The new concept, as explained in detail through various Smiles updates in recent months, comes with an overhaul approach to working with families and individuals in need. A different approach from the past but still preserving the initial vision of providing support in time of trouble whilst sharing Christ in the process. A new method does not only mean a new approach, but also a refreshed structure and we had in June, the first full month when we could test all of these out in the Field.
The Smiles Foundation started its work among the people of Bihor two decades ago. The context in which the first visits took place was that of a terrible confusion and despair for most of the population, as dramatic changes in Romanian society made life so tough for people. There was a general sense of discouragement and lack of vision for personal development overall and particularly for the vulnerable groups such as poor families, the homeless and the disabled. Of course, much of that context is unfortunately still valid today, but there are also two major differences – on one hand, times have changed quite dramatically and on the other hand, we have now greater experience of working with these groups. So, we could observe what our work achieved in the past, through its various specifics. It is this experience that is now enabling us to take better decisions for the future.
No doubt, there are still many needs all around us. Tremendous need for support, for solutions, for ideas because just as Jesus stated in the Bible, “the poor will always be with us”. Contrary to what many people believe, the European Union or the Romanian Government did not solve the serious social issues, not at all. And because this need still exists, the Smiles Foundation will continue to do what we can to help people.
But we do not want to prevent people from developing themselves! There is something about a child growing and this can illustrate best the whole point: there is no real benefit for a child if he’s only carried all the time, he needs to put in the effort himself, get one or two bruises in the process and eventually make steps forward. Only then will he have really succeeded. We discovered many times that our continued support, given on regular basis, does good of course, but in long term it almost prevents our beneficiaries from overcoming their condition and as a result, they become truly dependent. What is the achievement then? Yes, a hungry stomach feels better and that makes us feel good, but tomorrow the process needs to start all over again, otherwise what does it count for? The stomach will always get hungry!
Then of course, there are the situations when a person is not able to progress, for obvious reasons. Disabled people for sure, despite their desire to do more, would be limited in various ways. The elderly could not do much anymore, as their bodies are less able now. The uneducated will need education first, the sick will need treatment, the abused will need healing. But we are not giving up at all on these, we feel we need to do something for them and we will continue to do so, as the support we receive enables us to do the work. There are for sure situations like these when our support cannot be dismissed or denied and we will try to do the best we can to accommodate it.
So, June was the first full month to check how the new ideas would work in practice – we visited families we have in our programme for a while now as well as several new families.
We visited of course our communities, providing support for families with food, pampers, treatment for little Madalin in Cuiesd for instance and spending some time talking with families about their options for employment.
As in many other places, a significant number of people are looking into leaving the country for the summer months, when they can make better income abroad and that will enable them to actually progress within their own means. While we are aware of the associated more complicated aspects of such a plan, we still applaud the desire for self-progress! This is what we want to see more of.
Then, a new situation raised with a family from Rapa, not the Gypsy community, but another village family, a very complicated affair with domestic violence and a disabled daughter involved, that will take a lot of attention from us. We started with making a plan for the next few weeks and we’ll take it forward as needed. A few supporters see our job as only ‘delivering food’ but I want to assure you our intentions through the Field Project are far more serious and complicated than delivering a box of food.
Andrei and his family, from Tulca, a long-term beneficiary of our Family Care programme, expressed his desire to move into another house, as his long-time standing problems with the neighbour only got worse and he was being forced into moving. We spent a good while trying to find another house that will be suitable for his family and Smiles is ready to find the resources to help. Andrei will pay a monthly amount towards getting the ownership, as we have agreed together.
Until the house situation is clear though, Andrei and family – wife and five children – are staying in Mierlau, at our Emergency Housing Unit. The plan is they will be able to move into the new place as soon as paperwork is completed and that will then allow them to continue improving, doing something for their own property, giving them the dignity and pride of achieving this through their own means. And this is also something we are happy to support, as we believe this really does enable people in the long term. However, there is significant difference between just taking a food package costing £10-£20 ($14-$28) to providing a house at £2-3,000 ($2,800-$4,200). This is why we need people to support the Smiles Field Project with a much bigger vision than the old concept of ‘providing a food package’.
A family that also wants to do more are the Potioc sisters, another long-term beneficiary. There is a great difference though, as now the two sisters and their families are the ones to be helped and their desires are higher than their parents’. They want to buy a house for themselves and we are looking into how we can do that.
Another old and yet new beneficiary is Monica, her family was assisted through our homeless programme for a while but then they moved on and now, as her husband Alexandru died, she once again needs our help. We are looking into finding something that will work for her too.
We have a growing list of requests for support. During the summer months, together with our mission trip visitors, we’ll try to get to see all of these families and assess their situation, support them as we can, once we have identified what their real need is. Delivering food, medicine, clothes, shoes, etc. is always an option, but this is not all we do, and actually not necessarily what our beneficiaries need. We try to obtain as much as possible for the families, first and foremost helping them understand they need to be proactive themselves. Often, they really only need some encouragement, some advice and … our prayers.
We are very determined to do good, to find ways that will indeed transform our support to a hand-up rather than just a ‘hand-out’ and we’re looking forward also to finding the people to serve as part of this programme! We do not know all details, because they are yet unknown. But as a principle, we want to engage the beneficiaries much more than before and all the work to be more efficient overall, obtaining hopefully different and better results than previously.
The Family Care Programme, as well as Homeless and Emergency Housing, all under Field Project now, will continue to serve people in need from Bihor County, with a new approach to implementation, but still maintaining the original vision and objectives.
Thank you for being part of the support structure and for allowing us to do our work of helping people! Your contribution, as a Smiles supporter, is essential and as we’ve said before, we see you as partners in this.
So, feel free to write to me, to ask questions and of course, to support as you see fit the new Smiles’ Field Project!
Director of Smiles Field Project