Longford town native, Jennifer Maloney spent two weeks in Moldova recently where she volunteered to work in an orphanage that has become home to dozens of poverty stricken females. Ms Maloney travelled with Irish Charity, Outreach Moldova (ORM) which has been providing humanitarian aid in Moldova since its inception back in 2000.
Moldova is regarded as one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe and has an average industrial wage of just €2,000 per annum. “Before ORM came to the aid of the girls, conditions in the orphanage were appalling,” Ms Maloney explained, adding that the girls had “very little clothing and were malnourished”.
“There were very few functional bathrooms, showers or toilets and the buildings were in a state of decay. The children had no access to sufficient doctors or medications.”
Since ORM came to the girls’ aid, there have been vast improvements to the conditions in which they live and their lives have become a little easier.
“The money raised by the volunteers has helped enormously as the Government there contributes very little,” the Teffia Park native added. “I volunteered in Moldova for two weeks and there were 11 in our group. There was 350 girls in the orphanage aged between seven and 30-years-old. 80 percent of them were autistic - some mild and some profound – while many others had Cerebal Palsy.
“We started in the morning by taking the girls in the wheelchairs for walks, which they loved, and then enjoyed playing various games which included wheelchair races where the girls were strapped in. We also sat and chatted with them, something they very much enjoyed and we had four interpreters, so there were no language barriers. They longed for some TLC and when the volunteers finish up in September, the girls will have no contact with the outside world until the following Easter when the volunteers begin arriving in Moldova again.”
During the day, Sensory sessions were held for the children who were severely physically disabled. “Many of these children were abandoned and we often held them in our arms, playing with them and singing to them,” Ms Maloney added. “They loved to see us coming and cried when we had to leave. We also helped out in the classroom with arts and crafts. The girls got approximately one hour of class per day because there was an insufficient number of teachers. Some of the girls loved cooking, so we taught them how to make an apple tart and queen cakes.”
Most evenings, a disco was held for the children and this was an event that they all looked forward to. That was then followed by games including basketball.
“We heard some very sad stories when we were in Moldova,” Ms Maloney explained. “One 17-year-old girl who was born with one eye had been abandoned by her parents. This girl was very bright and has learned to speak English through the volunteers and interpretors. Another beautiful young girl in a wheelchair was placed in the orphanage when her mother died and her father remarried. His new wife refused to take of his little girl because she was in a wheelchair. We also spent time at the baby orphanage in the capital city which cares for 125 boys and girls from birth to seven years. This was an emotional journey for me and we saw a one-month-old baby who had HIV.”
Ms Maloney went on to say that ORM’s influence in Moldova had changed the lives of many children for the better in recent years and she met many youngsters, who a number of years ago could not speak, but now “were full of chatter”.
“Others who could not see, are now looking at the clouds and seeing colour for the first time; bed-ridden children are running around and new facilities at the orphanage include a playground, central heating and clean water,” she added. “ORM is always looking for volunteers and it is a most rewarding experience. I hope to return to Moldova again.”