Two sisters from the South Wales Valleys are set to travel over 1,000 miles across Europe to provide a lifeline to hundreds of desperate children living in deprived communities in Romania.
Rebecca Bennet, 31, who works as works as a playworker assessor at Coleg y Cymoedd, and her sister Ann-Mari Bennett, 26, will be jetting off to Targu Mures, a small Roma village in Transylvania, where they will help support families struggling with extreme poverty.
The sisters, from Caerphilly, will join a team of 12 volunteers spending a week at the village providing much needed food, clothing and play resources to support 120 children and their families.
With the children in the village currently receiving just two hot meals a week, the scheme aims to ensure that each child and its family members have access to three warm meals a day, as well as wider support, while the volunteers are there.
To ensure this is possible, the siblings are hosting a number of public fundraising events ahead of the trip this July including a charity bake off and an ‘evening of clairvoyance’ with four well-known mediums. The sisters have also set up a just-giving page for donations in order to maximise the money raised and the subsequent help they can offer.
The trip was organised through Transylvania Play Project, a scheme based on the idea that play is essential to a child’s development. During the two-week visit, each of the volunteers will work at the local cantina to prepare and serve meals, as well as run an activity camp to deliver games and play sessions to the Roma children.
Rebecca said: “While our children have all they need in the UK, sadly this is far from the case in Romania. Many of the families live in extremely poor conditions within mass slums, and we wanted to do what we could to help. We all know how important play is to all children but many of the children in this village don’t have any facilities to enable them to do so.
“By setting up an activity camp for them, we will allow children to be children and enjoy themselves the way they should. Providing play sessions will make a massive difference to them, while the food and support that we will also bring during our trip will provide a real lifeline to the community.”
Ann-Mari added: "We are both very excited to be a part of this project. Part of my day-to-day role involves working alongside disadvantaged young people and so this scheme allows me to continue this kind of work internationally. Providing this kind of support is something I have always wanted to do and having my sister with me means that we will both be able to support each other throughout the trip."
Rebecca, who teaches a course on the importance of play and play-work in children and young people’s lives at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Ystrad Mynach campus, is even involving her students in the project. The mother of one has tasked her learners with designing and developing the games and play activities that the camp will provide for the Roma children during the volunteers’ visit in July.
Rebecca explained: “My learners are currently mind-mapping ideas for what could work within the camp setting. Due to the language barrier, they will need to develop games that are easy to understand and that will help the children to come together in play. I thought that this would be a great opportunity for my class to put what they have learnt into practice for a really good cause.”
The planned visit follows an initial trip to the village by Transylvania Play Project volunteers last October, after the scheme was originally set up by a group of playworkers who met at the National Play Work Conference in Eastbourne.
The Transylvania Playwork Project was founded by Joan Beattie, a lecturer in Playwork and Childcare at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Shetland College, following a number of trips to Targu Mures. Having volunteered in the village annually for the past 15 years, Joan had seen first-hand the importance of enabling the Roma children to play freely and access opportunities otherwise unavailable to them in their day-to-day environment, inspiring her to set up the scheme.
While the sisters aren’t heading off until the 7th July, they are hoping to raise as many funds as possible through fundraising events and donations before they go.