Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, with 25% of the 3.2 million residents living below the poverty line and over 4,000 children living in institutions. In April 2014, and as part of Emmaus Lambeth’s commitment to support others in need, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. In partnership with Service for Peace volunteering and alongside Terry Gallagher – an Emmaus Lambeth trustee – I spent two weeks staying in the city and helping in an orphanage.

Our host Victoria, who we stayed with in the city centre, was welcoming and supportive. She accompanied us to the orphanage on our first day, made us lovely Moldovan dinners in the evenings, and showed us the nicest parts of Chisinau.  Whilst the poverty is very clear throughout the city – with its many derelict buildings and stray dogs – I found the people to be incredibly friendly and helpful, although not at all used to tourists.

We worked every morning and evening in an orphanage just outside of the city centre, which we travelled to by a “trolley-bus” which cost two lei (10p). My time in the orphanage was split between two groups: in the first week, I spent the majority of my time with the youngest children, aged from two months old, and in the second week, I spent time with children who had severe physical and mental impairments.

A normal day would consist of helping to feed the children, singing and playing with groups of children in the centre and, as it was usually sunny, taking them into the grounds of the orphanage to go on the swings and the climbing frames – despite the heat, the children would be dressed in woolly hats and thick coats to avoid them getting colds.

The care-workers at the orphanage worked 24-hour shifts and were constantly busy feeding, cleaning, administrating medicine and putting children to sleep. Subsequently, the children were clearly lacking in attention and absolutely delighted to have my company – their smiling faces and excited squeals on my arrival really emphasised how important this work was, and made it feel incredibly worthwhile.

The reality that the majority of these children will likely spend their lives until adulthood in institutions, and without the care and attention they need, is incredibly sobering and something I found difficult to come to terms with. However, it is through the work of the organisations like Service for Peace and The Moldova Project that changes can be made to improve the lives of children and families living in institutions or in poverty. I feel truly grateful to have had the opportunity to have been involved in this project, and hope that Emmaus can continue to offer support, in the form of volunteers, to this worthwhile cause.

Christina Carmichael