Several years ago Michael and Dorothy Patton, teachers from England, sought early retirement. No, they did not see themselves staying at home and today they continue volunteering while working with children from different countries, including Moldova. In two weeks spent in our country these creative people managed to carry out many activities, all of them with a unique purpose – to make a difference. We had the possibility to interview our guests about their impressions and fortunately found out that the positive ones prevailed over the negative.
– What did you know about Moldova before your visit? Did you change your opinion about the country?
– Dorothy: I knew very little about Moldova before I came, but I’d heard about it from a friend who had been there with TEECH. Since I’ve been here, I found it a very friendly and welcoming country that has much to offer. The people are trying very hard to care for the community and to help their children. I really wanted to see how the country works and what I can do to help children in need.
– What was the main goal of your trip?
– Michael: Our goal was to give children our time and provide a variety of play activities and resources for them. We brought some things over and tried to do some activities which they may not have otherwise experienced. Also when going back to England we will see if there is any way in which we can further support the projects.
– You have spent 5 days in the boarding School in Straseni. Could you describe the experience you had there? How did you find the common language with children?
– Michael: We spent a lot of time in the classrooms and experienced different age groups. The language was an issue, but we were willing to try. Still there were different exercises we could get involved in, for example singing, mathematics, hand-writing and drawing. We had lunch with the children and then there was free time after lunch. Usually we didn’t plan this activity, we tended to walk around with the children or play games like hopscotch or football. Then the children would go into the homework classes and we helped there. Later in the afternoon, from 17.00 till 19.00 we organized our activities for the children – we did art & craft, group games, music, dancing, circle games, sewing. The activities had various degrees of success – some went very well, some were more difficult to organize.
– Dorothy: We used gestures, actions and facial expressions to communicate. When we had some activities to do, we could make children follow us, observe and copy what we were doing. In this way we managed to make a connection. Whatever we could offer, we tried our best.
– What were the main difficulties besides foreign language?
– Michael: It was hard to work with such a big number of children, as all of them were demanding and wanted attention. Sometimes we didn’t have enough hands and regretted that there were only two of us.
– Did you observe what activities the children like the most?
– Dorothy: They like anything. But I’ve noticed that the girls particularly like making things that they can keep after. Together we made some badges and friendship bands and I’ve heard they all wanted to keep them as a memory.
– What are the main problems of the boarding school? Do children with intellectual disabilities get some possibilities or perspectives for the further development there?
– Michael: I think the problem with any institution is that it will always have the institutionalized children. To break down institutionalized behavior you have to set up and create an atmosphere which would be like that of a family. In the boarding school in England in which I worked for a long time, there were teachers during the day and in the boarding wing there was a new set of adults who were in a sense their “local” parents and the children were in family groups. So in the school for example, you would have one teacher and 12 to 15 children, but in the boarding wing it would be like a family and you would have one adult to 4 or 5 children. In that way you can break down the institution idea and create a family. Now in the boarding part of Strășeni school there were 110 children and 3 educators, it means 1 educator has to work with 30-35 children. This could lead to children being unsupervised possibly resulting in some negative behavior patterns, so it can become a kind of “survival of the fittest”. This isn’t a criticism, just a statement of the problem you can have with an institution.
– Dorothy: And of course the other problem is that there can be little decision making. Everything is done for the children, whereas ideally children should make decisions as they would within a family. They may decide, for example, what they are going to wear and they contribute to making the meal.
– Besides boarding school you have visited two Day Care Centres funded by ORA International. What do you think about the children from there? How are they different?
– Dorothy: I could see a big difference between the children from the Day Care Centres and the boarding school. The reason is probably not in the different abilities of the children, but in the family atmosphere and mood created at the Centres. The children of both “Walker House” and “Esther House” seem to have more confidence and brightness about them. I’m sure that is because the educators are able to give more time and input.
– What were the highlights which will stay in your memory for a long time?
– Dorothy: I will not forget two visits to the kindergarten nr.9 in Chișinău. One of the highlights was seeing very small children who have possible contact with TB and seeing what was being done for them. I’ve worked with young children all my life, that is why I have a special feeling for them. Another memorable moment was in Valcinet when I saw the joy in a little girl’s eyes when I decided to buy the vase she made. She looked quite surprised and dumbfounded. I think it’s very important for people to realize that they can achieve a lot from making things themselves and that in this way they will have a more worthy place in society.
– Could you name 3 things that surprised you in Moldova?
– Dorothy: The arts surprised me here. We’ve seen quite a lot of cultural activities, Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Chișinău was spectacular! Moldova seems to be quite an emotional country with its’ rich national culture of poetry and song.
– Michael: I was surprised by the contrast – when you are flying to Chișinău or you are driving through the city, you can see quite affluent life around – shopping malls, casinos, some expensive cars. Then you drive in the countryside you see the poverty. Another fact that surprised me was the growing number of people moving away and working abroad. It is a big issue, as it leaves children and elderly people unsupported and therefore Moldova isn’t developing any industry and infrastructure. Within this what surprises me the most are the people. With all those problems as a nation you are still optimistic, you haven’t given up, you are still fighting to develop your identity, because you’re still a very young country, aren’t you?
– Will you tell your friends and relatives about your visit to Moldova? Will you promote travelling to Moldova when you are back?
– Dorothy: Of course! All our friends will be desperate to know what we’ve been doing and would like to know what we have discovered and if they can do anything to help. I will tell them it is an interesting country to visit for history, culture, monasteries and wine! We have been given things from shops from our town and we’ve promised to take them back some photographs to show them where the gifts were given. In a local newspaper we want to publish a story, so certainly we’ll spread the word about Moldova.
– With what feelings are you leaving Moldova?
– Dorothy: I’m leaving with a wealth of experience I have discovered about the country and about myself. I would love to return and see the projects that ORA International are doing in the future and how they and the children have developed. I’ve just learned so much: I’ve learned how to accept life, how resilient I am, what I can cope with and how perhaps fortunate I am in my life and the children in England.
– Michael: That’s exactly how I feel and I would also be particularly interested to follow the joint elderly home and vulnerable teenage girl project.
Thank you for help and commitment! We hope you’ll keep amazing memories about Moldova.
by Mila Corlateanu