Something and Nothing? A visitor’s prospective.

I can still see it now, two men standing side-by-side looking with wonderment at the van driving through their tiny community of mud brick houses. They looked untidy, not scruffy, not disheveled, just untidy, as if they had been wearing those same clothes for the last few days. Who knows they may even have slept in them. Chances are they probably have, given how cold it was outside, even in the middle of the day.

Then there is the abiding image of the young girl with a plastic basin and large water bottle stood by the side of a large puddle. With the basin she was scooping water out of the puddle to fill the bottle; to think her family will drink and cook with that water, came the comment from my driver. It was nowhere near up to our standards for clean drinking water, but for this community, this was as good as it was going to get. They don’t have running water here. You can probably imagine what else they don’t have as a result – the alternative is certainly a room with a view!

Here is a community that appears to have nothing. No running water. Houses are the size of a double garage, with one large room where the whole family eats, lives and sleeps. No education. No employment. No expectations for the future.

Yet they do have something.

They have a sense of self-worth. They have a desire to improve their state, to better their lot. They want to learn new skills. The children want to go to school. They want to improve their image to the outsiders, the rest of the wider local community. The problem is they feel trapped, lacking the resources to enable them to help themselves.

They also have something more than all this. They have a group of people who are dedicated, totally committed to helping them achieve their goals. This is a group of people who genuinely identify with them and accept them for who they are. Here is a group of people who will be their advocates, help them learn life skills, and assist them with the daily challenges of life.

Did I mention that this community is the Roma community of Lazareni?

Sad news if this is where we leave it, but the good news is, hope is on its way. In small steps initially, but it’s coming. Workshops to learn new skills and shower blocks with water supplied from underground tanks of fresh water have been installed. Now the local authority has committed to improving the infrastructure over the next 18 months – new roads, running water and an extended electricity supply.

Then there are the plans for building new energy-efficient homes, using electricity generated from solar panels and wind turbines. With this comes the prospect of using the household waste to generate energy, with the unused energy surpluses being sold back to the national grid. Then there are the plans for agricultural solutions to create income and employment opportunities.

Out of seemingly nothing, their something is being released to bring hope and a future.

Brian Armstrong