Minus 15 in Moldova
“You will never forget this winter, all the days of your life,” laughed Doina, as our minibus sped (and slid) along snow-covered roads in temperatures of minus 15. Doina is the daughter of our Moldovan partners, Pastor Petru Chirica (who first connected with Through the Roof at our 2006 European conference in Bognor) and his wife, Antonina, of the Moldova Charity Mission for the Disabled (MCM).
Conditions like these would have brought the UK to a standstill, but it was business as usual for our hosts, the Chirica family. Despite illness forcing team-member Ian to withdraw at the last moment, the intrepid team (wearing five layers of clothing each!) ploughed through snow and ice to train pastors, teachers and community workers to include disabled people in Moldova, Europe’s poorest country.
We were also privileged to visit Gabi, Katjie and Anatol, three young disabled people, full of life and potential. However, all three are stuck at home, not because of the weather, but because typical Moldovan attitudes means there are no education, social or work opportunities for disabled people! Whilst I am very aware of this in Africa, Asia etc I was shocked that this is still the case in our own continent of ‘civilised’ Europe. These children’s example and MCM’s valuable support and input in their lives made us more determined to ‘speak up and defend the rights of the poor and needy’ (Proverbs 31:9) and highlight the value of disabled people.
Our team inspired, encouraged and challenged many people through the workshops we delivered. The results were that delegates wanted to adopt some of the ideas and methods we presented. After gathering together especially to meet our team, a group of social workers wanted to continue to meet and network in future. Also, encouragingly, two young people with visual disabilities were inspired by our disabled role model, Lena, who spoke about her personal experience of disability and Christian faith. They now wanted to make positive changes in their lives and follow in Lena’s footsteps as a positive ambassador to their peers!
Doina was right – I will never forget this icy experience, nor will any of us forget the waste of young disabled lives shut away from society. Our Integr8 programme will carry on doing everything possible to bring young disabled people into the light and be included in church and community life, to help change lives and work for the long-term building of a more inclusive society.