We crossed out of Romania into Moldova the young soldiers on duty asked us for food which we gladly gave. After obtaining our Moldavian visas we expected to be on our way to a shower and a bed in Chisinau, the capital, how wrong, they held us for 25 hours and of course out came the cricket bat and on went the kettle. Inwardly our thoughts were with the children and their suffering so it was not important that bureaucracy did not have a heart, we all had a common bond to be patient and to help those in need.
The next day saw all the convoy together again, a great feeling as we proceeded to Chisinau where we had a meal eaten from a table, a shower and a bed that did not smell of diesel. Once again bureaucracy reared its ugly head so the following day was wasted with paperwork. At least it gave us a chance to visit the TOLSTOY CENTRE, a former prison where street children were taken for their own safety. The conditions that the children live under are horrendous, and so CWUHA are trying to improve them with an extensive refurbishment programme, which had already begun. New double-glassed windows replacing the prison bars were being fitted, making the centre drier and more comfortable for the forthcoming winter, this work would continue next year. Jack and Ron had many dozen bedding sets, mattresses, sheets etc and so it was decided to leave a quantity at the centre. The director of the centre tried to explain the reason for such a place, but no verbal explanations were necessary as our eyes showed us all that we needed to know. Upstairs were two young girls, identified as girls by the dresses that they wore, they had had all their hair shaven off presumably for hygiene purposes, so emotional, these children were living in a Dickensian Victorian workhouse.
At last! The following day we all set off to our various orphanages desperate to get the job done. Some vehicles were to go to a home for girls in Hincesti, some to a boys home in Orhei, some to a very impoverished area called Bendery recently the subject of a B.B.C documentary. Ian, Chris and myself would eventually go with Chris Logan, the E.C.T’s Moldavian director, to a family project in Cahul where they were trying to establish a programme of re-education and fostering in order to keep the children out of the orphanages.
But first I went to meet the girls in Hincesti, all the hassles faced on the journey, all my doubts and fears disappeared as soon as I entered these gates. The older girls gathered around us excitedly, it was a wonderful feeling. We were invited into the building to meet the less able bodied, we were taken into a room with yellow walls which matched the colour of a large fluffy chicken that I had brought with me from Glasgow, this seemed to amuse the kids so I put it on a shelf for all to share. Before me were cots of severely disabled girls of various ages, my instinct was to weep, I could feel the tears rushing through my body but I stopped myself as these girls didn’t need my tears, they needed my love. I bent over into one cot and stroked the face of a girl who lay there. She appeared to be brain damaged, but as I stroked her and spoke softly she responded with a moan that signified pleasure. The girl in the next cot, around 18 months old laughed with glee exposing a mouthful of teeth already rotting, some of the girls were distressed. I wanted to stay with them and help, feeling that I had not done enough. The words of Jack a veteran of many convoys echoed in my ears “the worst time is when you have to leave and the feeling that you have not done enough, but remember that you have done your best and that is all that anyone can do” I will hear those wise words in my dreams forever, thanks Jack. I witnessed all the other drivers with those girls, lovingly holding them enjoying them for what they were, warm human beings in need of a little T. L.C. Ian Hogg had a Polaroid camera and the girls were ecstatic with the results and will no doubt treasure this memento of our visit. Their delight was infectious one young lady with Downs Syndrome kept hugging us an saying “I love you” this is why we were here, not only for ourselves but as representatives of everyone back home.
The time came for Ian, Chris and myself to journey on to Cahul , another 100 miles, which was nothing compared with the 2000 miles taken to get here. Here we learned that not all the children in the homes were orphans, their parents who simply could not afford to feed them abandoned many, and some of their mothers had gone to the bigger cities to sell themselves to help the family survive. As I mentioned earlier our Aid would help with the E.C.T’s programme. The scheme’s director, Veronique introduced us to some of the families and tears filled my eyes as their stories were told to us, a very humbling experience. We took care to donate some of the food, clothing and toys to the helpers as there families were also in need. The children were very polite, when invited to
help themselves to the toys they only took one each and soon the air was filled with the laughter of happy children, a tonic in any circumstance. One young boy, had been diagnosed with a tumour on his leg, his mother a widow, Ian’s young daughter had donated a remote controlled car. Ian felt moved to make a gift of this car to the boy, you can imagine his delight. One 8-year-old boy called Alex stole my heart, he found me when all the official celebrations were over, introduced himself and told me that he loved me. When we unloaded the vehicle it was an amazing feeling, it was a privilege to be there and witness the delight of these people at what they were receiving, I felt proud to be part of this Humanitarian effort. Time to go! After many Hugs and Kisses and promises of photographs and future visits we headed back to Chisinau with a satisfied feeling i nside.
Back at base we met up with the rest of the team, many stories were exchanged. The Aid on the back of the vehicle that Morris and I drove had been left in a sealed room in the city. The E.C.T workers would distribute it amongst the several thousand families living below the Moldavian poverty line within the city, believe me this is as low as you can get. The team that had visited Orhei said that the director commended them on the Aid that they had delivered. Previously many of the children in his care had died due to under nourishment and what we had donated would save lives. An acknowledgement that our work is worthwhile.
After a day of R&R the time came to begin the long journey home. Many more borders to cross and time to reflect on a job well done and to give thanks for the comfort and well being of our love ones at home. The trip back was not with out it’s “ups and downs” we still managed to get lost a couple of times and the question was asked “ is this the CWUHA’s school for reversing” In Romania we dined on chicken and chips whilst being serenaded by violins, the next morning we witnessed wild dogs dinning on a dead horse by the side of the road. As we entered Austria Jimmy Jacobs the convoys “resident psychologist” was stung by a wasp, prompting the comment, “that’s the first time Jimmy has been stung it’s usually the other way round” the wasp was last seen flying across a field closely pursued by a Welshman waving a cricket bat, such is convoy brotherhood.
We arrived in Ijmuiden on time the next morning and said our emotional good byes as we headed home to our different parts of the country. This was my first experience of an Aid convoy and I would like to personally thank every one of you guys for supporting me and opening my heart to more than I can articulate in words. Every one of you is like a brother to me, I would trust my life to you, I think that I did that anyway! My special thanks to Morris who patiently supported my driving and taught us all some different languages. To Carl for his INSPIRED LEADERSHIP, to Stuart who helped set up the chemical toilet. Alex who made every morning sparkle.
I salute all of you, you are stars, and it is a privilege to be associated with you.