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Irish students use holidays to help street children in Bucharest

The Colaiste Pobail Acla students journey from Achill to Romania to donate their time to an Irish-run charity.

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EVERY EASTER BREAK for the past three years, a group of students from an Achill school, Colaiste Pobal Acla, have foregone the days off to take a trip to Romania.

While their peers were enjoying the holidays, they flew to Bucharest – with teachers in tow – and spent a week helping at the Irish-founded St Joseph’s Place.

It’s a centre set up by the charity The Street Children of Bucharest, which was formed by John Nolan, Brian Geary and Colm Molloy.

Helena helps with Easter preparations Helena helps with Easter preparations

St Joseph’s Place (or Casa Sf Iosif as it is also known), is a daycare and residential centre that helps tens of children in Bucharest.

It takes in children from impoverished backgrounds, gives them a place to wash, clean clothes, good food, and education.

It also helps to repatriate children with their families or place them with homes.

One roomed house A one-roomed house

The daycare centre can facilitate up to 60 children, and another 100 families are supported by the charity, which gives them basic supplies.

Teacher Danny Moran is one of those involved in the Coláiste Pobal Acail trips, and recently visited with the school group.

The pupils help out by doing jobs around the centre, and visiting families that the charity has helped.

Hannah with the 6-7 year olds Hannah with one of the children Source: Danny Moran

“We would love to encourage other schools to take part,” said Moran. “The students benefit immeasurably from the experience.” This year, the school raised €7,000 for the centre.

Where it started

It all began for the school when a leaflet was dropped in to them three years ago.

Chaplain Lisa McGowan decided this was something the school could get involved in, and soon the first group of 11 students was on its way to Bucharest.

Each of the students had to raise €600 to bring with them for the charity. “It was hugely successful,” said Moran. “We’ve raised about €24,000 for the charity so far.”

Lisa helps with schoolwork Lisa helps with schoolwork

“When we’re out there, we divide the kids into three groups,” explained Moran. He said that seeing the homes that the children at the centre come from is a “big eye-opener” for the pupils.

It gets them every year – they are touched by the backgrounds people are coming from. They literally have nothing. Without the centre, the kids would be in pretty dire straits.

The students are accompanied on their trip by Moran, McGowan, and Kevin Shannon.

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Danny with some of the kids Danny with some of the children

Back when the centre was set up in 1998, Bucharest had the highest population of street children in Europe, said Moran.

The centre looks after children aged from three to nine years old. When the students arrive, they help with caring for the children and working in the school, as well as with any odd jobs needed around the centre.

Our woodwork teacher, Kevin, makes a bed for the centre Woodwork teacher Kevin makes a bed for the centre

It’s Transition Year and fifth year students who go over. “I think the big thing is the money we collect, we actually see where it goes,” said Moran of why the initiative works so well.

The pupils raise the money needed through holding events, and helping out in the community in Achill.

This year, new beds were put into the centre and the classroom was updated. “For students, it’s the experience of seeing what it’s like in a completely different culture,” said Moran of the project’s benefits.

Katelyn helps with artwork Katelyn helps with artwork

The project has become hugely popular in the school, with a large number of pupils wanting to journey to Bucharest. As they can only bring over 13 students each, the teachers hold interviews to determine who to choose.

Those who are interested have to do research into Romania, and the centre, as well as learn off some Romanian words.

To find out more about The Street Children of Bucharest, visit its website. Street Children of Bucharest is based in Co Wexford, and has the charity number CHY 14820. For details on how to donate to the charity, email streetchildrenofbucharest@gmail.com

All photos courtesy of Danny Moran

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