At the end of July I travelled to Moldova and Transnistria to look into the work of Hope and Homes for Children with my friend Sarah Butterworth who is a psychologist for look after children. Below is a copy of our article for the charity.

Sarah and Sarah in MoldovaMore details about Hope and Homes for Children can be found here.

As a journalist travelling to Moldova to look at children’s institutions I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. When you think of Eastern European institutions, your mind is permanently scared by the images of 90s Romania. Added to that, because the trip was organised by Hope and Homes For Children I was apprehensive that perhaps the realities would be sugar-coated for me. What I saw dispelled both those fears.

The children’s institution in Chisinau was clean, well maintained and the walls were decorated with pictures of past children who lived there. In the rooms where the children lived there were toys, but they were all out of reach, purely for decoration. What was clear was that although the facilities seemed good, it was a rather stale environment. There weren’t people hugging the children, playing with the them or giving them the same amount of attention they would have got with a family. They were mostly left alone. In one room there were a series of cots pushed together, where about 12 toddlers lived. This group of children NEVER leave the institution. They spend all their time in just two rooms. Apparently there is not enough staff to take them outside to play, despite the fact staff outnumber children. It was a theme which continued: There were newborn babies alone in isolation rooms, the medical facility boasted dated soviet style facilities and the gymnasium, although well equipped, felt cold and did not appear to be used. The institution did not feel like an environment that a child should be growing up in.

MoldovaOf course Moldova is poor. It is Europe’s poorest country. Visiting children who lived with families, the facilities weren’t great. However the children seemed so much happier. One of the most heart warming experiences of the trip was to meet 3 year old Anatlioe. Born without an arm, he was abandoned by his mother to an institution. Now, thanks to Hope and Homes for Children he lives with a foster family. The difference between him and his peers in the institution was stark. Anatlioe is this happy, friendly and confident boy, running around playing with other children. It is clear that what children in Moldova need is to be with their families, no matter how poor, not left in an institution. However the reason many children end up in institutions is because families believe they are better off there.

What I have taken away from this trip, is that Moldova, with the help of charities such as Hope and Homes for Children and their dedicated support staff, is bucking the trend of many Eastern European countries. The institution I visited will be closed down and turned into a well equipped daycare centre, and families are being supported to keep their children and understand that the best place for a child is with a family.