When asked about poverty and children who are living in poor conditions where would you think of? Would you think of Africa, Asia, South America? What would you say if I told you the answer could well be Egypt? A tourist attraction for its pyramids and great pharaohs the country is affected by poverty more than you could possibly imagine.
This week I met with Seamus Regan who is at the end of this month travelling as a volunteer to build houses and assist the less well off peoples of Cairo, Egypt. Seamus is just one of 8 volunteers who will be spending 2 weeks in the region helping the locals with whatever building maintenance that they need done.
The volunteer trip is organised through an International Organisation called The Samaritan’s Purse. This organisation is best known for its annual Christmas shoe box appeal. Seamus got involved with the organisation through his local Baptist Church in Swords just over two years ago.
Seamus is no amateur when it comes to this kind of work. Two years ago he spent a couple of weeks volunteering in Romania. The group of 14 volunteers were sent to Caluj where they spent their time renovating an orphanage. Seamus explained why it was necessary to do such work. He said that before they arrived there were difficulties in the orphanage. “They had a problem with washing the kid’s clothes
and hanging them out. When they would come out the following morning the clothes would be gone”. He also told how there were problems with wild dogs and rabies in the area and how the kids couldn’t be left out without supervision. Since there were only two full time staff they “couldn’t split the time between looking after the kids both inside and outside and running the building. Seamus recalled his trip to Romania and how he got there. Going to Romania they travelled through Hungary airport in Budapest and then drove 6 hours to Romania.
He remembers the big difference between the Hungary side of the border and the Romanian side. “It was like walking through a wall you have a lot of flash cars to horse and carts and trucks going through Romania. There is very little industry and poor houses.”
The group soon learnt about how buildings were structured in Romania. The general rule of tomb in Romania is that on the one piece of land that the parents own has usually been owned before by the grandparents and the great grandparents. One the first ground floor there are the grandparents. Then you extend into the roof and there are the parents and the roof and you have the kids. There are 4 or 5 story buildings all constructed on single floor foundations. There are a lot of problems with buildings collapsing and people being killed.
Because of this there was a list of things that the people wanted done. Seamus remembers the list “It was very short because their expectations from people is very little, they have no social security in Romania. No one gives them anything or does anything for them. If they want something they have to go out and do it themselves or it doesn’t get done.
Seamus talked about how the orphanage was run. They pick these kids up off the street, they bring them home, they wash them they give them clothes and they feed them. As a sideline for this they are a Christian organisation so they bring god into their lives or people that respect him in them.
I asked Seamus how he felt when leaving Romania. His answer reflected the experiences that he had had whilst there. He remembers that he felt like they didn’t do enough and they didn’t know if what they did was any good because there was no one there to follow it on.“After we had come home we heard that another team from Iceland had gone out and finished
some of projects we had started so that was good to know”.
When asked if the work was tough Seamus joked “no I do it every day, it is what we do”.We did general construction. We floored out the attic so the kids could dry their clothes somewhere safe. We build a wall around the site so that the kids could go out to play and have a somewhere to build playground. We spent a couple of days in the park with the kids and had a few parties and showed them a good time.
The main thing that he felt that he learnt from the whole experience is “we have too much here at home. In that we loose the worth of the things that we have. We loose the worth of the people around us who care for us and treat us well”.
His best memory of the trip is “some of the times we spent in the park with the kids. Just playing around and enjoying the time together.The thing that shocked him and other volunteers most was the situation in Romania at that stage. The inflatation was running at about 50% so whatever you could afford today you won’t be able to afford next week. Their wages are about 120 a month which is hardly half a days wages here for a tradesman.
Seamus has good advice for anyone considering such work. He says “go ahead, give it a go. These people have absolutely nothing in their lives and anything that can be brought to their lives is worth while”.