The Stephen Center in Tirana is a restaurant, hostel and library. Not far from the Stephen Center is the warehouse where humanitarian aid is received and distributed to six churches and the communities with which they work. At times aid is distributed to groups and areas of need with whom the Center is not directly associated. In 1999 the Stephen Center was given funding by the United Nations to run three refugee camps in Albania, supporting the thousands of Kosovar people that were fleeing Kosovo from Yugoslavian Serb oppression.
Through its outstanding work in managing these camps, the Stephen Center is now recognized by the United Nations as a Non-Government Organization (NGO). The Center is run by an American couple Chris and Laura Dakas who give Rotary shoeboxes to a variety of poor people in children’s homes, other institutions and community centres. Chris is planning a new project which would involve shoeboxes. He aims to use street drama to teach older children and young adults about the dangers of HIV and of trafficking by going to Albanian villages and into neighbouring countries. Shoeboxes would be given to the audience.
The majority of the Rotary shoeboxes delivered to Belarus are distributed by International Aid Trust’s contacts in Minsk and other cities. The country is authoritarian and there are often long delays before the boxes are released by customs so deliveries are not made regularly although many Belarusians are in need of aid and comfort.
Bulgarian Aid was set up by Christine Dagwell, a member of the Rotary Club of Howden, and her late husband Mike after they attended a Rotary Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1997 and heard an appeal for help from the Bulgarian delegates attending there. Further enquiries and a fact-finding visit revealed a country almost bankrupt and struggling to establish democracy after throwing off the communist yoke. Much help was needed particularly by the most vulnerable, the orphans, the old and the disabled.
Christine has established very good relations with Rotary clubs and local authorities in Bulgaria. Some of the main places in which shoeboxes are distributed are in and around Sophia, Rouse and Varna. Bulgarian Aid goes to children’s homes, often ones for disabled children, hospitals and elderly people’s homes.
Christine is impressed by the progress made by the Bulgarians in developing facilities for vulnerable people in society but there is still much to do.
Moldova is perhaps the poorest country in Europe and we are trying to increase the number of shoeboxes being delivered to it. For many years boxes Spurgeons have delivered from Iasi in NE Romania to their children’s home in the village of Vadul Lui Isaac which is in the Cahul district. More recently boxes from consignments to Iasi 2000 Rotary Club have been delivered and distributed by Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Chisinau Cosmopolitan.
We have worked for many years with Hope & Homes delivering to their Romanian base in Baia Mare in the NW of the country. The charity is greatly respected by Romanian authorities for bringing best practice to child care and assisting with the closure of state institutions for orphans, often economic orphans, and disabled children. The children are either reunited with their families, fostered or adopted by Romanian families, or moved to Small Family Homes living in groups of about 10 with a house parent. Many of the young people in care are teenagers and some have mild to severe learning difficulties. The charity also supports vulnerable families and works in partnership with other organisations helping some of the poorest Romanians including those from the Roma people.
Most of the boxes delivered to Hope & Homes are distributed in Maramures county but significant quantities are given to people in Alba and Bacau counties.
This Rotary club has distributed many tens of thousands of shoeboxes across NE Romania over the years. Rotarians in this club and other Rotary clubs that receive boxes from Iasi to deliver to their own communities are inspired by the energetic Iasi 2000 member Liviu Statache. Liviu and the many willing volunteers deliver shoeboxes across the county of Iasi and neighbouring counties. Many of the boxes are taken to rural destinations where conditions are still very poor for much of the population, in contrast to the rising standard of living to be found in the towns. Shoeboxes are often distributed in rural schools and kindergartens, children’s homes, hospitals and houses or flats.
The Prison Fellowship was run by Constantin Asavoaie who sadly has recently died. The new Director is Andrei Csilik who came to UK to see us in June 2014. The foundation built in 1993 for counseling prisoners and reintegrating them into the society has almost 5000 volunteers working in all Romanian prisons. Besides working in prisons, Prison Fellowship Romania is assisting more than 400 people in 6 centres: Christian Centre for Children Exposed to Crime, Christian Centre for Street Children, Christian Centre for Homeless People, Christian Centre for Mother and Babies, Day-Centre for children’s social integration and RuchamA, a night shelter for homeless people. Shoeboxes are given to children, teenagers and families at many of these centres.
We deliver to a storage point in Tinaud which serves that village and Spurgeons’ other projects in Hidiselu, Hotar and Tulca, all in the vicinity of Oradea in Bihor county in western Romania. The staff run kindergartens and other support for the rural communities that are suffering increasingly because of high unemployment.
The Rotarians take boxes to orphanages in the town of Cluj Napoca and also distribute boxes in rural locations.
NetWorks mainly serves Roma communities in the county of Arad in Western Romania. Lee Saville (pictured) is the charity’s President and one of the founding members. Our liaison is with Dea Piscoi who facilitates NetWorks distribution of Rotary Shoeboxes to families and children who are among the poorest of the poor. The charity works to improve conditions for homeless people and those living in very basic accommodation, as part of their crisis programme. NetWorks also helps people to help themselves by cultivating food, drilling wells, starting small businesses and by encouraging children to attend school and giving them educational support.
Pasha Ozeruga is International Aid Trust’s manager in Kiev. He is responsible for distributing many tons of humanitarian aid each year in and around Kiev to a variety of organisations and individuals as well as linking with over fifty sponsored families and running summer camps for children who otherwise would not have a holiday. He gives Rotary shoeboxes to those families and children and to a large number of poor people in children’s homes, elderly people’s homes, schools for children with disabilities, street children in shelters, offenders’ institutions and alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres. Pasha is working in an environment where welfare from the state is very limited and poverty, specially in rural communities is commonplace.
Pasha’s wife, Ira, is the Sponsored Families Manager and works tirelessly alongside Pasha and the other members of the local team.
The regional directors in Odessa are Tatiana and Anatolie Kolomiets who have worked for International Aid Trust since 1993 and have created a wide variety of projects that are changing people’s lives. The team in Odessa distribute many tons of aid to the poor of the region, helping people in orphanages, hospitals including AIDS and TB hospitals, prison, elderly people’s homes, street children, people fighting drug and alcohol addiction, disadvantaged families, women’s refuges….. and the list goes on.
They run summer camps on the Black Sea coast for children who would not otherwise have a holiday and look after many sponsored families where in many cases the breadwinner is absent or no longer able to work.
Rotary shoeboxes are given to all these groups with the biggest distribution of the year being “Yarmaka” a re-enactment of the nativity in early January held in the grounds of the church where about 3000 shoeboxes are given to the poor and homeless.
The members of the team who have driven many lorryloads of shoeboxes to Eastern Europe.
Gareth Hughes and Lewie Wilson