We recently returned to Cluj in Romania, to see how things were progressing with our new project at Pata Rat dump. We were pleased to see steps being taken towards some great changes for the children on the dump. As it was Spring the environment was very different to the snow capped, knee high mud we had seen back in February. Though the dump itself was still as big and awful as ever, stinking and smoking, the surrounding areas were lush green and a stark contrast.
The families still live on, or very close to the dump, in shacks covered and filled with rubbish. Their water supply is still one contaminated hose at the back of the dump. However the children are now coming to our mobile education unit instead of spending their days on the dump. The mobile unit consists of two classrooms, a medical room, a bathroom and an office.
We were so pleased to see all the children coming in for nursery and catch up classes every day and having a big hearty lunch. Though the mobile unit is supposed to be just a nursery, some of the older siblings have never been to school, nor separated from their siblings, so the mobile unit will, for now, act as a stepping stone for their integration into main stream schools. A paediatrician visits the mobile unit every day to check on all the children.
On Fridays we have set up a mother and baby unit, run by our Neo Natal doctor and two social workers. Here the mothers from the dump come with their babies and have medical checks. Along with education in hygiene and nutrition, they are taught how to wash and change their babies and how to feed them, sterialise bottles and make formula correctly. This is not an easy process as many of the women have had several children and do not see the benefit or why they need to change. But seeing babies being fed on sugar water, with severe rashes on their bottoms, filthy and malnourished -needs to change. And a huge part of that change is not just us looking after the babies and children, but teaching the parents how to do the same and why.
So what is next? Well the children are coming off the dump, they are learning, playing and eating…but they are still filthy, most of them have terrible rashes and skin problems, which are hard for the doctors to deal with as they are so dirty. The Municpality has provided a shower unit but it has not been used, so for us the most important next step is getting the showers working and the children regularly washed and changed before they start activities, helping them get clean, stay clean and giving them back their dignity.
We also hope to employ some of the mothers to help with this and get the parents more involved with the mobile unit and be part of the education in hygiene and nutrition, hopefully this will make other parents more open to these changes too. Though many of the things we are implementing may seem obvious here, to the community we are working with, we are starting at ground zero. Many have never seen a toilet or shower and are scared of these new things and also confused, several children have tried to flush the chain and wash their hands in the toilet.
We need to raise a lot more money for this project to ensure that these children are getting off the dump everyday and teaching them basic socialisation such as how to use a knife and fork and how to clean. We also hope to have achieved this daily routine for the children in time for the winter. At that time we would like to prepare the mobile unit also to be used as a night shelter for mums and young babies, to protect them from the freezing winter, out on the dump.
Unfortunately due to Romania being in the EU funding is scarce- for us. I don’t know where EU money for Romas actually goes but it certainly doesn’t go to helping the poorest most vulnerable people in the country on this dump. I have seen no evidence whatsoever of large EU funds coming to help the children here. What I have seen is a mobile unit donated by the The Municpality (local council) and covering some very basic elements. But there are upwards of 80 children on this dump and it is a humanitarian crisis and seems to be one of Europes best kept secrets. Well not any more, so everyone reading this is aware, just 2 hours flight away from London there are babies and children living in the most horrendous inhumane conditions I have seen on a dump. Being part of Europe certainly isn’t benefiting them so while governments and councils and the EU continue to debate who pays for them and who’s responsibility they are they continue to live in poverty and that is why have stepped in as part of an emergency intervention because we are all responsible for one another and what needs to be changed in the world.