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Belief in Action – the Story so Far

Belief in Action has been working in and around Romania for over 40 years, delivering resources and sharing skills and knowledge to support sustainable community projects. The key objectives of the charity are to ‘Break the cycle of poverty, to alleviate suffering and to foster a positive attitude towards disability.’

Work began before the revolution of 1989, when current Trustee Susanna Davies’ aunt was working in the country as a clinician with a persecuted church, where people were starved and imprisoned because of their faith. Following the revolution, Su’s aunt was in the right place to help with the distribution of humanitarian aid from around the world.

Su’s involvement began in the early 2000s, as part of a network of occupational therapists travelling to Romania to identify where they could use their skills. “The need was vast, and still is,” explained Sue. “We linked up with a church organisation concerned about the future for people with disabilities. The potential was immediately evident.”

The Medequip connection

In Romania, Sue had met up with a young boy with muscular dystrophy, and spoke to her colleague Elke Small back in the UK to establish whether a wheelchair could be sourced for him. Elke, who was at the time a team manager for an independent living service, was visiting a Medequip depot and saw one destined for landfill. Medequip was pleased to donate the item. “At the same time,” said Elke, “I saw other pieces of equipment destined for disposal which I felt could be refurbished and exported for use by Su and the charity, Belief in Action. And that’s how the relationship started!”

Today around 85% of the equipment received by Belief in Action comes from Medequip. “This is equipment deemed to be at the end of its useful life in this country,” explained Michaela Harris, general manager for Medequip in the South West and Suffolk. “Donating it to the charity is an important part of our recycling and sustainability policy. We reduce waste to landfill, Belief in Action receive high quality equipment which can be refurbished and go on to play a crucial role in helping people with disabilities in Romania to lead more fulfilled lives.”

The equipment loan scheme model

“We have a model which we believe is different from other charities,” said Su. “We wanted to collaborate and establish relationships to effect change. Other charities donate equipment, which is of vital importance, but we go further, providing training for the local volunteer workforce of our Romanian partner Hope Without Limits, for whom we set up an equipment loan scheme. The equipment comes back in to the charity when it has been outgrown or is no longer needed, which means that recycling continues and more people benefit. Additionally, the team managing the loan scheme is able to build relationships with the ‘service users’, offer additional support such as social activity groups, food and advice to help care for families longer term. It’s important to be aware of the cultural mix in Romania, which is still (in our view) an oppressed nation where disabled people and certain ethnic groups are not valued.”

For Elke, who has now retired from her management role and works closely with Su, specialist seating for children is a vital area. “Children with complex disabilities are at risk of scoliosis and displaced hips when lying constantly on the floor or carried in arms,” she explained. “The difference when they have access to specialist paediatric seating is quite incredible. You see a child begin to engage, even speak and feed themselves when seated and supported in an upright position.”

Belief in Action – a personal approach

Su and Elke have so many examples of individual need. When they first met Zolika, or Zoli as he is known, he was spending all his time lying on a day bed, not engaging and at risk of aspirating when feeding. Once upright in a specialist chair, he began to engage with family members, look around, reach for objects and feed himself. Now, a few years later, he is involved in a project to create a mural depicting Belief in Action’s work which is destined for Medequip’s Ipswich depot.

Raisa , one of twin girls, suffers from cerebral palsy and had spent her young life either carried around or lying on the floor. Given a chair with a rise and descend function, she was able to join her family at the meal table or descend to a lower level to interact with her twin. In addition, a specialist buggy has given Raisa and her family a very different life and outlook.

A young man who sustained a spinal injury diving into a pool when he was a teenager is now in his 30s and cared for by his elderly mother on the fourth floor of an apartment block. Providing the family with a profiling bed has transformed his life and that of his mother in her role as his carer. Belief in Action supports many older parents caring for profoundly disabled grown up children, for whom profiling beds and hoists have been life changing.

“It’s still quite astonishing how little is available for so many people,” said Su. “On a recent visit, we were amazed to learn that when one of our beneficiaries had to spend time in the neurological unit at a local general hospital, they contacted the local team for a commode. Apparently there was only one in the whole unit consisting of several wards. This is a facility just three hours away from Bucharest in a country which is a member of the EU, the twelfth largest country in Europe and the sixth most populous member state, and illustrates just how difficult things are for individuals with specialist needs. The director of nursing has since contacted the team for additional equipment and whilst remaining sympathetic, the main aim is to support individuals in need and not government institutions.

A growing service

Su and Elke feel that the whole agenda around social and environmental responsibility, with companies thinking more about what constitutes waste, has helped their cause. Pre-pandemic, Belief in Action was sending one or two lorryloads of equipment a year. That has grown to one every three months.

“Medequip is good at making things happen,” said Elke. “The company now has recycling champions in all their depots, identifying suitable equipment and setting it aside. It’s then transported to Herefordshire, where we partner with another charity to move it regularly to Romania. The logistics angle, and funding the cost of this, is a work in progress, but it’s moving forward!”

The charity also facilitates groups of healthcare professionals and other volunteers on trips to Romania, where they spend time assisting people with disabilities, assess individuals and provide education and training in disability awareness for the volunteer workforce of Romanian partner Hope Without Limits.

Can you help?

In Romania, Belief in Action works with two project bases and is now looking to develop satellite hubs to spread help and support further afield. Resources are always limited, and the charity is always looking for donations of suitable equipment or for financial and practical assistance with transporting equipment, both around the UK and out to Romania. If you can help in any way, visit www.beliefin-action.co.uk or contact info@beliefin-action.co.uk

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