Yesterday I wrote about my first taste of Romania. Today I got my first taste of Tarlungeni, the Roma community that FAST is working in to build houses.
As you pull off the main road from Sacele on to the dirt track entering Tarlungeni, the first thing you notice is the smell. Pushed to the fringes of society, this Roma community grew up around a rubbish dump; the pervading smell of fetid refuse coupled with rubbish being burned along the roadside hits you like a wave long before the village comes into sight.
Keagan explains how his first experience of the village impacted him. “The first thing that hit me was the smell…realising how little the people in the Roma community had made me realise how much I have.” It’s a totally different world.
As we journey down the track, families of children curiously peer at our van, waving at us as we pass. This is a shanty town – many families cluster in barely habitable shelters mangled together from scavenged wood and corrugated iron. There is rubbish everywhere. Stray dogs and free-roaming horses line the streets as we pass through to our destination. The conditions for this community has, however, improved dramatically with the work of FAST – through their “Better Homes” project, many families have been able to build homes suitable to live in. This is this project that we’re helping with this week.
Our construction group split into teams today to help with various building projects. The majority of the group started laying the first layer of bricks for a new house in Tarlungeni. Craig and Norman worked to install a bathroom in Peter’s house, a man whose home was built with FAST a few years ago. He’s currently extending the building now that his economic situation has improved, and now pays money back into the organisation in continuing partnership. Others were assigned the job of cleaning the yard in front of FAST’s planned vocational workshops in Sacele, to make way for building work. Trevor, Keagan and I worked on building A-frames for the roof of a house that had been built in the village last year.
My team was supervised by George, a Roma man who was trained as an apprentice and supported by FAST to build his house in Zizin when he was a young man. He now works for the organisation on building projects, and oversaw us as we built the A-frames.
George is a good-humoured, cheeky man. Before we even begin work, he calls to his wife, Simona, for some sweet Romanian coffee, and we sit for a while contemplating in the sun. Eventually we start work, transferring to George’s workshop to measure and cut lengths of wood that will, later this week, support a family’s roof. Our instructor is totally laid-back and nonchalant as we start construction; the age-old mantra I’ve been taught to “measure twice, cut once” goes out the window as he whips out his chainsaw and gets to work on the wood lengths.
It was wonderful to see the impact that the work of FAST has had on George’s life. Originally from a marginalised Roma community where opportunities are sparse and poverty is rife, through the training and support of FAST his life has been transformed, and now he works to help other Roma families in Brasov.
After working through the afternoon, we return to base and catch up with the other teams. The group who worked at the Mission House today got off to a great start, beginning the week’s holiday club. The theme for the week is the Biblical story of Joseph, and today the group ran crafts activities and storytelling sessions (I’ve heard a flannelgram was involved!). Meanwhile, others prepared the space and resources at the Integration Centre in time for other children using the centre tomorrow. The team in Tarlungeni laid the first layer of bricks for the house (which I’ve been informed is the hardest bit of the project). Dodgy Biblical puns are rife building are rife (about laying cornerstones and building houses on solid rock) as I chat to the team about the house building progress.
Above: the Cornerstone is laid!
Altogether, it’s been a productive day. I look forward to continuing tomorrow; but first, it’s time to collapse into bed for a good night’s sleep.