In November 2001, I travelled with an "Operation Christmas Child" team to Romania to distribute gifts to children.
This was my first trip to Eastern Europe and it was a "Baptism of Fire"
We flew to Bucharest and then had a six hour journey in a mini van right across Romania to Constanta on the edge of the Black Sea. I was glad I had taken some thermal underwear as the temperature never rose above -12 centigrade - the Black Sea was actually frozen solid near the coast.
We distributed the "Operation Christmas Child" shoebox gifts to children in a local hospital, several orphanages and gypsies living out in the open countryside in make-shift sheds.
In November 2003 and 2004, I travelled with teams to the Berkovitsa Orphanage in Bulgaria.
There are 120 children in this dilapidated home in the mountainous north of the country. In wintertime, it can take up to five hours to drive from the capital Sofia through the mountains to the orphanage, and it's very cold there. The children are very friendly and love to see visitors - though they get very few. The director and staff who look after them do their best for the youngsters, but it is hard for them because there is very little money to buy food - and none to buy clothes. The children have to make do with second hand clothing, given by charities. The children do not 'own' any of these clothes. They are kept in a central room and they wear what is available in their size on any day.
That's why they were so pleased to get new shoes, socks and underclothes bought with money raised by the "Harvest for the Hungry Project".
In August 2007, I travelled with a team from the UK to Brazil to visit the “University of Life” in Fortaleza on the North coast of Brazil.
Many children in Brazil drop out of school at an early age and end up on the streets. The University of Life was formed in 1990 to help those living in a slum area of the beach resort town of Fortaleza on the North East coast of Brazil. At the University of Life children are given extra education and encouragement to make it through the state system, enabling them to have a better chance of obtaining a job.
As well as giving them a good education, the project operates with a Christian ethic, providing a loving and secure atmosphere in which to learn and flourish. To help prevent the slum children becoming street children this project assists them with their state school homework and offers the children classes in sports, drama, music, English, typing, computing and Christianity. A nutritional meal, dental and medical assistance are also provided along with 'horizon broadening' excursions to the zoo and other areas.
In February 2009, I travelled with a “Samaritans Purse International” team from the UK to Swaziland.
Swaziland is a small country facing big issues. One in four adults live with HIV, the highest prevalence rate in the world. There is also a high risk of contracting other illnesses which contribute towards the lowest life expectancy in the world, just 31 years. In recent years, more than a quarter of the population have needed emergency food aid.
Our team distributed gifts donated to the “Operation Christmas Child” project to school children, individuals in their homes and local communities.
In October 2019, I drove all the way from the UK to Ukraine in a convoy of three UK-AID vans to deliver humanitarian aid to the Medical Centre in Chernihiv.
UK-AID delivers aid to Ukraine three times a year with the aim to help sick and under privileged children, especially those still suffering from the devastating effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. More information can be found on their website - www.uk-aid.org
The Medical Centre in Chernihiv has it's own website - https://www.rcn.org.ua/uk/
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While I was there, the team visited a few familes who were struggling to look after their disabled children - living conditions can be very challenging in the old Soviet Community tower blocks. Many blocks have just one kitchen and bathroom for each floor that are shared by up to 17 families.
Click on the images below to view the slide shows and video clips