asked one boy to his mother as he sat on his doorstep with snow on the ground eagerly showing her each treasure in his shoebox. He lives with his mother and sister in a cobbled together house, blankets covering the holes in the walls, sandals on his feet and a ragged cardigan for a coat.
This is just one glimpse of the abject poverty so many of these children live in. Unlike ours they are not laying out mince pies and glasses of milk for Santa Claus but have likely gone to bed hungry wondering when their next meal will be.
It is to these children, born into discrimination because of their race, or children of illiterate farmers trying to eek a living out of unforgiving terrain, or they’ve been abandoned in state care facilities, that your shoeboxes go to, bringing the full joy, wonder and magic of Christmas.
Over 20,000 shoeboxes traveled to communities in Romania; some over the frozen Carpathian Mountains
and past Count Dracula’s castle to the beautiful city of Cluj-Napoca and the railway children who live in shacks along the railway lines; and some to the districts around Oradea where dirt tracks lead behind polished city streets to Dickensian communities – the only sign of their modernity being satellite dishes sticking out of concaved roofs.
Here frozen washing hangs solid in the wind and dinner may be a slice of cabbage and one potato.
One day his father came home and told his mother that he had found himself a new wife and to pack her things and their son, and leave immediately. Dennis was turned out of the house with his mother and they found themselves homeless on the streets of Oradea having to beg and scrounge for food. Dennis contracted pneumonia before a charity social worker found them and re-located them. They now live in a converted shipping container and Dennis is able to go to school. Dennis’ father chose to evict him but someone in the UK chose to take the time to prepare a Christmas present to let him know that someone does care for him very much.
Over 10,000 shoeboxes made their way through primeval forests to the Stalinist city of Minsk where we could ice-skate on the frozen lakes in minus 26 degrees! Here, poverty takes on a different look and feel to that of Romania. Everywhere is clean, almost sterile, and the children come forward to receive their shoeboxes in well looked after schools, wearing their best clothes. But each one of them is in the care of the State, living in institutions.
Here your shoeboxes went to boarding schools supporting the blind, the deaf, those with terminal illnesses; with special needs; children born with Downs and those who have been orphaned or abandoned.
Vitaliy is an orphan and has lived almost his whole life in an orphanage in Rudensk. In the last six months he had to go to hospital by an ambulance 3 times due to the effect of colds on his immune system. His dream is to be a strong and healthy boy. Before the new year, doctors released Vitaliy from hospital, provided that the administrators of the orphanage would monitor his state of health and would not allow him to spend a long time outside playing with the other children. It was decided not to let him play outside as it he did not even own a hat or scarf. He would sit by the window and cry whilst watching the other children playing outside in the snow. On Christmas he asked for a warm hat. On 8th of January the T4U team arrived in Rudensk and all the children were extremely happy to open their boxes. Vitaliy opened his shoebox and the first thing he saw was a hat and a scarf. There were tears of joy on his face and he was shouting: “Hat! Hat!” It made his Christmas dream come true to go outside and play with his friends.