Street Children- Arad, Romania

News from The Clokes in Arad, Romania

(Ken and Katy are responsible for the day to day running of the drop in centre for the street children in Arad- ‘The Café’. From Monday to Friday they prepare the food, provide First Aid for a variety or minor and not so minor injuries and do everything else, including all the cleaning. They are also ‘House Parents’ in the Girls’ home and have at present four girls in addition to their own children, Kenny and Amy)

How do they like it?
The ‘Café’
The Girls’ Home
Life on the streets
About Kenny and Amy
Good night to you
Here at home

How do they like it?
We miss you all ... what can I say? We have absolutely no regrets about coming, but it's hard! We miss Johanna terribly… we miss our lives in Glasgow... we miss Church ... we miss our nice house … the list goes on. Yet we don't doubt for a minute that we should be here and we don't regret coming.

It’s wonderful to know that so many people are interested in our being here. We are keen that people should know about the plight of street children, not just here in Romania, but throughout the world.

We feel that if our being here helps people to be aware that this situation exists and encourages them to do something to help, even a little, then it’s doubly worth it for us. If as a result of hearing about us or reading our news, someone is encouraged to support a project working in Columbia, or India, or wherever, then it doesn't matter, as long as children get the help they need and deserve.

The weather has been lovely ... (October, 2000) getting colder but usually still sunny
Weather and blue skies ... Richard (House father at boys’ house) was saying the other day about how hard it is in winter trying to occupy the kids “…when It’s so cold you have icicles on your nose hairs!”

'The Café'- A Service To Children on the Streets.
The cafe is great - we love being there, though it’s really sad at times. Most days there is news of one of them being beaten up; most days there is some awful wound to dress or a child with an infection to deal with. Seeing the kids leave at the end of the day to go home to the street is really painful... especially as the weather is getting colder now – I can’t imagine how we’ll feel in the winter.

Yesterday we had a lot of trouble. Many of the kids were high on 'Auralac' - the solvent they inhale. Some were fighting and a few were quite aggressive because when they are high they are not really themselves. We ended up having to put them all out and not give them any food that day, except to Tatiana, a fifteen year old who is pregnant. Lee (the guy who runs the whole project) came and gave them all a big telling off . He told them that we came here to be of help to them, and that if they came with Auralac again he would close the cafe for a week... and then suggested that our only fault was being too kind!

Today, they all came back very humbly, even the big tough macho ones, full of apologizes. They all hugged and kissed me... some even kissed Ken! (I’m not quite sure how he felt about that!) In fact they are actually really nice kids, very good hearted, but they do what they have to do on the streets just to survive. You can’t really say they're bad kids, they’ve never known another way to live.

Considering that these children have hardly known any love in their lives, we think it amazing that they are not much worse than they are. We have a few real characters too. They can be very funny, and amidst the sadness of their lives, some days they can have a real good laugh.

The Girls’ Home
Maria, the girl who left our home never came back. Sadly, she is back into street life with a vengeance... doing drugs and selling her body for a living. The place where she sleeps is awful- really dirty and squalid and she looks a state. She comes to the cafe every day and it’s heart breaking to see her the way she is now. Maria has run away five times and we agree with Lee and Laura that maybe she is just not ready to make the commitment of living in a house. We may be able to take her in again sometime, but not for a while.

Any day now we are taking in a 6 year old girl, Vasilena (Lena for short). She is gorgeous, but wild- really wild! When she doesn’t get her own way you should just see her!

Lena's mum lives on the streets. She’s done so for eight years now. She really loves her wee girl, but she wants her to have a proper home- we’re thankful to God for that. We asked her the other day if she really wants her wee one to live with us. She looked very sad, then she shrugged her shoulders and said este foarte greoi pentru copii pe strada (yestay fwartay greeow pentroo copee pe strada – “it's very hard for children on the street”). She said she was happy for us to have Vasilena, and in a way she is, but I think she'll miss her - she said she’d come to church on Sundays to see her! Can you imagine what it must be like to have to give your child up? It's something I can’t even imagine – leaving Johanna for nine months has been one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, but to give a child up completely... some people here have no choice.

Update on Lena
Our new wee one is settling surprisingly well. She is six and as far as I can make out has never had a home at all. Her mother has been on the streets for eight years and works as a prostitute. Her full name is Vasilena but it sounds like the way they say Vaselene here, so we call her Lena (pronounced Lenna) for short and she likes that. She's very cute but wild and can be really naughty at times - like screaming and screaming when she doesn't get what she wants.

Life on the Streets
The couple who had a baby recently are a sad pair. The guy cut himself badly the other day – deliberately. I think he just feels kind of desperate because he has a baby on the street and he and his girlfriend, want to keep the baby. The baby is still in hospital, underweight and also born with syphilis. They are a very nice couple, but it's tragic that they have no proper home.

T, the fifteen year old who is pregnant (we thought she was older and had a shock today when she said she's only fifteen) really struggles some days. Her boy friend, does love her I think, but the men are often very hard on their women.

Our washing machine at the cafe has been broken for ages and we just don't know where to get it fixed. It’s from Sweden so we may not be able to get it sorted locally. The kids wash their clothes by hand – Tatiana sometimes spends the whole afternoon washing clothes. It's awful, she gets very tired and some days she looks so unhappy we could cry for her.

We heard yesterday about one of the guys called S. S is quite a difficult character at times. He was one of the main problems yesterday, but he was also one of the first to apologise when he saw how upset Katy was. He is a real tough macho guy... one of the leaders out on the street. He has younger kids working for him and can be quite brutal at times. But he also protects them from others. It’s a strange kind of relationship – the older ones have younger ones who beg for them and in return they get a cut of the money and protection. Apparently when S was only six, he saw his father cut his mother's throat. The mother died and the father went to prison. As S was growing up his father constantly told him that his mother had been a bad woman and that what had happened to her had been her own fault. Consequently, it seems that S has always had a problem with women. He also has a very quick, very fierce temper.

About Kenny and Amy
Kenny and Amy are sort of enjoying school. It's really hard for them at the moment. They are doing new subjects, new concepts in some subjects, for example Maths, and they’re doing it all in Romanian. Add to that the fact that Kenny is also doing French and you can imagine what it's like for them. Amy is in school from 0800 - 1300 every day, and Kenny the same Tuesdays and Thursdays and till 1400 the other three days. Then in the evening we are paying for a private teacher to teach them Romanian for one and a half hours Monday to Friday. It's awful! Guess what- on their second day in their new school (Tuesday) the main Romanian TV channel that everyone watches, PRO TV (except us because we have no aerial!) went into school to do an interview with them! It’s because they are the only foreign children in Romanian school – most foreigners home-school their children or send them to international school. All their friends saw them on TV and other people, complete strangers have pointed at them in the street ... no discreet presence for us, I'm afraid.

Update-on Kenny and Amy- November, 2000.
Kenny had said one day he actually looks forward going to school. That's a first for a few year... he hasn’t enjoyed going to school since he had a bad experience one year in Primary School.

And Good Night to You
Well, I think that's enough for now. Time for bed. It’s up early for us now, even on Saturdays. The girls have 'Saturday School' in the city centre which starts at 9.30a.m. Then ‘Uta Arad’, the main football team in the city, are playing at home, so some of us may go to the match. Then in the afternoon they are all off to one of the apartments for a birthday party.

June, 2001
A new home, a new life.

Having been here for nearly a year now we are beginning to feel at home in Arad. Our house is in the village of Sanleani outside the city, but we work in the city centre at 'The Cafe' (a drop in centre).
Life in a Romanian village is very different from life in Glasgow, harder, but in many ways nicer. The sounds of Glasgow have been replaced by the sounds of doves cooing, chickens clucking and ducks and geese quacking! Every morning and evening the cows walk through the village for milking. We buy our milk from a lady who keeps a couple of cows.

We rise (with difficulty, especially Kate) at 06:30 each morning to the sound of cocks crowing. Kenny and Amy rise at 06:00 and leave for school at 06:45!

Being House parents means that we are never 'off duty'. We have become very fond of our girls though it’s hard going with them at times. Angelica (15), Adriana and Mali (12) and Lena (6) all lived on the streets for many years; Lena for the whole of her 6 years! And we’ve just taken in a new girl, Elli (short for Ellena). She left home last November and her Dad won’t have her back.

About Oaza
Several years ago Laura Andres, a young Christian woman started visiting children in the streets and at the station, talking with them and taking food for them. She was later joined by Lee Saville, a lawyer from Sheffield who came to Arad for a short visit and felt called to move here. Together they set up 'Oaza' which now has a drop-in centre in town (the cafe) two houses in Sanleani, three apartments in town and a farm where older boys live and work. Several businesses have now been set up in addition to the farm with its pigs, chickens and vegetables. The aim is to provide training and meaningful work for boys and girls over the age of 18.

Our Girls
We have seen big changes in the girls. They respond well to having both a mother and a father.

Lena came to live with us in December, never having lived in a house before and has settled in surprisingly well. She attends the local Gradinita (Kindergarten) and is starting to make friends with other children. Angelica and Mali continue to miss their mother who is in prison. She's due out soon and this may unsettle our family as she wants Mali to live with her but is not interested in Angelica!
Adriana is less difficult these days, though we still call her 'Arige' ('hedgehog') because she's so prickly! She likes to be the leader in our little band, but we have to challenge her on that fairly often! And Ellie is settling in.

Kenny and Amy
Kenny and Amy have settled well. They are becoming fluent in the language and its so exciting to hear them chatting away with the girls or with school friends. They are enjoying school (as much as kids ever enjoy school!) and both are keen to stay. They miss family and friends but life here has its compensations. They are now into Romanian pop music and sing along with the songs! Kenny and Amy both talk in their sleep, and you can imagine how amused we were when they began to sleep-talk in Romanian!

The girls enjoy having a brother around, but can be quite mean to Amy at times- maybe they see her as competition.

Amy's school hours are 8am -1pm every day and Kenny's are 8am - 2 Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 8 -1 Tuesday and Thursday. In addition they have language lessons twice a week for 2 hours. Our hope is that they’ll be fairly fluent before the hot weather when they'll want to be out more!

We knew that it would not be easy leaving Johanna behind, especially as she is only 15, but it has been much harder than we anticipated.

Our House
Our house continues to drive us crazy! It is a mud brick house in a village about 7 miles out of Arad. It was pretty much derelict when Oaza rented it. Much has been done since and it is reasonably homely now.

The main challange for us is its size – 9 people in a two bedroom house doesn’t make it easy for us at the best of times ... and it's not always the best of times! For those who remember 'Mad Max' ... You can run, but you can't hide! ... Sometimes we need to hide!

We are looking for a bigger house, one with a room which could serve as a study for Kenny and Amy and also somewhere they could take their school friends. The house on offer at the moment would be ideal and should give us a bit of breathing space but the rent is quite high… we are waiting to hear if we can get sufficient funds.

The Cafe
Running the cafe was a big surprise when we arrived in Arad, but we wouldn't swap it! Street kids of all ages come to us for food, showers, games, a little schooling and most of all company. We have little ones as young as 4 or 5 coming and also a few who are not 'kids' at all, but who have been coming since the work started and are now adults. Many children have become socialised to street life and find it hard to settle in a house. There are also a few adults who live on the streets with their children - we can't let the children in and send the adults away!

We are at the cafe every day except weekends. The cafe is open 7 days a week from 1 to 5pm and until 9 on Mondays and Thursdays. We are settling into the work now, though at first it was really hard because we spoke no Romanian and were alone with between 15 and 30 kids.

Now we have a Romanian volunteer with us every day. Lau is from Galati and we have known him since first visiting Romania. He is wonderful with the kids and a great help to us in every way.

Daily Programme
Every day we prepare a hot meal for the kids - any number between 10 and 40, so it's hard to judge quantities - maybe we could ask the kids to book in advance! After we have eaten and cleared up there are a variety of activities on offer. We have games, such as chess, Remi (a traditional Romanian game) and Jenga. We've now added Table Tennis, complements of a church in England and a Sony Play Station (Thanks Andrew Clarke!)

We are trying to develop Arts and Crafts activities - many children have never even done any colouring before coming to the cafe! Over the past few months we have been gathering various 'arty' things - thanks to all who have helped with that!

On Mondays and Thursdays we have an evening meal as well, some times with over 40 kids, and then a video. When you consider that many of them come high on Auralac (the solvent they inhale) and can be volatile at the best of times - its quite a handful!

New Washing Machine
We received generous gift from Netherlee Parish Church when Kenneth returned from Glasgow. Now we have a brand new washing machine and a drier to replace the old one that had been unusable for a long ti... no more hand-washing in cold water which the kids had to endure for so long. We are most grateful.

Time Out?
For those of you who are concerned that we don't have a day off, you'll be glad to know that we now have someone with us on Mondays and Thursday, to allow us to take some time out. We decided not to have a weekly day off because the only possible day would be Saturday and we need to be with our 7 children! So sometimes now on a Monday or Thursday we go off together for a few hours. It's nice to get some time to relax; though we usually end up talking about work and wondering what's happening at the cafe!

Recent visits by friends from Glasgow and Manchester were most welcome and uplifting... come back soon.

We find ourselves frustrated by our lack of energy to do all that needs to be done in a day. Everyday things often take longer to do here - we buy milk straight from the cow and boil it; shopping involves wandering around the market, and paying a bill is a major event!

Our own lack of Romanian is a major problem. We understand much of what is said to us now ... but we don't always know how to respond and that can be frustrating, difficult or just plain embarassing.

By far the biggest frustration in our work is that some children leave our houses and return to the streets. Recently, two boys left their house here in the village, one after over a year. Several of the older guys from the farm have also left. These young people are volatile and when faced with a problem or clash with someone in authority their response is to run away.

Summer Break
(The Clokes have had a good and busy four-week break at home and are due to drive back to Romania on Wednesday, August 22, 2001. Johanna has found a new school, 2 minutes walk from home)

Please pray-
For strength, patience and wisdom for us as we struggle to show God's love to these broken children, and for all our children, at home and at the cafe to feel loved, accepted and valued.
(Our girls: Angelica, Adriana, Mali, Lena and Ellie)
And finally, thank God for all the support we have had, for letters and gifts... we are overwhelmed!

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Ruth & Ali Abubakar
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