Hello to all our friends and supporters!

It's been some time since we updated you with all that's happening in Romania. Sarah and Karen visited at the start of the year, Sarah visited in June and Karen has just come back. We can report the following: Solomon and Rodica now have running water piped from the town's supply to their home. This is a major achievement! The water is not just for that family but for any of the families round about who need water; it is a safe, clean supply. It's hard for us here in the UK to appreciate what it is like to live without running water and the effort it takes having to get water for everyday use such as cooking, washing and drinking. We have been supported in installing the water and ongoing payments by Oaks church in Skelmersdale for which we are very grateful. Although Solomon and Rodica now have running water, they still don't have sewage and waste facilities and neither do most of the families in the Roma community in Jibou. Perhaps that's the next step! We also still support a widow living in Jibou with her water costs as we believe access to water is an essential part of life and something we will keep working on to help with.

Our volunteers in Romania are Solomon and Rodica, and Victor and Nadia. Twice each month they ensure that 30 families, mainly widows and widowers, receive a substantial food parcel. Due to the financial crisis things have been hard here in the UK, but in Romania its effects have bitten even harder given the limited infrastructure and patchy welfare support. There is no NHS in Romania and the most vulnerable in that society are very vulnerable. We have plans to give extra support over the winter period by buying some extra food for the food parcels, ie potatoes! A staple part of our diet here in the UK and also in Romania. As a separate enterprise we are also considering supplying some families with flour to make bread as the cost of bread has risen considerably in Romania: this has especially been hard on those with large families (by that I mean those with ten or more children which is not uncommon in Romania). Families have the skills to make bread but not the money to buy flour, so this is an area we would like to give some extra support. Is this something you could help with?

Winter is fast approaching here and lots of people are worrying about how to pay their heating bills. In Jibou it is no different. Last year we helped the Roma widows and widowers by purchasing wood. Wood is used for both cooking and heating and when you think that temperatures can drop in Romania to minus 20 and lower, heating, especially for older people is vital. Please consider whether you could help such a project this year - all donations can go a long way.

Hands of Hope Romania have also financially supported young people through higher education and we currently support Bianca with her accommodation costs whilst she attends a university in Cluj. Again this is an area we would like to develop - is this something you would like to support?

It's been a rainy summer here in the UK though Romania has had the opposite problem, having had little rain which has affected crop production much the same as the heavy rain has affected things here. Despite the weather we managed to hold our fourth Walk of Hope on the 1st of September when 55 people walked or ran 18 or 25 miles for their charity of choice, whilst Hands of Hope Romania received the entrance fees. We managed to raise £488 for Hands of Hope and much more for other charities. A big thank you to everyone who contributed to make the event a success but especially to Trevor Hilton who was the overall co-ordinator - all that and a milestone birthday as well!

It's coming up to that time of year when we start thinking about Christmas shoeboxes for Romania. We hope to send around 350 Christmas boxes to Jibou and some of the surrounding villages. Once again, thank you to all those who work throughout the year to make these gifts happen. The joy of a child getting a longed for gift is something to behold, especially when they would get little from elsewhere.

To finish we thought we would let Karen tell you a little about her recent travels...

'Despite the number of times I have made the journey to Jibou, it's always a challenge and this visit was no exception. I left home about 11.30am having been picked up by Sarah, and we made our way to Manchester Airport. Checking in was quite smooth and we managed a bite to eat before Sarah left me. The flight was on time and went at 3.15pm. No problems on the flight though you never know who you're going to sit next to.

It really got interesting at Budapest - it was a dark and warm evening there and I could not find the minibus driver who was to take me to Jibou. It's always nerve-wracking and despite reading all the numerous signs being held up as I came out of Arrivals, there wasn't one for Parcarai transport. Several minutes went by - I went upstairs to departures and outside scouring the parking area. I sent text messages to Sarah and Ibi (in Jibou) panicking, and decided to go back to Arrivals once again, and I finally found the driver who was non-apologetic and just in a hurry to get going. The bag got put in the back of the minibus and we all set off, a bus-full of very different characters.

Once away from the airport I know the road we need to take to go east to the Romanian border. Unfortunately we did not take that road; we went on an unknown carriageway that got smaller and darker until we were in woods in a very dark place. It's at moments like these that American movies enter your thinking and thoughts of being murdered in a minibus in woods in Hungary. Would I ever see my friends and family again? I am sure my heart rate went up. Anyway, we stopped and no mad-axe murderer got in but an old lady with a lot of bags and what looked like sweetcorn kernels in sacks. Panic over, all I needed to worry about now was when we were going to stop to use the toilet...several hours later we did stop at a garage. A big moon was beaming down on us strange bunch of travellers and the cicadas were singing. The smokers fed their habit and I bought a sandwich of dubious quality from the garage to feed my hunger.

All back on board I again experienced the delights of driving Hungarian-Romanian style - that means talking on your mobile phone whilst being only a few feet from the articulated lorry in front and making dangerous overtaking manoeuvres. It's not good for one's nerves! The driver was chatting to the other passengers in Hungarian which I don't understand, though I had heard some Romanian too. The driver knew I spoke Romanian as we had chatted when I got on board. The passengers were laughing and joking and the driver was entertaining them. As several hours had gone by he had obviously decided it was time to draw me in to the conversation - he asked me in Romanian did I know how many counties there were in Romania? I was taken aback by the question and thought he was asking about the UK, but I eventually replied that I didn't know. A lady next to me informed me it is 41. A bit further on he proceeded to shout questions at me and was very insistent I give him the number of the person I was staying with in Jibou. I was equally insistent I wasn't going to give him the number and kept saying to drop me in the centre of town. The official end of the journey is Zalau, about 15 miles from Jibou, but I knew Ibi had arranged for me to go directly to Jibou and I had also told the driver this. It's always a bit uncertain whether this will actually happen, but after we had dropped all the various passengers off down many dark lanes, we picked a young woman up who I think was the driver's girlfriend, and made our way to Jibou. The girlfriend had the effect of quietening his questions!

I told the driver to drop me near the petrol station in Jibou, Ibi's flat being just up the opposite road. The driver actually dropped me outside the flat and it was a joy to me to see Ibi leaning over the second floor balcony smiling in her pyjamas It was now 3am...'

Another instalment to follow next time...

Thank you to everyone who has supported us through the past several months. We can't do it without all of your efforts, donations and sheer hard work. Thank you! Keep in touch.

The Hands of Hope Romania team