Year: <span>2021</span>

20 Apr

Jimmy Nicol – A life changing trip to Romania

Geraldine would often tell me about her trips to Belarus and Romania to carry out voluntary work. She spoke with such passion, brimming about the work she helped to carry out and the wonderful people she met. I would always listen on with envy as she recounted her tales from overseas. Then in May 2019, Geraldine returned with new stories from Romania.

We were both working in the social care sector in Scotland at the time, running activity groups for adults with additional support needs. We loved our jobs. There was a tremendously gratifying feeling about making a little difference to a person’s life, and we were fortunate enough to do it every day. But for all the joy brought into our lives by the people we supported, there was shadow over us.

In the preceding months, Geraldine and myself had gone through individual personal turmoil in our home lives, and despite the rewarding nature of our work, we both felt disenchanted at some of the aspects in the UK social care system. Geraldine had found that her voluntary work had helped to provide much needed respite in the past and promptly signed up for a trip with Stand International, destined for Romania and a charity called Nightingales.

Over the course of two weeks, I received daily messages, often hastily written as she threw herself headlong into the work being carried out, the subtext of her messages bursting with praise for the people running the charity. The list of superlatives used was endless. At the end of each day, I would be sent pictures of the charity

Over the course of two weeks, I could do nothing but watch on with jealousy as Geraldine took on a magical adventure over 3000km away.

I had arranged to pick Geraldine up from Glasgow airport on her return, but before she had even boarded the flight, I received a message.

I’m coming back here

We met at the pickup point at Glasgow Airport and for the full drive home, I was regaled by her tales for Nightingales. I shared in her stories about people I had never met, building a picture of them in my head, hearing Geraldine repeat her wish to return to visit the charity once more. I wished I could be part of these stories. I wanted to do what she had done.

Geraldine kept in touch with Ben, the project manager of the Nightingales project, exchanging messages and over a period of time, spoken with him about the possibility of returning. And most exciting for me, had arranged that I could also travel to the charity.

With our PVG’s, passports, flights, one small hand luggage and a single suitcase between the two of us, crammed full of donated football tops we had gathered, we set off for Romania in early February 2020

We arrived at the weekend and had some time to settle in and find our bearings before visiting Casa Fericirii on the Monday. I quickly realised why Geraldine spoke so fondly of a place she had only visited once before. As well as Ben and Luiza, I met the adults supported by the project for the first time. even with a language barrier, I was made to feel exceptionally welcome by the cheery group as they arrived at the project to complete their own daily tasks.

Ben took the time to show us about the place and tell us a little about the charity’s formation and purpose – an exercise for my purpose as Geraldine was already quite familiar with the charity.

In that short conversation, the stark realities facing many young people in South-East Romania really hit home. I had been aware of the situation before arriving, but something about being in that building made the truth much more real for me.

That’s the thing, sitting at home and hearing these stories, I would compartmentalise such grim truths. I could acknowledge and feel empathy for the plight but sitting in that building where work was being done to prevent it brought a whole new dimension to my own understanding. It was important to recognise the potential risk to those who came through the doors of Nightingales, because it is the difference in how a young person’s whole future can pan out.

On Geraldine’s previous visit, she had painted a beautiful mural in the room that housed their candle making social enterprise ‘Light for Night’, and because of her artistic prowess, we were tasked with a new mural in the halls. Painting the mural was fun, but in my mind, I wasn’t sure how vital such a task could be to volunteering. Geraldine did.

As we finished off the mural, the adults supported by the project gathered behind us to see the new artwork. If I had any doubt as to how art could be important to the project, they were quickly dispelled by the faces of the smiling onlookers. I saw joy and realised how powerful such an emotion can be to individual wellbeing.

Over the course of our time at Nightingales, we painted a few more murals, tried out hand at making candles, designed a board game with the girls from the coffee shop, joined in a training session with the men’s football team and were invited to run some of the activity groups for children, using skills we utilised in our daily work back home.

One night back at our hotel, we had been having dinner and talking about what made Nightingales feel like such a wonderous place. The answer was simple.

There was care.

Coming from the care sector it is an easy thing to say, but at Nightingales people were not just numbers or statistics, they were individuals with views, families, futures and possibilities. People treated by their abilities and strengths. The vulnerabilities were not forgotten, but they were not used as the guiding principle – the focus on their future was that of the most positive outcome.

Casa Fericirii – home of happiness. After two weeks in Romania, I realised this was not a slogan: it was a truth.

By the time we had returned home, the global situation due to Covid had escalated, but our work with Nightingales had not yet finished. As national lockdown restrictions began to ease in Scotland, we joined in with the charity’s Virtual Overland appeal, walking from Glasgow to Edinburgh, a total of 44 miles in 17 hours. Alongside the charity and a raft of other volunteers, enough money was raised to provide a new boiler system for the adults supported by the charity. Our hope of returning to Romania had been waylaid by events out with our control, but to see how so many people across the world could come together for this cause in the middle of a global pandemic, served only to strengthen our attachment to this amazing group of people.

We arrived hoping to offer a little help to a great cause. What transpired was that our experience with Nightingale helped the both of us more. Our faith in other people had been restored by the kindness and dedication we witnessed. When the world has returned to a little normality, we hope to return. There is something special about Nightingales that neither of us have experienced to such a degree in any previous ventures. Something we just couldn’t leave behind.

Nightingales isn’t just a charity. It’s a family.

A family we will forever be a part of.

20 Apr

The time I almost got stuck at Nightingales

Hi, my name is Candace, and I want to tell you a story about the time I almost got stuck in Europe during a worldwide pandemic. The month was March, and the year was 2020. Almost twelve months ago I left with a team of nine and we set out to serve our friends in Cernavoda, Romania. My church has a long-standing relationship with the Wells and Pop, families who serve with Nightingales and pastor Betel Baptist Church, respectfully. All our preparations had been made. The schedule was set. We practiced basic phrases in Romanian on Duolingo for weeks in anticipation of our first Romanian conversations! Each day we planned to visit schools in the town to provide education and awareness on numerous topics. We planned skits and presentations about social media use, bullying, and how to treat others. Our team was prepped and ready to engage the youth of Cernavoda! Little did our team, know what was to come.

After two days of travel, we finally arrived on European ground! The team anxiously prepared to reach both public and private schools in the area. We planned for the team to split up and teach both special needs and general education populations which helped us cover more ground while we served. Then, the beginning of the coronavirus entered the scene. It was expected, yet so unpredicted. Schools were shut down. Fear and uncertainty crept into the thoughts of once well-organized citizens. Instantly, a week’s worth of preparation was unable to be executed! Amidst the pandemic, the team crafted an entirely new schedule to serve the Cernavoda community amidst a national disaster. We brainstormed innovative ideas.

New plans were crafted to intentionally serve the girls from Nightingales and the surrounding neighbourhood. Space was created to serve the girls who work at the coffee shop as well as families with special needs. Care packages were put together to serve families at home due to the coronavirus. Impromptu art projects, like painting canvases, were organized to occupy children who were not in school. Ben and Luiza were quick on their feet; they communicated with a partnering school and came up with a day camp that would serve the special needs population and their parents in the area. In less than forty-eight hours our team planned, prepared, and produced a fully functioning one-day camp for over forty people. Crazy, right? It was incredibly beautiful to watch the day unfold. Every team member had an essential role that matched their unique gifting. Todd, Horia, and Patty took the role of the servant. Their job was to host parents and meet their emotional, physical, and coffee-related needs all morning. They lifted children up and downstairs and provided a therapeutic painting outlet for each parent as their child was taken care of. Alexys and Lindsay utilized their coffee-making experience and talents to be baristas and mentors to the young women in the Nightingales’ program. Their teamwork and wisdom taught the girls how to interact in the workplace and how to make some amazing coffee. The children were split into two rooms, the older and younger room. Jade, Mitchell, and Luiza were destined to host the older students through mask crafts, group games, and a snack break. The younger children were supported and served by Spencer, Annie, Ben, and I; parachute games, painting, and bubbles entertained the children for hours. Callie utilized her gifts in leadership by remaining the liaison between all the serving parties.

It was incredible to witness the unique giftings of every person on the team. Moreover, seeing the children light up with joy was the most valuable gift of all. I got to help my new wheelchair-bound friend paint with blue and yellow sponges for thirty minutes. She got paint everywhere: her hair, her eyes, and her hands! She loved every minute of it. Her mother was given a chance to sit down and smile at her daughter enjoying small moments. She laughed as she counted eggs hidden in straw and giggled as she bounced on a trampoline, possibly for the first time. Every small instance felt like a million years of joy to be able to serve children who may otherwise be considered “less than others.

As we served those children during a raging pandemic, joy bloomed. Amidst our trials and shattered plans, a week of true unplanned service emerged. Regardless of the instant change that the year 2020 brought us all, we can still glean hope and wisdom from the wreckage and destruction. Focusing on serving others must be the mission. We ought to keep loving others; it can be where purpose and calling meet. Even though our team may have almost gotten stuck in Europe, we would have been stuck accomplishing a mission bigger than ourselves. I am forever grateful for the week of unplanned chaos and change. My week in Romania taught me to put others first, hold my hands open for new challenges, and if you are ever stuck in Europe, make sure you have some paint with blue and yellow sponges lying around.

28 Jan

Plans for 2021:

If 2020 has taught us anything we know that it is not a great idea to plan too much in advance but still, we have a few plans for 2021 which we thought you might like to hear about. Sadly, at the moment we are unable to plan any trips for overseas volunteers due to the global pandemic, but we hope that as the year unravels that we will be able to plan new trips for people. These trips bring such joy to the beneficiaries at Nightingales and also to the local community. 

We will go through our projects and set out some of the plans we have for 2021, if you would like to hear more about any of them, then please feel free to contact us through the website or via our email address

Differently Abled Adults:

Our house for differently abled adults struggled with the restrictions placed on their lives in 2020, they like to have a set programme and know what that programme is. Due to things changing, often from one day to the next on the restrictions in place nationally and locally, their programme had quite a few changes to it. This year we have sat down with them and come up with a list of places they would like to go each month. This really helps them regulate their behaviour, they have the places printed out and stuck onto their fridge and daily they go up to the fridge to see where they are going to. The trips are really varied, from going to a Zoo, to someone’s house for lunch to a trip to the mountains to see an ex-volunteer who works at a charity there. 

At the house we also have some renovations to be done to the sitting room, to give them some more room, so that they can enjoy spending time there as a group, which is great when the weather is not so good. Normally we would have waited for a group of volunteers to do a job like this, but in 2020 we were forced to renovate with our differently abled adults and although the pace was much slower, the satisfaction for them was huge, we have found that they have a greater respect for the house. So we hope to start this in the Spring, expect an update of Baba using a sledge hammer!!

Girls at Risk:

The girls at risk have had to cope with school online this year, for the younger ones who struggle with school this has meant that they have struggled to understand more than others. The support workers, working with these young girls have done an amazing job. The focus for them is passing their end of year exams, so they do not have to repeat the year. We have one girl in grade 8 who will be taking her exams in June to enter High School. We have another girl in class 12 who will be taking her International Baccalaureate in June, which means she has got 6 months of hard work ahead. For the other girls, we hope that we will be able to get the coffee shop back up and running, once legislation in Romania allows play areas for children to be open again. 

In the summer we hope that with a small team of amazing mums from the UK we will be able to take the group away for a week. These weeks are so fantastic for the relationships between the girls and also the key workers working with them. It gives them time to really explore subjects that the girls are struggling with. The benefit of these weeks, helps the girls throughout the year.

Young men mentoring programme:

The football season last year was wiped out in March and we hope that sometime in 2021 we can get the boys back on the pitch. We have been able to train sporadically, but we hope that in 2021 we will be able to have more structure to our football programme. It is so important for them to have structure as often they do not have any structure in their lives. Three of the young men have stepped up and are now helping out with the coaching of the junior teams, this means that we have a lot more time to invest in them, helping them to make good choices for their future. As the men from the senior team take on more of the coaching, it allows us to mentor the young people in the junior teams. 

In 2021 we are also coming alongside a local school in Cernavoda, starting a literacy class for boys in reception class and class one, boys who although they are almost 2 years into their education cannot recognise their numbers and letters, and are so far behind their classmates. We are able to support the teachers, who do not have the time to spend going back to topics that these young boys need to be focusing on. The programme will also support the families of these boys to be able to do more for their education. Each week the children will receive a small pack they can take home and work with their family to reinforce what they learnt at Nightingales. 

Social Enterprise at Nightingales:

2020 was hard for Nightingales to help support the young girls in their social enterprise as we did not have the possibility to make candles, cards or open the coffee shop for much of the year. In 2021, we hope that we will be able to start up the social enterprises again, we are hoping that we will be able to develop a market in Cernavoda for all of the products, due to the new restrictions that will be in place in exporting the products to the UK due to Brexit. This is something that we are looking into at the moment. The girls are very excited about making the products again, and it has been great to see that they are coming up with new ideas whilst they are unable to make anything at the moment. 

28 Jan

Become a friend of Nightingales in 2021:

Nightingales is fully aware that 2020 and 2021 has been, and will be hard for so many people. The lack of job security for so many, the amount of people who cannot work during the pandemic and people who have had families and friends badly affected by the virus. At Nightingales we attempted to offer the beneficiaries in our care and projects, all that they need to fulfil their potential. We have small overheads, due to having three long-term volunteers who help to run the majority of our projects. The only paid staff we have are the three housemothers, who have been working for Nightingales since 1998, who care for our differently abled adults. 

In 2021, to continue to be able to offer the care needed for our beneficiaries, we are looking for 50 people to become ‘friends of Nightingales’. 

What does it mean to be a friend of Nightingales:

To be a friend of Nightingales asks you to consider donating at least£5 a month. To have this regular income in the charity it allows us to make sure that each month we can cover what our beneficiaries need, without having to reduce the quality of our care. It means we can plan activities with them for the year, structuring their care to aid them to fulfil their potential. In return Nightingales will provide you with a short update once every two months. It will allow you to become a partner in what we are doing as a charity, to keep in regular contact with our beneficiaries and their progress. 

Where will your donation be spent?

Your donation will go towards the daily running costs of the charity. It will make sure that we can pay the bills needed at the day centre, where the young men and women come on a daily basis to receive homework help, mentoring sessions and are able to be part of the social enterprise schemes. For the differently abled adults it allows us to pay the staff, a minimum wage for Romania, who care for and have been caring for our young people since 1998. They are much more than just employees; they are like family. It will also cover the electricity and water bill at their house. 

We understand that you might like your donation to be used in a glamorous way but, without these donations Nightingales would not exist. The differently abled adults would be in the state care adult institution. The young people from the town that we mentor, would probably end up dropping out of education, and following many of the role models from the areas in which they live, most probably meaning that they would make negative choices regarding their future, without the input of Nightingales in their lives and the lives of their families. 

28 Jan

A Covid Christmas:

Christmas is normally a time of great excitement at Nightingales, the coffee shop houses a Santa’s grotto, the young people enjoy making special Christmas meals and celebrating together. For many of the beneficiaries of the at girls at risk and the mentoring of young men programs, the gifts they receive from Nightingales are the only gifts that they receive during the Christmas period. The differently abled adults enjoy the run up to Christmas, the decorating of the house, the thoughts about the gifts that they will receive, and the fun Christmas meal with a large number of the beneficiaries from the house and those in independent units in the town, alongside our long-term volunteers and their family. It is a time of great joy, lots of laughter and fun is had by all. 

2020 was a Covid Christmas, Cernavoda was in lockdown from the end of November till the 26th of December. This meant that the coffee shop was not open, and we could not open the Santa’s grotto, which was such a shame. We then planned to set up the decorations at the house for our differently abled adults, but this plan had to change as our key workers for the house had to isolate due to one of them testing positive for Covid-19, due to the regulations we have in place at the charity no-one else tested positive. So it was a quiet Christmas for the guys in the differently abled house, they had a lovely Christmas meal all together, thanks to so amazingly generous local families who donated money so that they could have a Christmas Feast. Their gifts were bought before the key-worker family went into isolation, so they also had presents to open under the Christmas tree on the 25th. The young people from this project who live in independent living due to the restrictions were unable to come and spend the day with them, but after the 26th this was possible for them all to get together. Only the two girls from the flat were able to, because they are in the same bubble as the house.

The beneficiaries of the other projects sadly were not able to celebrate in the same way as other years. The gifts that had been bought could not be delivered to the girls and boys. The Christmas meal was cancelled, and we were only able to be in contact with those who have access to the internet at home, not that many. The girls at risk were able to celebrate in January before the school term restarted, as the restrictions of lockdown were no longer in place in the town, they loved the gifts and also got a ski suit each from a very generous family from Wiltshire, who are connected with the school Dauntsey’s. The boys are hoping to be able to have a large get together this year, but it will probably be a summer celebration rather than Christmas. 

Although it was a very different, ‘Covid Christmas’ at Nightingales, the joy of seeing the young people together, seeing their joy at receiving some very simple gifts was huge. This we were able to do through the amazing generosity of people through the Nightingales Shop, where people bought a Christmas present for the Nightingales beneficiaries. This generosity, helped put smiles on faces and allowed the young people we work with to enjoy being children even if it was just for a while. Seeing the girls playing with their dolls at the charity, for two of the girls at the age of 8 these were the first dolls they had ever had, and they kept calling them their children. So even though it was hard and different we still managed with your help to spread some of the joy of Christmas this year. 

28 Jan

Thank you for your support in 2020

Thank you so much for your support of Nightingales in 2020. It has not been the year that

Nightingales had expected, or that most of the world had expected. We have had to think on our feet, change plans, develop new ways of working with our beneficiaries so that both they and we are safe. One of the biggest losses was not being able to have groups of volunteers at the charity, this year. Our beneficiaries and many people in the town missed being involved in the activities which we run especially during the summertime.

This year has at times has been a struggle, but it has also been amazing to see how so many people supported Nightingales during this time. We managed to raise the money to fit a central heating system into the house for our differently abled adults, we ran a successful online charity auction in partnership with Dauntsey’s School, and many people have started supporting the charity through our online shop. This outpouring of generosity has been quite emotional for the charity, seeing people who have been affected by the global pandemic and still wanting to support the young people at Nightingales. This has allowed us to create conditions where the girls can have supported access to school online at Nightingales. Romanian schools have been almost entirely online since March. We have been able to deliver food parcels weekly to families badly affected by the pandemic. We have also been able to continue to pay our three members of staff who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic, with our differently abled young adults, who have struggled at times to understand why their lives and daily programme has changed.

Thank you so much for your support in 2020, if you would like to continue to support Nightingales and keep up to date on the beneficiaries and activities we are running here in Romania; please follow us on social media on Instagram @nightingales_romania and Twitter, @NightingalesRom. We are also looking for people to become friends of Nightingales and we are hoping in 2021, to add 50 new friends to Nightingales. Being a friend of Nightingales, (explained more in another post) means you sign up to donate a minimum of £5 a month to Nightingales, this then allows us to make sure that we can continue to provide the care for our beneficiaries even in the face of years such as 2020, when times are very uncertain for all of us.