While still based in Buxton (2009) KF met with Congleton-based charity Children of Romania to discuss producing a video showing the work they do in the eastern European countries. Months later we joined a group of their trustees and supporters on a trip to Romania to see some of the places their funding in the UK supports.
Children of Romania (Congleton) are a British charity which supports, financially and practically, the Saint Francis Foundation, which runs children’s homes in Transylvania, Romania. Most of the children are ethnically Hungarian, and are amongst the poorest people in Europe. The charity have a large say in where the money they raise is spent, tending to concentrate on two aspects of the Foundation’s work – Congleton House, in the village of Torocko, and the after school clubs in Felsosofalva.
Our promotional video would feature supporters and organisers of the charity, focusing on the group’s journey from England to Romania this September. Once there, they would visit groups of children that the charity aims to help. We wanted to show the poor living conditions many orphaned children living in Romania have to suffer with, and to underline the on-going work the charity is doing to help improve their unfortunate situation.
Met group at Manchester Airport.
Arrived in Budapest 5.30pm (local time).
Few hours exploring Budapest, regrettably left camera at hotel.
Left Budapest at 9am in two mini buses (group of 18).
Crossed border into Romania around midday, and were pulled over by the police shortly after.
Arrived in Săcueni, at Petofi Sandor. Petofi Sandor is one of the recent places to receive funding from the charity. The building is still under construction but will eventually be transformed into a school for local children. The money raised by Children of Romania to date has paid to have the roof repaired.
Our group stayed here for lunch, where we had our first taste of Pálinka, a traditional Romanian brandy that they start EVERY MEAL with. It is often homemade and double distilled so can be 40-70% ABV.
We went on to visit one of the local schools in Săcueni, where a class of children greeted us with Hungarian songs. Later, we visited two of the school children’s houses, which were little more than a small shed, the first was no larger than 10′ x 10′ and housed a mother and father with their four children. The smell was overpowering at times, with flies covering the bed sheets and furniture. The second was marginally larger but equally as shocking to see.
Next we travelled to San Martin, arriving at Caminul Felix – one of a series of villages (Romania, Thailand, Zimbabwe) that adopts orphaned children, who then live with their new parents until they are ready to leave home (i.e. when they are married, graduate, get a full-time job and are able to support themselves). In the two Romanian complexes there are 16 families made up of almost 200 children.
Stayed by the Caminul Felix village. In the evening, had a chat with Doug Parker, the founder of Children of Romania and former-Mayor of Congleton, who explained how his involvement with the foundation first began and what the charity aims to do in the future.
6am – Started the day with (failed) timelapse of the sunrise from bedroom window, followed 4 hour drive to another orphanage where we found a group of kids playing in the backyard, climbing trees and generally having fun. It was a nice contrast to see after visiting the houses yesterday.
After having lunch there, we proceeded to the next another school/orphanage supported by the foundation. The workers here told us hold when the building was first renovated and turned into a place for children to live, it was burned down by locals the day before the grand opening.
Fortunately further fundraising enabled it to be rebuilt shortly after. The children here were seemed particularly curious of my camera kit here.
Stayed at Szekely Land Lodge – miles away from any large conurbation, the sky was infinitely clear. Kept awake by lovely, but very loud and seemingly nocturnal dogs so opted for late time astro-photography.
Left Lodge at 10am on buses after traditional Transylvanian breakfast (cheese, cornflour & sour cream and egg and pork fat omelette) – it tastes better than it sounds.
Visited local after school, followed by an orphanage at a farm house where a group of children live, and when old enough, work on the farm. One of the workers at the house introduced us to a four year old girl living there. She had only been found the day the before, naked and alone in the woods. The woman told us that the young girl was unable to speak, but can only ‘bark’ when she needed to communicate. It was difficult to imagine what kind of conditions she had been living before coming to the house, however it was comforting to see her smiling and happy when we came to say hello.
After a quick visit to a local salt mine, we arrived at Felsosofalva, one of the after school clubs that Children of Romania focuses its fundraising towards. We were greeted by a group of 20 odd children singing songs and offering the group presents they had made and glasses of Pálinka.
In the last few years the Foundation has opened a number of after schools clubs in villages where children do have families of their own, but where the conditions are so poor that it is impossible to do homework. Many of these homes have no space, no table and no lighting. The after school club provides a space where children can study under the supervision of a qualified teacher. They can also get a hot meal, warm clothes and the opportunity to discuss their problems. Recent fundraising efforts from the charity have paid for a new kitchen and shower block at Felsosofalva.
We stayed the night with a potter and his family, where they put on an epic BBQ for the whole group.
NB: Later that night I witnessed a 78 year old woman dress up in a bear-skin rug and run about knocking on people’s doors trying to scare them. Best. Moment. Ever.
Set off at 10.30am to return to Felsosofalva after school club. Many of the group left presents for the children there and Doug presented another donation to the school’s founder, Margit.
3 hour drive to Torocko in the Transylvanian mountains, arrived at Congleton House for dinner. Most of the charity’s funds go to Congleton House; the children’s home the charity ‘adopted’ in 2004. When the property was first bought there was no bathroom or running water, and the only cooking facility was a flat steel plate above a single gas ring. Since then, with the help Children of Romania have given, extensive alterations and modernization has been done. Approximately 30 children now live there.
Spent the afternoon time lapsing the stunning mountain range that surrounds Torocko.
6.30pm up early to time lapse the sun rise behind the mountains. We were told that in summer, because of the large mountain to the east of the Torocko, that the sun rises twice over the town. Unfortunately it was a little late in the year for that so we had to make do with just the one.
11am Went with Doug, Cato (our Hungarian translator) and one of the workers at Congleton House to a village 30kms away from Torocko. While there we visited a family, again, living in a shack which was essentially just four walls and a raised flat roof that the family slept on during the hot summer. The father told us that he was unemployed and that there were 5 children living there. It was a stark contrast from the children living in the orphanage back in Torocko, but it was enlightening to see the type of place that the children there had once lived. The kids seemed very excited and exquisite to see us and their father was very grateful for the food supplies we left with them.
After returning to Congleton House, we shot a short interview with Doug Parker who told us how the charity began, the current projects being funded, their plans for the future, etc. His answers will hopefully provide the narrative voice throughout the film.
Spent the afternoon shooting establishing/cutaway footage for the film. Torocko is a very picturesque former-mining town and, as I mentioned, is surrounded by epic mountains and dense woodlands. I had to force myself to stop shooting and go to dinner with the others.
Although out of season, after our final dinner in Torocko, the landlady of a local cellar bar was kind enough to open up for us, where there were many more Pálinkas poured, lots of singing and this happened….
9am – 10 hour drive to Hungary. Arrived back at hotel in Budapest 6pm (local time).
Explored more of the city (inc the Citadel looking out over the city and Heroes Square)
9am Spent morning exploring Budapest’s epic indoor market, and afternoon sightseeing in 32˚C heat. NB Saw lots of film crews around the city, including an advert being shot for DHL on a 5D and GoPro Hero. Made me smile.
7pm flight back to UK, arrived 8pm (local time).
We’re currently cutting the promo video, it will be published online along with the launch of the new Children of Romania website in the next few months. A DVD copy will also be available as a promotional tool at future charity events.
Marc @ KF