BEARR report on visit to Moldova: February – March 2023

Alexia Claydon (BEARR’s Information Officer) and Jane Ebel (Muse CIC and BEARR Trustee) spent a week in Moldova playing djembe, Brazilian drums and shakers with children in 6 Refugee Activity Centres, whilst also taking time to meet with several of The BEARR Trust’s beneficiaries and local partners.

Community musicians Peter Vilk and Tony Pesikan [centre] after a day of training with the facilitators at the Ialoveni Refugee Activity Centre

Serendipitously, the week marked exactly one year, since Jane and fellow Trustee, Megan Bick, visited to assess the impact on Moldova of the tidal wave of fleeing Ukrainian families during the first few days of the conflict.  So it was an excellent opportunity to reflect on how this year has altered the social and economic fabric of the country and what changes have taken place.

12 March 2022: BEARR Trustees in Moldova – Jane and Megan’s photo blog

13 March 2022: Megan and Jane in Moldova – Days 2-4

16 March 2022: Megan and Jane in Moldova – Days 5-6

28 March 2022: BEARR’s work in Moldova continues – Day 10 and counting

It would be fair to say that there is a considerable degree of fatigue and even burn out, particularly among the smaller NGOs, as well as a need to return to the day jobs that people were doing before 24 February 2022.  We know from our partners that while the situation continues, they will not stop providing support, supplies and shelter; but they also need to reactive their income-generating jobs; focus on the care of vulnerable Moldovan families and older persons and spend quality time with their own families.  We are acutely aware of the physical and mental strain that the conflict has put on our partners and are urging them to look after themselves.

There are still an estimated 110, 000 refugees living in Moldova, 11,000 of whom have applied for the right to remain.  Most of them are living with Moldovan families but some have rented flats while the rest stay in the Refugee Centres.  Many are working while their children attend school and learn Romanian; but their status and income is less certain than for Ukrainians in the UK.  They are not able to come and go freely and financial support does not always filter through. One mother we met last year is now taking her children back to Odesa because her young son appears to be losing his memory and she feels he would be better off at home in spite of the sporadic shelling.  At the time of writing, Ukrainians now have 60 days in which to register formally as refugees in Moldova although it was unclear whether this would benefit them, especially with restrictions on leaving and returning.

Many refugee centres have now closed and the intense relief and support work that we identified across the country this time last year is more measured and strategic.  Most relief organisations are looking at the longer-term integration of Ukrainians into Moldova and the positive outcome that this could bring.  Recruiting teachers, psychologists, and social workers for example, could fill some of the gaps left by Moldovans who emigrated in recent years and many software programmers have found work with the large computer firms in Chisinau.

The Music and Drama Project – funded by CCF Moldova, Hope and Homes for Children and World Jewish Relief and implemented by MUSE CIC – enabled a number of BEARR’s partners to collaborate.  This included the League of Polish Women/Playback Theatre, the Mother and Child Centre at the Municipal Library and Junior Chamber International (JCI).

Ably led by veteran community musicians, Peter Vilk from Bristol and Tony Pesikan from Sarajevo (who first met in Sarajevo in 1993 when Tony was himself a teenage refugee) we spent 5 days with children, parents and CCF facilitators, making music and learning how to keep 20 very lively children engaged and inspired.  The CCF facilitators are doing a remarkable job working with large groups of children aged between 6 – 16, many of whom only stay for a few days before moving on.  Four of the six RACS we visited provide comprehensive support for Roma families who seem more peripatetic than ethnic Ukrainian families.  The children exhibited a curiosity, excitement and boisterousness that was infectious but quite challenging to harness!

Alongside participating in these lively music workshops, we also spent much of the week visiting BEARR’s partners, some of whom we have worked with for many years, while others we have met either through the launch of our Emergency Appeal or from Jane and Megan’s visit last year.  We were warmly welcomed by the following organisations:

  • Mother and Child Centre at the Municipal Library

    A year on since BEARR helped to fund the renovations of the library, the centre has developed into a beautiful model of care, education and stimulation, emotional support for the whole family and local employment for several Ukrainian mothers.

    On average, 20-40 children attend the library each day, though on some days this is closer to 40. The children work with a young psychologist, Diana, and other volunteers who run art classes, language classes, chess sessions, drama workshops and more.  Now taking in Moldova children as well as Ukrainians, it is encouraging the long-term integration of Ukrainians into Moldova and ensuring that there is a sense of fairness for all.  BEARR has helped to bring several partners together at the Centre, including Playback Theatre, JCI and CCF.
  • Institute for Democracy have been a key source of aid for refugees in Gagauzia throughout the past year, purchasing supplies with funds from BEARR’s Emergency Appeal and delivering them to the Mayor’s office in Comrat, where the items are then distributed out from their designated refugee point or delivered to the nearby Congaz centre.

    During our visit, Alexia accompanied Institute for Democracy on a delivery to Comrat, where two older male refugees helped to unload the supplies. They told us that the support they had received in Comrat was comprehensive, with information and other resources well provided. Vouchers they had received over the winter to purchase warm clothes had particularly been appreciated, as this form of aid gave them a degree of independence, allowing them to go to shops and choose what they needed, rather than relying on hand-outs from the mayor’s office. 

    The theme of independence and agency, rather than dependency, was a recurring one during the week and seems a key factor in the ongoing support of the Ukrainians, wherever they are.

Aid delivery to the Comrat Mayor’s Office and Refugee Distribution Point

  • Junior Chamber International (JCI)

    An organisation that we were introduced to last year, JCI Moldova set up a Refugee Activity Centre in Falesti that continues to go from strength to strength. We met with the current president to hear more about their plans for the centre and to discuss possible avenues for future co-operation.

  • League of Polish Women/Playback Theatre

    After a day spent in Comrat, Alexia returned to Chisinau to attend a Playback Theatre rehearsal, gaining greater insight into the drama therapy they have been providing for refugees. Participating in Playback’s rehearsals is rapidly becoming the highlight of our visits to Moldova and is both enjoyable, revealing and an excellent way of processing our experiences. Jane will be back in May to continue working with the Playback team, accompanied by Tom Penn, a versatile actor, clown, musician and teacher.
  • TAUR and Hope and Health, two former BEARR grantees who work with adults and children with disabilities, welcomed us on the 1st March, or Mărțișor – the celebration of the arrival of spring in Moldova. Following a visit to TAUR’s office, where we learnt more about their mobile aid deliveries and ongoing advocacy work, we attended a spring festival at Hope and Health – a lively performance of music and songs by their beneficiaries.
  • Neoumanist run a truly wonderful centre for the elderly in Straseni, comprised of a free day care centre and a paid-for live-in care home with 20 permanent residents. Alongside a huge number of social and welfare activities for their residents funded by several European donors, they also have a self-sustaining means of income in the form of eco-huts, which they rent out to tourists and short-stay volunteers.

    At one point last year, refugees were staying in the eco-huts, though most refugees who were in the area have either returned to Ukraine or relocated to Chisinau, Balti or Cahul. While staying at the centre, one of the refugees ran cooking masterclasses with the elderly, another ran handicraft sessions, and another facilitated some of their gardening projects.

Jane pops into Neoumanist’s eco huts

Our visit to Neoumanist also coincided with a personal stop-off to deliver a wheelchair to Galina Terna, the chief caterer for Jane’s summer school in Ciutesti in 2022. Since August 2022, Galya has undergone intensive surgery and chemotherapy and lost a shocking 50kg in weight.  She very much wanted us to take her photograph as she is today and to tell friends back in UK how grateful she was for the light wheelchair and the visit.

Jane and Galya

On the last day of our trip, Air Moldova decided to cancel our flight at the last moment, which gave us a day in hand to catch up with reports, walk around the lake at the top of the city and sample yet another glass of Moldovan red wine with polenta.  We returned to Stansted, extremely tired but captivated by our visit.

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