If you happen to be walking through Luton airport on a Wednesday morning in mid September, then the Grassroots building team is not hard to spot – a group of nearly all guys, wearing steel capped boots, carrying hard hats, and cases full of more tools than clothes! It was great to see so many old faces from last year, and plenty of new volunteers as well. Despite the early hour and lack of sleep, everyone was eagerly anticipating the week ahead. We have a couple of professional builders and carpenters on the team, including Richard who will be in charge of the project, while the rest of us have varying levels of DIY and building experience!
Having checked in and made our way through security, the twenty strong group boarded the short Wizz Air flight to Romania – at least it would have been short if we hasn’t spent the next 45 minutes in a queue for the runway! Fortunately the heavy rain that greeted us this time last year was nowhere to be seen – in fact it’s quite hot here at the moment. We took a minibus for the 120km journey to Bistrița, and the Hotel Don where we will be staying.
After a quick lunch and safety briefing we drove to a village called Lechința, which is about 25km south west of Bistrița and home to two families who are in desperate need of a new house. Fortunately the families live in adjacent properties, so our two building sites are only 50 metres apart. This should make it easy to share tools, resources and expertise between the two. At first glance the houses that the families are currently living in look fairly intact, certainly in comparison to the collapsing house we encountered last year. However, understanding more about each situation soon makes it clear why these families are in such need.
One family consists of a 15 year old boy and three girls aged 12, 17 and 20. Their mother died over a year ago from cancer, and shortly afterwards their father accidentally ate some poisonous mushrooms leaving them orphaned. They care for their house very well, as one of the few legacies from their parents. However, constructed from paper, straw and manure, it offers virtually no insulation from the winter temperatures (which can drop to -20°c) and is full of damp and leaks. The younger three siblings have recently been in care while their older sister traveled to Spain to try and raise some money for the family. Unfortunately she couldn’t find work so she is now back in Romania and we hope that they can all live in the new house together.
The second family is a mother and her five children. The father died three years ago and since then the mother has been struggling to look after the children, which is unsurprising given the state of their current house, particularly on the inside.
The foundations for the new houses have already been laid by local volunteers, so that they could set in time for us to start the build straightaway. We spent the last few hours of sunlight unpacking some of the blocks and laying the corners for the walls so that we will be able to get straight into constructing the walls first thing tomorrow morning. We also sorted through the pile of various second hand doors and windows that had arrived to decide which could be used where. There is no doubt that building two houses will be a big challenge, not least because the expertise of the professionals will need to be shared across two sites for the first time.
After a traditionally filling dinner back at the hotel we all got some much needed sleep ready for our first full day of building.