From a ‘chance’ encounter with a young boy begging on the streets of Oradea (NW Romania) in 2001 has come the life-changing opportunity for an entire Roma (Gypsy) Community through support, firstly in essential humanitarian aid and then with a strategy for infrastructure development through education, health care, spiritual development and employment.
The encounter in April 2001 was during an annual visit to Romania by the Foundation’s Founder and Chief Executive – Kevin Hoy. Accompanied by eleven others on a short-term Mission Trip, they met a 10 year old boy, hungry and dirty from begging all day in the city.
As the team were on route to dinner at a local restaurant, Kevin and the team invited hungry Victor to join them. Over dinner, the team learnt of some of Victor’s family history and Kevin wanted to meet them all. He learnt they were living in extreme poverty in a village with make-shift housing, no running water or sanitation, east of the city in a town called Tileagd, some 17 miles (25 km) from Oradea.
At the time, the Community comprised around 250 people including many children, represented by about 40 families spanning four generations.
At that time, The Smiles Foundation had just started the Family Care Project to assist largely Romanian and Hungarian families living in extreme poverty with provision of food, clothes, medicine and social support. After meeting the Tileagd Roma community, the project was expanded to include every person in the Gypsy Community.
After 12 months of support, Smiles began to establish with the leadership of the community some hopes, dreams and expectations for the future. This community hadn’t been able to ‘dream’ – life was all about survival – but maybe now there was someone who could provide some hope for the community and give them something to ‘dream’ about. But what would be their Dream?
To the pleasant surprise of the Smiles leadership, despite obvious needs in personal and family issues such as homes, health and food – when the Community was asked how the Foundation could help them most, the response was ‘Educate our Children’ – this will provide a real opportunity to ‘Dream’ for the future.
This was so interesting. It’s doubtful the Roma community had ever heard of the great Chinese philosopher – Confucius, but he said;
“If your plan is for a year, plant rice.
If your plan is for a decade, plant trees.
If your plan is for a lifetime, educate your children.”
This was what The Smiles Foundation was being asked to do – Plan for a Lifetime.
Immediately, plans for a School and Nursery began to unfold, which is now an entire story of its own. And indeed a separate project as it became so significant since opening in 2003.
To assist the families in encouraging their children to attend school, Smiles helps them in many ways. Most significantly currently is that 12 of the adult community are being employed. A variety of jobs requiring less academic knowledge, but working in the School kitchen, cleaning and construction were all good starts. It showed the Roma community were not only prepared to work, but could be very hard working and conscientious about doing a good job. Now many more are employed with Security at our facilities and even with driving since 2008 as we helped several secure a driving licence.
The Foundation also helped with House repairs and in some cases extensions to assist with larger families having better living conditions. Back in 2003, the Foundation employed a Doctor and Social Worker specifically for the community’s needs and both had significant tasks caring for nearly 300 people in the community, including up to 200 children.
The Foundation believes that every person has a part of their life that only God can fill. A spiritual need that pastoral support can help meet and the opportunity to Worship and Fellowship together has increased the community concern and awareness of their neighbours and personal responsibilities.
In Summer 2006 within the walls of a building ‘under construction’ the Tileagd Community Church started meeting. At first, every two weeks on a Sunday morning would often see 100 people gather together for worship. By January 2007, the community had asked if the Church could meet every week. And so it does, joined regularly by hundreds of visitors on Smiles Mission Trips through-out the year.
The Foundation is always looking for the next area to help with and health problems with over 100 children suffering stomach worms, identified infected water from old, damaged wells were the cause. Smiles set about raising funds to drill a new well, to provide clean – fresh water for the village. We have also improved drainage in the village to prevent serious flooding as often happened due to limited drainage provision.
Life has changed dramatically for the Tileagd Community since Smiles first became involved, but many challenges remain and our work is far from complete. Tileagd is a huge and expensive project to maintain and develop. Tremendous support has been given but we ask you to continue supporting Tileagd to see the continuing dream materialise.
That ‘chance’ encounter in 2001 has lead to some mighty changes in Tileagd which by focusing on Medical, Education, Social and Spiritual development – is changing the future of an entire community for the good.
Creating Hope…. Making Dreams come true!
The basic Community Operating Costs in Tileagd average £1,175 / $1,525 per month