I have just returned from a week staying at Casa Albert with our Cry in the Dark hosts Steve Cooper and Beth Johnson. It was a superb week and one which has undoubtedly had a profound impact on all of us.
We are a Catholic and Church of England 3-16 through school in Barnsley. Our Christian foundation guides and influences our actions and we try really hard to ensure that our pupils not only do well in their tests and exams but also develop into rounded and thoughtful citizens of the future. We enthusiastically run the Archbishop of York Young Leader’s award throughout the school and love their motto “Be the change you want to see”. The philosophy that instead of complaining about injustice you should try to do something about it, to be the change, is really important and we do all sorts of work for charities and other organisations with that in mind.
We found out about Cry in the Dark through the Archbishop’s Youth Trust and have organised two week long projects with them now. It wasn’t easy for me to join in this year. As headteacher my diary is very busy, but I decided that if I was encouraging everyone else to go out and Be the Change then I should be leading by example. I decided to go in May and had 5 months to ensure my diary could accommodate the week away. I am so glad I did.
Nothing can really prepare you for what you find in Romania. The first surprise is what a beautiful country it is. The landscape is very rural with plentiful rolling hills, forests and lakes. But you soon start noticing differences, there are hundreds of horse and carts on the roads full of picked crops, families travelling to town or men travelling to work. There are hundreds of wells too, most houses don’t have mains water and wells are their main source.
The visit was split between spending time with different groups of people and a building project. The groups we visited included Casa Lumina which houses the children (now young adults) Steve found in state run orphanages in 1998, the day care hospice centre at Casa Albert where young people are driven in to visit, trips out to see young people in their homes that can’t make it to the hospice, Ungereni which is a state run institution for physically and mentally disabled adults and Negustorului which is a village for the Roma community and where people live in real poverty. Each of these visits was special in its own right, we loved them all.
The young people of Casa Lumina were particularly special and we bonded with them very strongly, even preferring to go back there on our day off to see them again and throw an impromptu party. Great fun! Earlier in the week Steve had told us in much more detail about how and why he set up the project. He showed us a film of the state run orphanage where he found the children in 1998 and we could recognise the children in Casa Lumina. It suddenly became real for us. We weren’t watching a remote group from abroad any more we were watching the past lives of young people who we knew. Flori being poked with a stick, Maria left unattended wearing a dirty vest and nothing else. There wasn’t a dry eye let me tell you. In fact I cried loads of times during the week.
The building project was in Negustorului. A family had been identified by Steve and Beth who needed a new drive to be built to enable their horse and cart to access their property and to allow them to walk outside their door without stepping in mud. The build required the area to be dug out then filled with concrete and took 4 days. The family were so grateful when we finished, they cried and thanked God and hugged and kissed us. It was so easy for us to do yet they were so grateful that we had done it.
So it was an incredible visit for us. To take young people to see how awful life can be for others in our own continent (only 3 hours away) and then to enable them the opportunity to do something concrete that can leave a lasting legacy is so powerful.
I hear talk sometimes that what young people need is national service to whip them into shape. I disagree. I think everyone at some time in their life should be sent out to a place like Bacau to serve the poor. It would change attitudes immeasurably and make us all more grateful for what we have.
I think the work Cry in the Dark do is amazing and I feel really privileged to have helped in a small way. If you are reading this and considering a visit of your own, do it! It has been the most amazing school visit I have ever been a part of and has had a profound effect me and the pupils we took with us.
Head Teacher Holy Trinity School, Barnsley