought. The 8 foot giraffe which had been donated from the UK was received by 40 children squealing in delight and appreciation.
Onto another village, and we drove through treacherous roads, with snow ploughs clearing up to 70 cm of snow. With temperatures dropping below -10c, the winds picking up, the snow flew around, and we shook with cold. Only not as cold as the many children who we met once again, with no socks: maybe locals are used to seeing this, to enduring this weather, but seeing children’s blue feet saddened us, our only joy was knowing that inside most the Christmas shoebox gifts would be warm socks.
Our visit included visits to some of the homes that were like shacks, covered in blankets and anything that could be found. With small children running in the snow barefoot, and many so thin we could feel their skeletal bodies when we held them, made us wonder about claims that the care of children in Romania is improving.
The final stop on our visit was to the children’s terminal cancer unit it in one of the low income hospitals. Meeting so many brave and inspirational, smiling children truly was a memory that we will treasure until we return.
We took your presents over 1,000 children and low income families, we bought hundreds of pounds of fruit, fish and essential food, and when we returned to the UK, our team in Romania continued visiting the orphanages, the children’s homes and many more families in desperate need. With over 1,000 Christmas shoeboxes in happy arms, the children fed, we did what we could to help. Even if only for one day of their lives, and until next year, our return.
A huge thank you to everyone who donated and helped us to change a child’s life this Christmas.