The Smiles Foundation has been trying for 20 years to have an immediate and appropriate answer for the many problems people face here in Romania and there were many indeed …. and quite a variety! The policy of our Founder has always been ‘each time we met a need, we tried to come up with something that would address it, either to help people overcome the difficult period or to improve their lives, by providing proper and appropriate assistance.’
From this historical point of view, after the initial Family Care programme was designed to help poor families, Smiles developed many other programmes, often more specialised, that were oriented directly to other types of problems.
We started to support homeless people, the elderly, abandoned children, victims of domestic abuse, the disabled and so on. By doing that of course, our resources were better used, focused on a more specific need and the outcome, in most cases, was encouraging. There was a good response from the beneficiaries and situations were changed. We were happy to see the progress.
Over the years, many of you joined the Smiles sponsorship structure, in one way or another. Sometimes for the project, sometimes a ‘special interest’ approach for supported families or individuals. We then endeavoured to keep you informed on the progress of the sponsored one and how things progressed in general. And of course, when Mission Trip season is open, many of you would come over and enjoy a week or two visiting families and seeing what is going on.Through the years, and it is 17 years since we started the Family Care project, this approach helped the respective families, but also introduced a little side-effect that caused us some concern.
Visiting these families regularly, month after month and year after year, caused our support to become the norm, an expected blessing, almost the required gesture of ‘good-will’ and it happened too many times that people would call us rather impatiently, asking “when is the food coming, as we are late a day or two”.
Slowly, in several cases, something we never intended to happen, did! We had created some level of dependency on our involvement and by keep doing the regular support, in some cases, we only encouraged the dependency. Our support became too much of a central point, while the intention was always to only add a little bit to what they could do, so they would be encouraged to move on and the bad period of their life would change after a while into something better.
Of course not all situations are the same. In many cases, our support will not change much, but will improve the quality of life. People with disabilities for instance, or the elderly, or even children in the after-school programmes – they will only benefit of our support and will not be able to change much by themselves. But in most cases, where possible, the idea is to help out for a while, not to become a permanent crutch for a recoverable patient.
So, after a long while of providing specialised support for families in difficulty through our Family Care Project, specialised support for homeless people through our Homeless Project with the Container Village, specialised support through our Emergency Housing Unit, and many rural communities who were serviced regularly we decided to restructure the support in a way that will still continue to help the people, but will avoid the danger of dependency. The result was developing the ‘Field Project’ concept.We see this as taking the best out of everything that was before, refine it to the essential components, adding a new dimension to it, reviewing and presenting a New Project. So this is what we have done.
We are assessing the support list and looking at the specifics of each family. There are beneficiaries that joined the programme many years ago. Some are still going through a ‘dark period’ and some will never actually get to a better position. But some did get through the valley and they are now much stronger than when we started. They do not actually need our support anymore, but it became a welcome addition while it continued. In these cases, we will want to move on so that more dependency is not encouraged and more urgent cases can use the support.
When it comes to shelter at our Emergency House, the stay there will not be encouraged beyond the emergency period, as rather like the Container Village, we have seen a ‘transitional facility’ become more of a permanent option when people get comfortable.
Our support is being reviewed and explained to the beneficiary from the moment we get involved – the whole idea being for Smiles to provide for the crisis time and then allow the folk to move forward. The residents will need to find ways to do this, we will help of course, but the care and support needs to be within reasonable limits.
We will still work with the homeless people and we’ll continue to provide for the community’s needs, but in a way that will be more relevant and hopefully more encouraging for them to not get content with the little bit offered, but rather want more and better for themselves, in the long term. We need to get back more to the ‘meet you half-way’ approach. Whatever progress we aim and desire to achieve, can only happen if both parties are willing and ready to do their parts. Smiles should really only be of support, not trying to achieve something against the beneficiaries’ desire, even if in our opinion ‘our way is better’!
We believe another very important aspect is for our participation in the projects to contain more Christian teaching. The importance of Outreach. Sharing the good news of Salvation so that not only tomorrow is assured by a food package or some medicine, but that Eternal Life is explained and hopefully received by those listening. We need to get more into “Christ-sharing” so our material support will only be a practical example of Christ’s Love for people.
The Field Project is something that is designed to refresh and improve what we have done for a long time and to be more relevant for the times we live in today. The adjustments should be good and useful for everybody. Of course, this will be our first year when we try to do this and we do not know how the long-term beneficiaries will receive it. But we do hope they will understand what we are trying to achieve and while any change can be difficult, we believe it’s still for the best. And for those beneficiaries that cannot really handle life by themselves, we’ll still try to continue providing so that their lives are at least safe and more comfortable.
One final factor we have considered in the changes being made is that we are now providing some very significant and expensive facilities that provide 24/7 care for people who would otherwise be living alone and struggling with life. More than 115 people now benefit from our services in the residential facilities in Salonta, Oradea and Tileagd. The beautiful thing is instead of being reduced to tears when we visit the elderly or disabled in their homes, leave them a food basket saying ‘see you next month’ we are now able to offer care and comfort at a remarkable level that our residents and their families are now in tears with relief!But as we move into these new areas of care and support, other areas need to adjust along with sponsorship or fund-raising which need to rise to the new levels of care provided for the people.
The Smiles Foundation is doing more today than at any point in our history. Our budgets are higher, our employment of project staff higher and our passion and vision for the future – higher than ever before. But we need your help to see our vision fulfilled.
We invite you to Romania, to come and be part of our visits on the field and discover together ways we can help people. The Mission Trip weeks are a great time for you to visit Romania and meet personally the people in need. To then assess for yourself and if you are willing to give them a hand-up, you are very welcome to join us in the process. Your support is still very much needed as this enables us to do what we do. Your contribution is very important and we endeavour to use your support in the best way we can.
Thank you for being a serious supporter and we pray for God’s blessings in your life.
Thank you for being a blessing to us, for the work we do and for people we serve!
Assistant Director of Smiles Foundation Romania