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1996 The killing rooms of Moldova • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
THE KILLING ROOMS OF MOLDOVA
A famous year in the sporting history of Moldova, as the national football
team had been drawn against England in a world cup qualifier to be held of
all places in Moldova. This was to see the whole England team turning up in
a country where the average monthly wage was £10, compare that to the
thousands per week our players were getting. They would be greeted by
roads with holes in them, electricity was being turned off daily and there
was never any water. As for the football stadium it hadn’t any seats left,
they had all been taken away for some reason or other I would expect to be
used for firewood.
But on a summer evening Gaza, Ince, Shearer and the manager Glen Hoddle
booked into the only good hotel in town. The outcome of the game for me
was not important and a forgone conclusion 3 to England 0 to Moldova
Scored by Barmby 24' Gascoigne 25’ Shearer 61'.
It was the actions of Glen Hoddle and the Daily Mail reporter who was
covering the game that made the headlines days after the match was over
and it had nothing to do with football.
Such a high profile visit was a perfect opportunity for the local powers to be
to promote what was fast becoming one of Moldova’s biggest industries.
The suffering and pain of others.
A few members of the team were taken out to a small village called Hincesti
to visit the girl’s orphanage; if you read the article below first I will then tell
you the truth.
NEWS PAPER ARTICLE
One hundred and fifty-four helpless faces - bony and blue with cold - stare
out from behind cot bars. Their emaciated bodies are laid out on soiled
mattresses, dirty with encrusted faces and ridden with weeping sores.
The disabled girls are categorized into debilitated, imbecile or idiot - and
subsequently starved to death.
But these scenes of deprivation at the orphanage of Casa de Copii - the
House of Children - in Hincesti, a town in the former Soviet Republic of
Moldova, are not unique. An estimated 40,000 children - that is 10 per cent
of the child population in Moldova - are abandoned to state-run
institutions. Across the former Soviet Union, there are believed to be many
similar institutions. Western Europe is just waking up to the fact that the
deprivation of an orphanage upbringing does not end at Romania’s
The plight of the children at Casa de Copii was first brought to the attention
of the international community when the England football team visited the
country in September, staying in the only hotel with hot water. The heating
system at the orphanage hasn't worked since 1990.
When the team-members re-assembled to train for the recent Poland
match, they unanimously agreed to pledge their personal support. They
announced yesterday that they were donating 10,000 Pounds to the
European Children's Trust (ECT), a charity set up last year to address the
situation. The Football Association has matched the sum.
Glenn Hoddle, the England captain and a father of three, said yesterday:
"As footballers, sometimes we are cocooned in our own little world and
sometimes it is nice to branch out from that little world and help those less
fortunate.” There’s always another problem or another country, but if you
can make these children's lives better by 1 per cent, it's worthwhile. "We
discussed it as a team - they could have said `We get endless requests', but
this seemed to us to be an exceptional situation." David Davies, FA director
of public affairs said: "I'm glad we are involved. We get a huge number of
requests from different charities. This one we felt was different, because we
were there, so close to it."
The rambling institution of Casa de Copii is situated on the top of a hill,
physically and socially marginalized from the wider population. The girls'
physical disabilities range from mild muscle weakness to severe
quadriplegia. Many also suffer from epilepsy, which is, at best, only poorly
controlled with the few drugs available. Last winter, 31 of the orphans at
Casa de Copii died as temperatures plunged to -20 degrees centigrade.
This year, the projected figure is fewer than 11 - provided that the ECT
intervenes. Six children are already in such a bad state that whatever
changes the ECT makes, they are likely to die within three months.
Catherine Stevens, head of fundraising at the ECT, the only British charity
working in Moldova, has visited the orphanage. "Heating is our first
priority, appropriate food supplements our second and hygiene is third,"
she said yesterday. "It's terrible to say hygiene is third, but they're not dying
of dirt, they are dying of cold and hunger." The charity's immediate plan is
to spend £40,000 on adequate heating, medicines and supplementary food.
25 Pounds buys blankets and bedding for one child, 1,000 Pounds buys
enough coal to heat an orphanage for three winter months. With every
10,000 Pounds raised, the ECT will be able to help another institution this
In the long term, the charity hopes to train Moldavian social workers. The
ECT was founded last year following the successful work of its sister
charity, the Romanian Orphanage Trust. After spending 5m Pounds on
improving the lives of the children within orphanages, the trust has worked
closely with the Romanian authorities to reform the national childcare
system and develop a structure that is based on families
The outcome of this article, and the high level of the people involved,
became a major step to promote the need in Moldova something I had been
trying to do. It also raised £128,000, which was sent over to the organization
that had been set up to help these children.
The problem being that as the article reads, the children were living in the
most terrible of situations and needed as much help as they could get to save
them. So the aid came and came and came, and no matter how much came
or how much money was sent, the children still lived the same. The
conditions stayed the same, the food was the same and the treatment was the
same. £128,000 would go a long way in Moldova to help the 150 kids that
were sleeping three to a bed and had no hot food or heating.
But there was also aid arriving by the shipload from different countries.
America sent it, Sweden sent it and so did Denmark. But the children still
slept three tied to a bed without staff to care for them. They were never
released even to go to the bathroom.
The trade in sorry and suffering had started. And where was the Western
organization that had set its self up in Moldova.
In 1999, some three years after the footballers help, an Irish organization
was contacted and told about the terrible conditions the children were living
in at an orphanage called Hincesti.
How can this be, as it had been receiving aid for years? This is a brief
extract from their report, written three years after the first, and three years
after all the false promises.
In early 1999, Romanian Connection an independent charity known for their
humanitarian work in Romania, are sent photographs of children in an
orphanage in Hincesti, Moldova, in an appalling state of neglect. Charity
leader, Karen Kelly responds immediately by setting up a radio appeal
resulting in the biggest-ever convoy of humanitarian aid to leave Northern
Ireland, which makes its way to Moldova.
The volunteers accompanying the convoy are ordinary people with little or
no experience in this kind of humanitarian work. Convoy to Moldova tells
their story. In three weeks, they hope to install a heating system and plan to
refurbish one of the rooms into a playroom for the children. The aid donated
includes toys, clothes, bedding, food and medical supplies.
Filmmaker, Jez Higham, records the journey and documents the scenes of
human misery that greet the convoy. The children, all girls, live in shocking
conditions. They suffer from a range of mental and physical illnesses and
share the degradation of chronic neglect.
From day one there are bureaucratic delays. The volunteers begin work on
the new central heating system.
But the fresh food and clothes they've brought remain under lock and key,
while the orphanage's director takes his time to supervise an inventory,
which must be completed before the aid is distributed.
Unable to watch the children being fed insipid gruel, while fresh food
remains stockpiled, they break into the storeroom and deliver sacks of
carrots, potatoes and cabbages to the kitchen. Health
Ministry officials are summoned to explain this madness. But they simply
reiterate the need for bureaucracy and officialdom. The truth is rather
different. Corruption is endemic and the inexperienced charities are cruelly
To their horror, the volunteers uncover other store rooms packed to the
ceiling with crates of food and medicines. Fresh bananas, which arrived six
months ago from Germany and Luxembourg, are still unopened.
In March, Karen returns to Moldova to discover little has changed.
Although there are some improvements in the children and their living
conditions, they continue to live in appalling conditions.
Frustrated, she takes up the matter with the President of Moldova. Until
Karen is reassured, she has arranged for aid to be stored in a warehouse
away from the orphanage with 24-hour security.
The BBC also produced a one-hour documentary about the Karen Kelly aid
convoy. Which again raised more aid for the director and his supporters?
I got involved when invited to visit the government officials who were
dealing with imported aid into Moldova. Along with a well-known English
T.V station, and a reporter from a leading U.K tabloid newspaper, who had
decided, based on the reports that were now coming out of the country about
the misuse of funds and aid to write a very damming report in the
newspaper about the government of Moldova.
The British journalists thought it would be a great idea to visit the
government in their own country to get them to explain what they were up
to. The power of the press was something our reporters were soon to
discover was not a very powerful tool in this communist country. The
meeting if I recall correctly went something like this.
Reporter. Can you explain what has happened to all the aid?
Government. Did we ask you for this aid? Did we invite you to my
country? Who do you think you people are to come knocking on our door
with your second hand clothes and out of date food and medicine, did we
ring you up and ask for it; NO, we didn’t and we will now stop all you do
gooders and God preachers interfering. Get out.
And that was the end of that. Taken by car we were shown the door to the
country, and thrown out.
I had to travel to Romania and then by road back to the northern boarder and The things we had to do
back into Moldova my family met me at the boarder with my passport so
that I could get back in. I have kept well away from the politics in the
capital from then onwards as much as possible. This all happened in the
year 2000, and though Hincesti is a lot better now, it is nowhere near the
standards we would expect children to live in. There are also many other
homes around the country that needs support. Maybe you would like to
make a difference to a child?
We have many programs in place that need support, from taking orphans out
of the state institutes and into loving homes, to setting up our own homes
for the older children to live in and learn to be normal again after so many
years of torture.
First Aid Lorries
The footballers came and went, leaving us still trying to get our own aid
projects off the ground. We had been sending as many photos and reports to
our contact in England a man by the name of Hugh. He had asked us for
stories of families with children in need, what the cost of living was and
anything else that we thought would be of use that he could show the others
in his organization, so this is what we did. Over a period of six months we
sent the information we were asked for, photos of a family and then a write
up of what their situation was and what help was needed the most.
It was not hard to find people in need, but we had to find stories that people
could relate to. If it was too shocking then this could have a diverse effect
on Westerns and put them off helping. So we went for stories about the
Mother with 3 kids, dad was an alcoholic and had deserted the family
leaving them without food and heating and no means to support themselves.
Mother would work all day as a cleaner and the children had to learn at
home by candle light as they hadn’t any power and could not afford to go to
school. A good honest God fearing family that would only need a little
support to get them through and then they would be on their way.
The truth in many of the cases was very different, and the stories that we
had to deal with were far from suitable for our sensitive countryman. The
Mother and Farther were alcoholics and the three eldest children were on
drugs. The parents to pay for their drug habit sold the youngest daughter of
10 for sex.
The apartment they lived in hadn’t any furniture or means of cooking hot
food. The only form of heating in the winter was a bonfire they would light
in the middle of the floor. Not the best thing to do in an apartment. They had
no Gas Electric or water and would need a small fortune to get them
The system in Moldova was very clever for those that did not pay their bill,
if you did not pay the water at the end of the month it would be cut off and
the bill added to the Gas if this was not paid then it would be added to the
next and so on.
No support in the world would help these people; anything given would be
sold in moments to buy more of what they needed.
Someone came over to Moldova once and thought they could help such a
family that lived in our area, against our advise they paid for the water and
electricity to be put back on, sorted them out with furniture and enough
money each month to pay for food. This they did for six years.
On a recent visit to their home I could see that it was being run as a brothel
by the parents, with the now grown up children being the workers. Little had
We ended up with over 125 families that needed help. All lived within
walking distance from our own home. We had also made contact with a
local hospital and an orphanage that hadn’t any bedding for both patients
and orphans alike. And in the case of the hospital very little medicine or
equipment. I myself had the misfortune to have to spend three weeks in the
hospital a few years later, they were very happy to have me as a patient, and
on my arrival they proudly presented me with my own clean sheets and told
me because I had helped them so much that the needles that they were to use
on me would be new every time. What a reassuring thought.
All this interesting information was written down and sent to England with
as many ‘photos as we could afford to take.
Then one autumn evening came the phone call from Hugh, they had decided
to help. It had taken them six months of thinking, asking God and asking
each other, but at last they had come up with the right answer. I will always
remember some five years later when on a trip to a village we found a
young girl that would be dead within two weeks if she did not get insulin.
We were on the ‘phone the same day to our people from God, the answer
which I did not expect was, “we will have a meeting about it and pray”.
Twelve weeks later we got the £32 needed to buy the medicine.
She did not need it after all this time, as she had died two months before.
(No not really) we had asked someone else and received the money the next
day. But I didn’t tell them that. I wish God would work quicker sometimes.
We were going to get the aid we had waited so long for, now we had to find
out what the hell we had to do to get it into the country?
Hugh sent us a list of some of the things that they would be sending and an
idea of how much we could expect to receive. It did not take us long to
realize that there was going to be a lot of it in the two 32 ton lorries they
were bringing. All in all about 40 ton of food, clothes and bedding would be
arriving in five weeks time. Our organization consisted of me, an over
confident Westerner that was learning fast that he was totally out of his
depth. My wife, brother Vasea 19 and Mother a 50 year old village woman.
We hadn’t any transport; all journeys were done by bus or train, also no
Computer or phones and the money we had saved was almost gone.
We needed help.
Russian people live for their families; one supported the other, as without
each other life would be a lot harder. So ours stepped into the breach in the
form of Uncles Vasea and Sasha. They had cars and were adult Russian men
just what we needed to boost our numbers. At our first meeting they all sat
around the table waiting for me to tell them what to do which was not the
idea I had in mind. I was hoping that my uncles would take control of the
situation; I hoped they would tell me that they had friends in the Police
force or the customs office and these friends would be able to sort things for
us. This was their country and they should know how things worked, but
they had been so surprised for so long in the days of Communism that all
they knew was to be told what to do and when to do it. So it was to all come
back onto my shoulders.
THE THINGS WE HAD TO DO
First off we had to get some one to invite the people that would be driving
the aid lorries. This person had to be Moldovan and of good standing. The
Moldavian would have to write a letter of invitation for each driver, and
then the passport for each Westerner would have to be sent over to
These would have to be taken to the government by the person that was
inviting them along with the letter of invitation and a lot of other supporting
documents. Based on this the visas would or would not be issued. If
successful then the passports would be sent back to England hopefully in
time. So we could have no last minute driver changes, if you were ill then
you could not be replaced.
Next we had to invite the aid in the same way, that’s right the aid needed a
visa as well. We would need a list of all the aid that was going to arrive four
weeks before it was even loaded, and once the list was sent there could be
no changes or add ons. This list needed to itemize everything, so if we had
500 tins of beans then we would get a visa for 500 tins of beans. That one
was easy but when it came to the 1500 black bin bags full of clothing it was
impossible. What were in the bags, how many women’s coats? How many
men’s trousers and how many children’s jumpers. Then if that was not hard
enough what sizes were they? 1500 bags is a lot of items of clothes and we
were meant to list the lot, get a visa for each one and then get the documents
back to England all within four weeks. The documents had to be the original
ones (no copies) and this was before the days of T.N.T or Federal Express.
Then we had to arrange to look after the drivers, accommodate them and
feed them and show them the sites. This was very important, as we needed
them to go back to England and tell others so we would get more help.
Plus we were hoping that this would be the first of many trips this
organization would make .We had to get it right.
We also had to decide who got what from the aid, we were hoping to deliver
as much as possible when the lorries were here as we had no way of
carrying 40 ton of aid in Uncle Sashas and Vasea 25 year old Russian
After all the documents were in order we then had to go to the customs
office and get permission from them, they would have to check all the items
to see if there was anything that was illegal to bring into the country.
They would then send all the documents to the boarder with the permission
in place so the lorries could pass through.
Food had to have a document from the British health department to say that
it was safe to eat and then when it arrived it would have to be tested by the
Moldavians to say it was fit to eat. Every tin or packet had to have a
translation of the ingredients in both Russian and the Moldovan language.
Then a list of all the people we were going to give the aid to had to be
submitted. Name, address, passport details and how many jumpers or tins of
beans they would receive.
What orphanages were we going to give the aid too, and again what were
we going to give, including sizes. Once the aid had been given, each person
that got something would have to sign for it and give their details so as to
cross check against the list we had submitted.
And all this had to be done now. There was a way around all this red tape
and that was if we gave the aid up to the government. They had set up a
central warehouse for all the donations that was flooding into the country; it
would go here and then be sent to organizations and people they felt needed
it the most.
If I agreed to this, then all would be done for me and I could walk away
without any problems
We all knew what would happen to the aid if the government got their hands
on it, and where it would go too. Also whose pockets the proceeds would go
into, so we pushed on as best we could to try and over come all the
As soon as we started the process of getting the documents in order the
problems started. I got what was needed from England. I knew they had
made it all up and had put down as best they could what they would be
sending, but they would not be packing it up or even collecting it for another
month so it was impossible.
This would only come to light when the cargo was being inspected in
Moldova by the customs, they would get us to open each bag and count
what was inside, but this was a problem for later. My attitude was that by
then the aid would be in the country and I would try and sort it out then.
My job was to get the documents done, being the only Westerner meant that
I may be able to get preferential treatment when dealing with the officials,
as they were still very nervous of the new foreigners that were coming to
My first visit to the department of aid started at six in the morning when I
had to catch the bus to make the three -hour trip from Belti to their office in
the capital. Within 10 minutes of being there they had invented a new rule
that meant I had not got a stamp from the customs in Belti to say that they
would inspect the load. So I had to catch the next three-hour bus back to
Belti, got the stamp and got another three-hour bus back to the office. I
think they were more surprised than anything else that I was back the same
day, but I think they also realized I would not go away very easily, so they
gave me their stamp.
We all set about our tasks the best we could, calling in every favour we
We needed it, my days were constantly spent on the bus going back and
forth to the capital, I could have stayed the night but it was cheaper to travel
each day than stay and we were down to our last few hundred pounds.
My wife spent her days with the Uncles out in the villages finding people to
sign for the aid that they had not received yet. Mom spent her time finding
families that would look after the drivers in nice homes and feed them.
Brother Vasea being the best English speaker translated all the English
documents so that I could present them to the Moldovan government. Days
passed and then the weeks, soon there was only seven days left and we were
done, all the paperwork was in place all the people were in place and we had
time to spare.
I had found a charity in Chisinau who would help with some of the
invitations and would allow the customs to check the cargo at their place
before it headed north in exchange for some food. We of course would give
them what they needed and then take the rest to Belti.
Then came a knock on the door, the police had arrived and arrested us all.
My family and myself were all taken off. These police were from Chisinau
and not our locals. They put us in the back of two very old looking police
cars and drove us for 100 miles to the capital never speaking or answering
questions. I was in the back of one car with Vasea the driver and another
officer sat in the front, Mom and her daughter were in the other. What
followed turned out to be a total farce and waste of time. We were led into
the police station, down a long corridor and through two metal doors that
our escort had to use keys to open. We were taken into a room without
windows, just an exposed light bulb hanging from a black twisted cord from
the ceiling that provided the only light.
There was an old wooden table in the middle of the room that had seen far
better days with two chairs on one side and a single one on the other.
We were told to stand against the wall. A guard stood blocking the door for
the next five minutes, which seemed a lot longer until two other men in
civilian clothes joined him. I was instructed to sit at the table with the two of
them sitting in front of me and the family behind, they then started to ask
me what I was going to do with the aid and who did I think I was to think I
could keep it.
The only thing missing was a spot light in my face. I was able to understand
almost every word they said but decided to look at them with a blank
expression on my face and said nothing. This after a few minutes started to
get to them, they were trying to get answers out of me and I was not saying
a word. You could see the anger in their faces, as the tone of their voices
started to get louder.
After about five minutes of my interrogation Vasea stepped forward and
said to them “why are you speaking to him in Russian he is an Englishman
and he has been sent over from England to organize the aid”. At this point I
offered them my passport as proof to my nationality.
We were out the door within a minute, they had no idea I was a Westerner
and did not know how to deal with me or what the law was regarding my
interrogation. I had been able to find out that the law did prevent them from
hitting me and that was about all. But they did not feel obliged to take us
home so we were forced to phone Uncle Sasha who drove to fetch us as the
last bus had gone. A 200-mile round trip, that’s Russian families for you.
The day was upon us and the lorries would be at the border by lunchtime.
Uncle Sasha again supplied the transport in his white Lada that should have
been put to rest many years before, but as a mechanic he had been able to
give it many new leases of life It was doing better than a cat with nine lives.
After a two-hour trip we were at the main Moldovan/Romanian border at a
place called Schlen. The border was the same as any Russian check point
that I had seen in many war films, and not the sort of place anyone would
want to spend a great deal of time at. As we had no definite time as to the
arrival we settled down to wait. Hour by hour passed and nothing happened.
We had of course arrived in plenty of time but that had long past.
There was no way of contacting the drivers so we could only guess as to
why they had been delayed. It was eight in the evening now, we had been
standing in this barren cold and draughty place since lunchtime.
The border had been built on the banks of a river that acted as a natural
barrier; there weren’t any buildings to be seen either in front or behind us.
So as darkness crept in, the only light came from the official buildings that
made up the station. Midnight came and went and then at two in the
morning we could see in the distance some movement. Still the other side of
the barriers but now in no mans land between Romania and Moldova were
our lorries. We were able to get close enough to shout over to them to find
out what the problem had been. Apparently the Romanians were not happy
that this aid was going to Moldova and we were only using their country to
transport it through. They felt that if it was in their country then it was theirs
so had kept the lorries on the border for the last 18 hours trying to find a
way of getting their hands on it.
They had come up with all sorts of ideas to prevent the movement of the
vehicles, but Hugh had got over all of them, he had even contacted the
Romanian government to protest and then the U.K papers as well as our
embassy. As it all turned out they were forced to pay a fine for using the
Romanian roads with out the correct documents, but even this had been
argued for many hours starting at something like $3000 going down to the
$200 that they ended up handing over without a receipt.
Now we had to get it into Moldova, this was our job. So for the next four
hours we followed the customs officials from one office to the next, taking
bits of paper with us as we went getting a stamp here and another one there.
Every member of the border staff seemed to be involved in this one load at
least 20 of them all with their own little part to play. They were looking for
something that was wrong, not for any other reason but it was their job, and
they would keep going until they found it. When they did a whole new
system kicked in, and that was how much would it cost us.
Hugh was a great believer that you never pay, that God will sort things out,
what will be will be. I on the other hand wanted a simple life. We had ended
up with shoes that had been donated from the prison service back home that
were not on the lists. They had come in at the last minute and as there was
space still on the lorries it had been loaded on. We were now smugglers and
to top it all new shoes were in fact on the banned list. So a double whammy
The options were simple, the shoes would be taken off and put into a
warehouse at the border, and we would then have to get visas for the shoes
the same way as we had done for the rest of the aid.
This would take us about three weeks, we could then come back to the
border, pay for the storage cost and any other costs including a fine, and
then take the shoes.
Second option, the shoes would be off loaded and destroyed by us. We
would have to come back in a week with our own petrol burn the shoes then
clean up the mess. We would then have to pay a fine for trying to import
goods illegally and of course the storage, and an extra fine for the air
pollution caused by the smoke.
Third option give the shoes to the customs and walk away.
Forth option pay a bribe.
Nice to have choices in life, after paying a few hundred dollars things went
fantastic, they seemed to like us. Their whole attitude changed, they became
helpful and even offered us a warm room to sit in and rest with a cup of
coffee. Remember we had been waiting for coming up to 20 hours by now. I
learnt very early on it was far easier to pay as soon as possible.
Unfortunately there was a protocol involved, which meant you could not
take the customs or policeman to one side the moment he arrived, slip a 100
in his hand followed by a knowing wink. No, that was too easy, he would
have to strut around for an hour or so first, with a look on his face like
He would open a box or two, shake his head and then write something
down, then cut you a look that said, you have problems”. This happened
every time with out fail and they were good at it.
By nine in the morning (one day late) we were in Moldova and a one-hour
drive away from the orphanage in Chisinau that was going to help with the
documents for the aid. Once there we had to get the local customs to do yet
another check, they wanted to see the lot, every box and bag was to be
opened and cross checked against the lists we had already given some four
weeks earlier. Not only that but to get to all the bags and boxes it would
have to all be taken off the lorry and then put back on again.
I had been wondering for some time how this was going to be done as it was
going to be a mammoth task. Every bag held about 30 items and we had
1500 bags that’s 45,000 jumpers, shirts and socks, all had to be ticked off
the list. The officer arrived, he was immediately presented with a pile of
papers, which he started to study at great length, turning page after page of
about 50 in all, looking at everything listed. Tea was ordered which slowed
him down even more. In fact the task took about one hour before he was
even ready to break the seal on the lorries doors. Then at last they were
opened; all that could be seen from floor to ceiling was black bags. Some of
them were already falling on to the ground just missing the open door. The
officer opened the one that had landed by his feet rummaged though it for a
few seconds and then moved onto the next, every time making a mark on his
Five bags had fallen and after checking them all he called over the director
of the orphanage, after a few words they went into the office. We did not see
him again, it had cost $100 three times the month’s salary of a customs
officer, and they needed help as well. Due to the lateness of the day it was
decided to stay the night, the drivers would stay in the vehicles as they had
done so for the last seven days journey across Europe.
We would stay in one of the empty rooms of the orphanage. A meal was
provided of hot Russian food in the form of a big stew, and we spent a few
pleasant hours sitting round the table contemplating the events of the last
I enjoyed talking to my countrymen who like me wanted to help. Not all
were Christians; two of the seven men and one woman were just
professional drivers who had heard that they were needed to take aid to
Eastern Europe. Maybe it was a personal challenge or they felt that we must
all do something sometime to help others, and this was their time. I was
surprised to learn that not only did the drivers do this two week round trip
free of charge but they had to donate over £1000 towards the cost of the trip.
This could be done though personal sponsorship or from their own pocket.
Bear in mind most were taking two weeks of their annual holiday or two
weeks unpaid leave.
But I know that they all got something from their efforts even if it was
simply to say, I did it I drove to Russia.
The next morning saw us standing in the street at about six in the morning
just as the sun was coming up, an early morning frost and very light fog
covered everything around us. The drivers automatically formed a small
circle and bowed their heads in prayer. Hugh spoke a few words of thanks
for getting them this far and a few to say they still needed some more help
to get them home. We joined in feeling a bit awkward but I do remember
agreeing with what was being said and added my own amen just in case it
helped their God to hear us.
Next was the three-hour drive to the north and Belti. This turned out to take
five hours due to the police stopping us every twenty miles or so. We must
have been the first Western vehicles they had seen and were as far as they
could see easy pickings for some extra money.
The road police were not there to prevent or reduce accidents or even make
the road safer by using a series of deterrents. They were there to take as
much money from motorists as possible and then send them on their way.
What they did with us was simple, after we were stopped the first time for
not giving way to a horse and cart that in fact was going in the opposite
direction across a near by field, the police then radioed down the road to the
next check point to tell them we were coming. We decided after the first
fine that we should get rid of the Moldavian that were with us, as they spoke
the language it was easy for the police to get into an argument with us. If no
-one could understand each other then it was going to be a whole new ball
I stayed with the convoy just in case, but had strict instructions not to get
involved with translation. After thirty miles we were pulled over again I
listened to them through the window as Hugh all six foot four of him
stepped out of the cab all smiles to greet the officer. We had not given way
to a car at a roundabout this time; the car in question was parked, fifty
meters from the junction with the driver mending a flat. It was quite comical
to see the policeman trying to get his point across and all he got in return
was Hugh smiling though his Father Christmas beard. He was a true gentle
After fifteen minutes or so the policeman got on his radio I made out that he
was speaking to his colleagues back up the road who had stopped us first
and was trying to find out how they had got us to pay.
When he came back he asked for our translator but again all he got was a
smile in return. He then looked in the two lorries to see who was inside but
it was only Western faces that looked back at him. He gave up, but as we
drove off I could see him on his radio, thirty miles on we got stopped again
and so it went for the rest of the journey but we never paid again.
The last time was at the entrance to Belti; a barrier controlled this right
across the road so it was stop for everyone. Our turn at the front came
quickly and this time we were greeted by “hello chaps, how are you doing”,
from the policeman. But he was fine, loved England though he had never
been and loved the English even though we were the first he had met.
Drinking with our new friend a few nights later he told us a lot about the
police systems and how they saw things. As he worked for the government
then they controlled when and if, he got paid. He was already waiting for his
salary from the last four months when it came it would be less than £80
that’s £240 a year he said, they make us take money, we can not live on
what they pay and they know it so we take.
I only take what I need for the family; others live very well off the fines.
They have a nice house and car and always have meat and fruit for the kids.
We are told each month how much we have to give to the head office it’s a
quarter some times if there is a wedding for one of the other officers then we
have to get more. Anything over this monthly amount we keep. It’s a bit like
being a waiter in a restaurant he said the more tables you work on the more
tips you can get. Stop twenty cars a day and you could get twenty tips.
I was to experience this myself some years later first hand when having a
drinking session with friends out in the small town of Drocka, we found by
10 o’clock we had run out of Vodka so a quick whip round for some money
gave us enough for four more bottles. A driver was selected, and another
whip round followed to raise the money to pay the fine when he got stopped
for drink driving. Twenty-five minutes later he was back with the drink,
minus the fine money.
The next time was when I bought over from England an old Ford Escort
right hand drive car, big mistake, ninety four times they stopped me in
twelve weeks and I never even drove it every day, I only ever went around
in the local town where I was known.
I gave up in the end, even though I only paid five times it was quicker by
bus. Our new police friend let us through, with us only having to give him a
contact ‘phone number and a promise to meet up.
We did our best to be the perfect hosts to our hard working English drivers,
who had bought such a lot of help and hope with them. They were fed and
watered and taken in to peoples homes like long lost sons. The families they
stayed with gave them more than they had but were happy to do so. One of
the chaps even ended up meeting his future wife, he came back a few times
to see her over the next year and then took her away. A good result all
The lorries were parked up in a compound under armed guard until we
could unload, as we were going to use the vehicles as much as we could to
take the aid directly to the needy it was the best way.
The next few days were filled with trips to orphanages, hospitals the old and
the young. All needed more than we could give but we did what we could.
Five hundred banana boxes of food were to be given out, the good people of
Devon had lovingly filled each box. One box had enough food inside to feed
a family of four for a week. But this on its own threw up a dilemma, if we
gave a box to each family five hundred would eat well for a week and then
be hungry again the next week.
We could give fifty families ten each and this would start to get them back
on their feet, or maybe one hundred boxes to five families, now this would
make a difference, two years worth of food would mean they could save
money, buy a cow or extra seed for the fields. They would be able to
support themselves and not need aid ever again. They may even be able to
help others with what they produced from the land. They could sell the
crops and reinvest in more land or tools. The Bible said if you give a man a
fish he would feed his family for a day, if you give him a net he would feed
this family forever. What would you have done? Who would you choose to
help? It’s hard to play God.
Once when we had three people over from England we had taken them into
town for a look around. One path that leads to the market was where all the
beggars sat in a row with out stretched hands. Some of them were just old
and starving, others had no legs or other deformities, but they were all in
desperate need. Giving the English people fifty lie each (£2.50) which was a
months pension, we sent them off down the path to give the life saving
money away to a deserving person, they walked up and down the path twice
trying to decide who to help, there was so many of them and so little to go
In the end no one could decide, they wanted to help them all, so no one got
any money that day.
Yes it was a hard lesson and I know those three people were very guilty for
not being able to make a decision, but each month for the last eight years we
have received £7.50 from them with instructions that it is to be divided
between three different beggars every time.
What we did not deliver was put into a warehouse in a sugar beet factory for
us to deal with when the drivers had gone. Our first mission believe it or not
had gone well there was still a few problems to deal with, one being the
customs trying to arrest the lorries when they left the country and demanded
all the aid be collected back in and handed over to the government. I had
heard that the lorries drove though the barriers at the border smashing them
to pieces when the police tried to stop them. It’s a nice story and one we do
tell, but it’s not Hugh’s style.
Our work took another three weeks to finish, all the documents had to be
completed and every thing signed for that we delivered. Any aid that was
left had to be sent out using our fleet of Ladas, then ‘photos and reports had
to be done to send back to England so that they could report back to their
supporters. By the time we were done we were dead on our feet and to top it
all we had no money left. The Christians were great at giving to others but
never to us. $50 was all we ever got towards our costs and their food or
accommodation and that was from one of the none Christian drivers. Its not
that we were after money for the work we did, it was just we had no way of
replacing what we had unless we went back to England. But before we
could make plans we were offered more aid and then more, over the next
two years we had eleven more lorries of aid delivered. All gave us their own
problems and challenges but we over came them all.
Your old clothing and bedding is needed by Moldova we all have stuff in
the wardrobe that we never wear so why not give it to others they need it
more than you. Maybe you also have old toys and items in the cupboard that
you do not need, donate a Sunday morning of your time, do a car boot sale
and give the money to Moldova. £50 will feed a family of four for six
months. It would cost you a few hours work. Or maybe you would like to
give £2.50 to a beggar in the street and help them live a bit longer.
Your life would not change one bit if you have £2.50 less in your pocket
next month but some one else could eat .