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The hidden heroes of Moldova

The hidden heroes of Moldova
This week we celebrate the vital role played by British charities and NGOs and their Moldovan partners in protecting and improving the quality of life of vulnerable people in the Republic of Moldova. Around a dozen of the most active will participate in the third annual forum for UK charities at the British Embassy on 18 November.  This year the focus is on increasing the dialogue between the charities and Moldovan policy makers and the donor community.

We have a saying that ‘charity begins at home’ i.e. you look after your family and friends first.  So why are there so many British charities working in Moldova?  There around 40 British charitable organisations or individuals working in Moldova.  Some, like Help Age International or the Salvation Army, work in scores of countries and have done so for years.  Other medium sized organisations such as Lumos, ChildAid, Link to Hope and Hope and Homes for Children/Copil Communitatea Familia (CCF) work in a handful of countries or a region.  These type of organisations not only work in the field targeting vulnerable individuals or groups of people, but they also work at a policy level with the national and municipal authorities.

Some organisations are faith-based (Salvation Army, Christian Response to Eastern Europe (CR2EE), Blythswood Care) which have close links to local churches.  Blythswood is an amazing story of church-to-church assistance over the last decade between a small community in the island of Stornoway in the far north of Scotland and Nisporeni.  But it is a link that has also benefited road safety in Moldova as a whole with the provision of 12 fire engines from Scotland equipped with vehicle cutting equipment and 6 ambulances too.    When you put this alongside the 8 fire engines with cutting equipment provided by Fire Aid and EASST, nearly 1 in 10 of Moldova’s fire engines come from the UK.

There have also been dedicated missionaries such as Chris and Helen Ducker in Dancu and Sarata Razesi who left Moldova last year after 7 years and Matthew and Helen Skirton who earlier this year left Moldova after 20 years. Their dedication helped revitalise their communities and provided essential ‘life support’ in the form of hot meals and warm clothes for the elderly.  They also encouraged small enterprises by securing start-up funds because people couldn’t get small loans from Moldovan banks.   Only one British missionary is left here now, I think, and that is Sharon Eason in Balti who has done some amazing work protecting young women and the elderly in Riscani and Risipeni respectively.
The hidden heroes of Moldova
Others specialise in providing support to particular groups of vulnerable people such as children at risk (CCF, Lumos, ChildAid) who are working to close down children’s institutions and provide alternative family-based care systems so that children can grow up in a loving family. MAD-Aid’s Phoenix Centre in Riscani and the Tony Hawks Centre in Chisinau work with children with disabilities and are the only two modern day-care centres in the country that offer services along Western standards. And Hospice Angelus, whose UK partner is Hospices of Hope, is the main provider of palliative care and support in Moldova for children and adults with life-limiting diseases. Other charities such as CR2EE and The Moldova Project target individual families that often fall through the cracks of social support provided by local social services.

There are other voluntary organisations (including schools) who do not have a permanent presence here, but who come back year after year to deliver aid or support a local community.   For example, TEECH have been coming to Moldova since 2008 to dig latrines for schools and kindergartens and build indoor, modern toilets and showers in neglected villages.   There are two schools Willink in Berkshire and Abingdon in Oxfordshire who, with their Moldovan partner AGAPE,  bring around 20 sixth formers  (17-18 year olds) here every July to look after children in the local school in Tintereni and  Ialoveni and teach them English and supervise other activities for a week in the long summer holidays.

Last Christmas at least five charities (Salvation Army, CR2EE, TEECH, Link to Hope and Blythswood Care) delivered between them over 25,0000 Christmas presents to children and adults across Moldova who would otherwise not receive anything at Christmas.  These presents are shoe-boxes filled with small presents and essentials (including soap, toothbrush and toothpaste) that have been donated and prepared by hand by ordinary British people.   So that’s around 10,000 people all across Britain put thought and care into preparing such presents for Moldovan people who they have never met, including my own family in the UK.

Why do Brits prepare Christmas gifts for people they’ve never met, or give up their fortnight summer holiday building toilets in the heat of summer, or spend every day raising money for the underprivileged for people 2,000 km from the UK?   Why did members of the UK’s postal workers’ union drive lorries packed with specialist equipment from the UK all the way from the UK to the Tony Hawks Centre in Chisinau and the Phoenix Centre in Riscani?  Why do they give so generously?
The hidden heroes of Moldova
Maybe it’s in our nature, or in our values such as tolerance of others and participating in community life. Certainly many people who give up their time to come to Moldova and help those less fortunate than themselves do so because they want to give something back to society. But there is also a tradition in British culture: charities such as the Salvation Army and Barnardo’s date back to the 1860s as does the Trades Union Congress which started to lobby for improvements in working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. In the mid and late Victorian era, whilst social commentators such as Charles Dickens and the German philosopher Friedrich Engels shone a light on the shocking conditions of Britain’s working classes, altruistic entrepreneurs such as the chocolatiers Joseph Rowntree and George Cadbury and Unilever’s British founder Lord Leverhulme, built model villages for their workers and initiated social improvements.

And so when I see the continued cycle of corruption in this country , the lack of political will to reform and I contrast it with the children in villages that I’ve met who can’t afford shoes or live in hovels, it makes me angry for two main reasons.  First, because thousands of ordinary (not wealthy) British citizens are trying to make this country good.   Second, because this country is not short of money.  I just have to look at the luxury cars in the car park of my local gym to know that.  The problem is that it is concentrated in the hands of the few and there is not enough money for social or infrastructure programmes.   The introduction of a much fairer and equitable tax system coupled with more accountability and transparency in Government departments and agencies would go some way to alleviating the situation.

There’s one more problem.  Whilst I’m immensely proud of the role of ordinary Britons in the development of Moldova, I do feel that a dependency culture is developing here that is worrying.   It’s at a local level: poverty-stricken villages who hope that someone will come and make things right for them.  And it’s at a national government level: which asks for even more money from the international community, instead of reforming the institutions to deliver more efficient and better services to the public.  So may be charity does begin at home after all, that is that Moldovans can play just as an important role as the charities – its hidden heroes –  do in improving this country.

If you would like more details of UK charities and their Moldovan partner organisations please go to