Walsingham charity celebrates 20 years helping Romanian children

The founder of a Walsingham-based charity says she will not rest on her laurels after dedicating 20 years of pioneering work to helping abused and neglected children in Romania.

Norfolk nurse Jane Nicholson first travelled to the country in 1991 after watching the appalling TV images which exposed the cruelty inflicted within state-run orphanages during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.

She co-founded Fara in the same year and has since returned every two months to develop facilities which provide foster care and rehabilitation for children abandoned by the cruel regime.

The charity currently cares for about 300 youngsters after establishing family-style homes, specialist rehabilitation centres and community projects – costing �500,000 a year to run.

But despite the progress made in the two decades since the fall of communism, Mrs Nicholson said there was still a huge amount of work yet to be done.

Thousands of children and young adults are still estimated to be suffering physical and mental abuse in state-run institutions, while those who escaped the system have grown up with a complex range of needs.

In response, Fara has branched out into anti-poverty and education projects and, in its 20th anniversary year, is preparing to open north-east Romania's first dedicated centre for autistic children.

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And, with 90pc of the charity's funding raised within the UK, Mrs Nicholson continues to lobby at the highest levels of European government to pressurise the Romanian authorities to fund more care projects within their own country.

'For me it has been a privilege to know the Romanian people so well and build these friendships,' she said.

'But I certainly don't feel like giving up now. I am committed to caring for children who are abused and unloved, but I need to involve others – especially the Romanians.

'We have come to a bit of a cross-roads. We have established good models of care and we want to be part of closing more state institutions, but to do that we need more funding.

'Romania has joined the EU now, but the mentality has not really changed. Corruption is still high and people have been destroyed by the communist system so the abuse continues and the recognition for charities working there has not really materialised.

'We continue with great patience to try and change the mentality and we can only do that by collaborating with the government.'

In 1997, Fara built its first care home, St Nicholas, in the north east of the country and later added a second, St Gabriel's for children in the capital, Bucharest. In the last two years, it has developed residential rehabilitation centres in both areas for young people traumatised and abused in institutions.

High-profile supporters include its Royal patron the Prince of Wales and Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman, who have both visited the charity's centres in Romania.

The new autism centre, due to open in May, will cost �26,000 in refurbishment and running costs for the first year. Educational psychologists have already undergone training in the UK.

'They have identified about 25 children with autism-spectrum disorders locally that don't have any access to education,' said Mrs Nicholson. 'Without that, there is no future for them at all.'

Only 10pc of Fara's funding comes from Romania, with the rest raised within the UK through 48 charity shops in London, child sponsorships, donors and trusts.

? Fara is hosting a special 20th anniversary concert at the Anglican Shrine in Walsingham at 7pm on Thursday, May 12. Four singers from the Lyra Vocal Ensemble of St Petersburg will perform chants of the Russian Orthodox Church and folk songs, with arrangements by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. For tickets, contact 01328 821444 or mail@faracharity.org.