The Luxury of Christmas

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I was born in Chișinău, the capital of Europe’s poorest country, Moldova. Some of my favourite childhood memories are of exploring golden sunflower fields with my little sister during the hot summers, helping grandma cook plăcintă (the local cheese and dill-filled pastry) and eating everyone’s summer-fruit harvests on the rural farms of my mother’s side of the family. I grew up in England as my father is British and I was fortunate enough to have a happy and safe childhood with both my parents there. Unfortunately this is not the case for 1 in 5 of Moldova’s children who are affected by labour migration or the 7,000 children who live in state-run institutions today. The prison-like institutions are only a short-term solution to a much larger problem relating to an out-dated social reliance on state care. I believe that it is every child’s right to have a happy and safe childhood or at least the hope of a better future. Being raised in these two contrasting cultures has provided me with a unique perspective and instilled a strong belief that these challenges can be significantly improved through interdisciplinary and international partnership. This is where The Moldova Project (TMP) comes in.

 

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TMP works with some of the most vulnerable children and low-income families in Moldova. In a country that is inherently corrupt with an average monthly salary of 4,200 Lei (£140), access to food, childhood education and healthcare is a luxury. The fight for affordable life-saving medicine is a global issue but for the majority of rural families in Moldova it is a matter of survival. The program offers children an escape from very difficult lives and offers parents sustainable solutions including family planning and employment guidance. Sponsorship money pays for medical aid and allows parents to receive the training they require to return to work, preventing their children from joining the lost generation who are left behind as people are forced to seek work in Russia and the EU. After I read about how the program also facilitates UK-based sponsorship to Moldovan children who require but can’t afford HIV medication, my research was done. I booked my flights to Moldova.

 

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Each day, we entertained a classroom full of children with Christmas activities, face-painting, cinema trips and Moş Crăciun (Santa Claus) who delivered Christmas presents to a total of 303 children over the course of the project. The children, who are carefully selected from rural villages, orphanages and institutions have histories ranging from alcohol and drug-related abuse to abandonment at birth due to disability. It was heart-breaking to learn how children with minor limb abnormalities are denied access to national schooling and how more severe neurological disabilities occur as a result of preventable diseases such as syphilis or anaemia – endemic to Moldova affecting 1 in 3 pregnant women.

 

Towards the end of the trip we visited one of Chișinău’s baby orphanages, a stop which Becca, one of the regular volunteers who had been with the charity for several years, had been looking forward to the whole week. She was best friends with one of the little girls but was accepting of the fact that she had probably been forgotten. The kids know the Christmas visits are reliable but they are only a day long and it had been a year. As we walked into the rooms lined with endless rows of cots, the little girl looked up and a smile spread across her face as she said “Becca!” in polite amazement. For children who have only a handful of happy memories, this tear-jerking moment alone illustrated the importance and long-lasting impact of our Christmas visits.

 

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According to UNICEF-OHCHR, de-institutionalisation targets are being met, new pre-school facilities are being opened and the Law on the Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities was passed in 2012. These changes in the national legal framework are some of the essential steps required to remove the stigma surrounding disability, encourage further reforms in childcare and generate positive public dialogue on the reintegration of the disabled into society. Health sector improvements, such as sexual health campaigns in rural areas, are the greater challenges required to ensure child abandonment in Moldova is confined to the pages of history.

 

The program left me with a greater understanding of poverty and social change in developing countries, an insight into global public health issues and life-changing memories in a beautiful country that is desperately trying to expunge its darker ties to its former-USSR heritage. I can’t thank the managers, Emma, Lucy and Victoria of The Moldova Project enough for these memories and for the opportunity to work with some of the most kind and dedicated people I’ve ever met. The program organises summer building projects, winter Christmas projects and fundraising events all year round so there is something for everyone. University of Glasgow for Essential Medicines (UGEM) is looking forward to hosting TMP at Glasgow’s refreshers fair this Friday and fundraising ideas are already forming as we look forward to what 2016 will bring. What have you got planned for this summer?

 

The Moldova Project will be at the Refresher’s Fair next to the UGEM stall at Qudos in the QMU from 10 – 4pm this Friday.

 

By Joanna Ashby

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