Dear friends and supporters,

Karen has recently been over to Romania so she thought she would share a few thoughts about her trip.

“As you all perhaps know, it's not the easiest journey to get to Jibou from North West England as there are no direct flights from there to North West Romania where Jibou is situated: you have to take a flight to Budapest, Hungary, and then go over land into Romania which is a seven hour journey by minibus. The simple part is getting to Budapest amongst all the visitors going to enjoy a nice few days in the Hungarian capital, then the fun begins!

I had asked a friend in Romania to book a place in the minibus to pick me up from the airport. The journey is always colourful as it becomes like a little community for the duration of the trip with usually a very mixed group of people. There are usually a few detours such as going to someone's home to pick up several bags of sweetcorn … anyway it's always a moment of anxiety when exiting the airport to see if the driver is there. I came through customs to a throng of people including several drivers with signs and tour guides, but none for my transport.

It was 29 degrees in Budapest even though it was 7pm in the evening; it was hot and sticky while I frantically went outside to search for him. The crowds thinned but still not the minibus I was looking for. I asked some of the other Romanian drivers who were going to different places in Romania, but they had not seen my driver. Several frantic texts later I had a message to say the driver had broken down and would be about an hour and a half, tops. A bit relieved I sat in the airport to wait; it was air-conditioned and I enjoyed a coffee. I waited … time passed but no sign of the driver … more texts but no response. In the end after three hours I decided the driver wasn't going to arrive.

The airport was nearly empty and not many people were about but I managed to find a taxi and went to a local motel. It must have been about one hundred degrees in the room with a bed like a board but I was grateful I wasn't spending the night in the airport. I had a call from a friend in Romania who had arranged a minibus for 10am in the morning. After some sleep I was back in the airport waiting ... would they come? Waiting outside in the hot sun even though it was early it was an anxious moment. I saw the minibus come in to the car park with a lot of relief.

It's not an easy journey at the best of times but I was on the road! Several hours later we crossed into Romania and dropped our other passengers off. We approached Zalau where the minibus finishes; I asked the driver if he would drop me at the station to get a taxi to Jibou which is about 15 miles away. Outside the station I asked a taxi how much to Jibou; the driver quoted me 45 lei which is about £9 and far too much for the journey. Though I was hot and tired I thought "I'm not paying that!" I decided to take the train and bought a ticket for 4.4 lei (about 90p). I asked the guard about the train to Jibou and he asked the driver who was waiting to board the train to help me with my bag. In Romania it is a big step up to get on the train so I needed the help.

Once on the train it was a bone-rattling ride to Jibou but it is a stunning journey through the countryside and it felt familiar and comforting, like coming home. At the station in Jibou it's still a half mile journey to the town centre where the flat is situated, so I decided to take a taxi (£1.20) given I had a heavy bag. Once in the flat it was cool due to the trees outside, I enjoyed a warm shower and felt revitalised and very glad to be in Jibou! It was 6.30 pm on Tuesday.”

Karen writes further:

“A long-standing friend from Jibou has been diagnosed with cancer and is having radiotherapy treatment. She has to travel each week from Jibou to a hospital in Cluj Napoca which is a distance of about 70 miles staying during the week for treatment and then returning at the weekend. She was initially misdiagnosed in February but her daughter insisted she went back to see a doctor who diagnosed the cancer. There has been a lot of negative coverage in Britain recently about the NHS but when I compare it to, for example, how things are in Romania I am very grateful. My friend only got a place in the oncology hospital because her daughter paid someone otherwise there would be a three-month waiting list.

There is no help with getting transport to and from Cluj so my friend has to find the money each week. To do this is probably about £12 a week, which may not sound a lot but it is when money coming in is nowhere near the level it might be in the UK. Much worse is that there remains considerable corruption in the system and doctors and nurses expect to receive money from patients to give an appropriate level of care, which means extra expense. This includes paying even the cleaning staff something and someone to change the bed.

The situation is all the more poignant because my own father is receiving treatment for cancer and I can compare how he has been treated to that of my friend - he has to travel from south Cumbria to Preston for radiotherapy but he is provided with transport. He has been given a proper diagnosis and treatment and perhaps most importantly he does not have to worry about finding money to put in the pocket of the consultant, the medical registrar, the nurses or the cleaner.

My friend in Jibou has medical insurance via her daughter but that does not cover all the costs, including for medicines aside from any 'additional monies' paid to staff. My friend is fortunate she has a articulate daughter who can speak up for her and who has access to resources: what must it be like for those who are poor and uneducated and have no-one to speak for them?

As Hands of Hope Romania we have supported a number of children and adults with medical costs as those of you who know us will remember, including advocating for those who are unable to speak for themselves such as Roma children in an attempt to ensure they get treatment. If this is something you feel you could assist with in any way please get in touch with us but also consider thanking someone you know in the NHS such as a nurse, doctor or cleaner.”

Whilst Karen was in Jibou she was able to catch up with all of our volunteers and check on what has been happening. Victor and Nadia are doing well and enjoyed a visit from their daughter and grandson who were in Jibou for a wedding. Their main problem is that Victor has an ancient white van that he uses for going out to the villages to support families and it has been off the road for three months, which has meant he has had to take lifts from others where possible. I couldn't quite understand the technical details for the part that has broken (a pump?) - he has sourced a second-hand one but the cost of fitting etc will still be about 400 euros. Anyone who could assist with this please get in touch. We are very reliant on Victor and Nadia to practically assist with Hands of Hope so it is important we get Victor's van back on the road.

Victor and Nadia have continued to distribute food parcels to widows and the poor on our behalf and I know how much this help is vital in ensuring people survive. We are currently distributing 30 food parcels per month at a cost of about £5-6 per month per person. If you would like to support this work please get in touch. We have ideas to expand this work but we are unable to do this without the necessary finances. For example, the cost of bread in Romania has gone up considerably and where there are large families this causes hardship for the children - Romanians love their bread and a meal is not a meal without bread to go along with it. We would like to buy flour for large familIes so they can make their own bread which is a lot cheaper but again we need the finances to be able to do this. Please consider helping if you can.

Solomon and Rodica and their grandson David are all ok. Solomon and Rodica remain very grateful for the water supply we arranged to have piped to their property which supports not only them but others in the Roma community. It is such a simple thing to have a water supply but so vital and even though their supply is a pipe in the yard Solomon and Rodica are so happy with it. Hands of Hope pay the cost of the water bill each month so again if you would like to assist with this please get in touch.

It seems a long way away but at Hands of Hope we have been thinking about Christmas and Christmas shoeboxes. We hope to again send over presents for children who largely would not receive anything else and so we are starting to organise this now. It probably costs about £5 to fill a shoebox and also to transport it to Jibou, so if you could donate anything towards this the children will be very grateful!

Hands of Hope appreciate all the support that has been given to us over the years and at the moment we all know economic times are hard for all, but anything you can help with will be put to good use - a little can go a long way.

Thank you for all your support.

Best wishes the Hands of Hope Romania team.