It may have only been formally recognised as an independent State in 1878, some hundreds of years after most other European Nation States, but Romania's history is rich having played host many years before it gained it's current name to the oldest human remains ever found... and I feel a new history is about to be made, in part following it's recent accession to the European Union in 2007, and despite concerns by other Member States that aid money would either be "misspent, or just not taken up".
For the last five days, it has been my pleasure to stay in Romania's beautiful capital city, Bucharest as the guest of the European Guide Dogs Federation, and Light into Europe, the pioneering new charity that has trained Romania's first Guide Dog, and is now embarking on a journey of bringing guide dogs to a much needed region of the world.
It is well worth mentioning that we are coming to the end of Guide Dogs Week in the UK, marking the 80th anniversary since these life changing mobility aids were introduced to blitey, and so the contrast between where we were in the 30's, and where with are in the naughty tens is quite amazing. The contrast between Romania and Britain in 2011 however is staggering - but it's my sincere hope and belief that one of Europe's newest Members is on the path to one day creating the same level of independence for blind and partially sighted people in Romania as in the rest of Europe today. But there can be no doubt that the path is paved with many an obstacle, both metophorical and physical.
At the time of writing, there is but one guide dog partnership in Romania. Last year, 51 year old Gabi Nicolescu became the first blind man in the Country to qualify with a guide dog, and the third annual conference of the European Guide Dog Federation was delighted to welcome Gabi, and Guide Dog Chloe to the Hilton by Revolution Square to hear first hand the unspeakable difference Chloe has made to his life. And this breakthrough in independence is owed entirely to the hard work of Stan Platt at Light into Europe. "Mr Stan" as he's known to the locals, and his colleagues from Light into Europe hold around three fundraising events each year. The money is being used to train staff and dogs, and to develop Romania's first guide dog school that with good fortune, will one day be a world leader.
As with Guide Dogs in the UK, Light into Europe receives absolutely no government funding, and so all success now lies in the hands of Stan and his team - I am sure with a helping hand from the EGDF and Guide Dog schools and users from across the 27 Member States - but funds are really very short, and so I hope you will take the time to make a donation on their website.
Please note dear reader that this isn't an idle and random plug for some very rich charity, which frankly doesn't need your money. Light Into Europe is the ONLY lifeline some of the country's most volnrable people have to finding their way in life, and for many, if not most, I can only say, the survival of this poor non profit making charity will mean the difference between visually impared people in Romania leaving their house alone and not.
It's time for change, and for change, they need your change - so get donating.
I plan later to post again with details of the barriers and obbstacles to independence in Romania, and why it's not only the right thing to help, but the wrong thing not to help. I'll explain how in post communist Romania, all disabled people struggle to achieve even the most basic aspirations due to false societal perceptions of old. Later, I will be speaking at the local school for the blind, where I have been invited to speak to students from 3 years old to 40... YES really, fully grown adults who have been shipped off to blind homes, and I'll be telling them, "Yes, you really can". To my genuine distress and upset, I fear I will be the first person to tell these children and adults that they are somebody, and to my devistation, I fear that I will face an uphill struggle when I contridict the message they've heard all their lives, which is, yes, it's just about possible, but improbably that you'll get a job - and even then, they're told a low paid job in manufacturing is the limit - but the vast, vast majority never will.
So that's nearly all from me for tonight, but I would take time once again to urge you in the strongest possible terms to make a donation to Light Into Europe. I also want to make special mention of the European Guide Dog Federation, with whom I hope to work in the future. They have invested time, and a lot of money in to bringing expertees to this developing country. I wish to make special mention of Gail Stewartson from EGDF, who is currently attached to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the UK for making super human, and apparently impossible efforts to ensure (most successfully) that the complicated arrangements for conference have gone smoothly. Many congratulations to her, and special thanks to Adeela and colleagues from Light into Europe for working so hard, in conjunction with Jenny Crawford and all the staff at the Hilton by Revolution Square for making conference so entirely enjoyable. For what it's worth, I can unequivicably say that the Hilton in Bucharest is the BEST hotel I have ever stayed in, and I certainly hope to return.
Forgive the lengthy post. I've so much I want to say, and so much more I will say, to some degree about the EGDF conference, and more specifically about conditions in Romania for blind and disabled people. I know you'll be shocked when I tell you what I've learnt. PLEASE take time to donate to Light into Europe, and please tweet out a link to this post.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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