Charity's fears for Covid orphans worldwide

Mark and Caroline Cook, from Hope and Homes for Children.

Mark and Caroline Cook, from Hope and Homes for Children. - Credit: Hope and Homes for Children

“If your circumstances don’t improve, we’ll have no option but to put your six children in an orphanage,” said the child protection officer, standing in Ion and Christina’s one room cabin.

The threat came as the Covid pandemic swept across Romania, leaving Ion and Christina with no work, no electricity, no gas, no running water and no hope.

Ion lost his job when a national lockdown closed the building site he worked on. Christina was unable to work, as she cared for their newborn and five other children in their tiny cabin, with only two beds and a table for furniture.

After the lockdown ended, Ion struggled to find work again. Unable to provide nappies, medication, food and clothes for their children, the pandemic had left Ion and Christina with nothing and facing the threat of being torn apart by the local orphanage.

Thankfully, Hope and Homes for Children’s team on the ground had identified the family as being at risk of separation.

“I was in the flat with the family when the child protection officer threated to take away the children,” said Andreea, one of the charity’s Romanian social workers.

Christina with some of her family. They have been helped by Hope and Homes for Children.

Christina with some of her family. They have been helped by Hope and Homes for Children. - Credit: Hope and Homes for Children

“I immediately covered the ears of their daughter, Federica, when he said it.

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“Ion and Christina were stretched to breaking point, but they were worried their children might face a higher risk of catching Covid in an orphanage and were determined not to lose their kids to the potential neglect and abuse of an institution.

‘They knew they were in crisis and had fallen to the bottom of everyone’s list during the pandemic - but not ours.”

With their clothes and shoes in tatters, the children had fallen out of school, so Andreea first focused on providing clothing so the kids could re-register and return to the classroom.

Next came emergency food parcels. Without electricity, the family had no fridge, so Andreea provided emergency food packages of canned food, flour and oil, before installing a wood burning stove.

Eventually she helped the family connect their small home to the power grid. With electricity and heating for the first time, next up on the list was to provide Ion with building materials, so he could build a second room to store a new fridge and washing machine.

The HHC team then helped to enrol Ion in a government-funded education program for adults. With the right qualifications, Ion secured a new job on a construction site. Gabriel, 15, the oldest son, now works alongside Ion at the weekend. Cristina will return to her job, in the local laundrette, when baby Gina turns two.

“We wouldn’t be together today without Andrea and Hope and Homes for Children,” said Cristina.

The family are set to spend this Christmas together, but the threat of the orphanage still hasn’t completely disappeared for their children.

As a deadly fourth Covid wave engulfs Romania, Ion and Christina still face the challenges that come with quarantines and potential lockdowns.

They are still reliant on an outdoor well for water, so their home needs plumbing into the mains water supply before winter sets in.

It also desperately needs more beds, so the children can get a good night’s sleep and concentrate at school.

Andreea said: “The family’s circumstances have improved, and we’re committed to helping them stay together this Christmas, whatever the pandemic may bring.”

The future, though, is poised on a knife edge – as it has been for the many thousands of families and orphans helped by HHC during the past 18 months.

From Romania to India, the charity – started by Beccles-born former British Army officer Mark Cook - is facing an uphill struggle to cope with the flood of orphans and desperately poor families in countries across the world.

Hope and Homes for Children help families in need worldwide - but need your help.

Hope and Homes for Children help families in need worldwide - but need your help. - Credit: Hope and Homes for Children

EDP readers have pledged millions of pounds to the work over the past 25 years and HHC is appealing for help once again.

Col Cook said the situation has never been so bad, with Covid killing mothers and fathers and creating up to two million orphans worldwide.

“Tragically, millions more children are living in families stretched to breaking point due to lockdowns and the financial fallout of the pandemic.

"At risk of hunger, homelessness, exploitation and being locked up in orphanages, these children are falling to the bottom of everyone’s list. But not ours."

The charity is trying to help as many as possible – and asking EDP readers to provide much-needed support.

Please donate and put children at the top of your list this Christmas - to help rescue children from orphanages and keep vulnerable families together please visit donate.hopeandhomes.org

  • £45 will help cover the costs to identify a child or family at risk of separation
  • £90 will pay to train local professionals and volunteers on alternatives to orphanages
  • £133 will help monitor and provide follow-on support to a family we’ve managed to keep together

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