Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Shine A Light

What are you up to on Saturday 27th April?

HOSPICE Angelus, together with Moldcell and the NGO 'Save Life' will be taking part in the March of Light in Valea Morilor. Come along and support those who are suffering from this stupid disease we call cancer.

For a donation of 20 lei, you can buy a balloon which will light up in the night sky. They are:

WHITE - to remember those who lost their battle with cancer

PINK - to give hope to people and their families currently suffering from cancer

PURPLE - to show solidarity in defeating cancer

The event starts at 18:30. We'd love to see you there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


A Change Is Gonna Come

It's been over 6 months since I even thought about the blog, let alone add a new post. Work's been busy. I've travelled quite a  bit. And I celebrated the start of my 3rd year in Moldova working for Hospices of Hope.

Working for an NGO anywhere in the world is interesting and I count myself really lucky that I get to do it in such a great place as Moldova. I was invited to talk about why I love my job back in September at an event with several other speakers including a pilot, an Ambassador, a trainer and a lawyer. It was a real challenge to think about why I love my job and I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to communicate or how I could inspire. What could a group of young people who had given up their Saturday learn from somebody who goes around asking people for money? Not a whole lot, I thought. But then I realised that for me to talk about my job in an honest way, I would have to think out of the box and look at what I do from an outsider's point of view. And it hit me...this could actually be pretty easy because I do actually love my job...

I get to meet incredible people, I get to see things that many other people do not, I get to live in a country which so many have never heard of,  but more than anything - I get to make a difference. Now I'm not saying that nobody else could do my job (I believe that nobody is indispensable and eventually I will have to leave Hospice Angelus to give somebody else a chance to bring something new to the organisation), but I realised that the work that I have done with the Hospice Angelus team has been nothing but rewarding. I get to go to my office every day and know that my actions will affect the lives of other people. If we don't raise enough funds to continue offering our services for free, people will suffer. Our staff won't receive their salaries and as a result, our patients won't receive their much-needed care. This is an extreme situation and I am thankful that we have been lucky enough to be supported so well by our donors and supporters that this has not happened. But when we do organise a successful event, or we do receive a positive response from a grant-giving organisation, there is no better feeling than knowing that what we have done will improve the life of someone.  More often than not, many many people.

In October, we were approached by a Moldovan girl living in Pennsylvania whose sister was dying of AIDS in Chisinau. Our team was asked to go and visit this young woman and she was in a terrible way. She had lesions all over her body and was almost unable to communicate. She was 32 years old. Her sister came over from the States to visit and arrived just in time before she passed away. Hospice Angelus has very little experience of working with patients suffering from HIV/AIDS. In fact, education and awareness here in Moldova is so poor that patients are sometimes left alone to suffer by their doctors as some of them do not know the way in which the disease spreads. It's a sad situation but one that I'm glad to say may be about to change. Hospice Angelus has identified that there is a huge need for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and is currently writing a project for funding to work in this area. Again, this is a great opportunity for us to make a difference in others' lives.

Speaking at the 'I Love My Job' event made me realise that I'm lucky to do what I do. Sure, some days are frustrating and heavy, but these days are necessary for you to appreciate the great days that do inevitably come when you have the privilege of loving your job.

When I was growing up, I wanted to become an actor. I wanted the fame, the fortune and the glitzy lifestyle. Spending so much time in Romania and Moldova realised that there are far more important things to life. I saw this short video at the weekend which reminded me of one of the quotes I used during the talk:

Whenever it is possible, a boy should choose some occupation which he should do even if he did not need the money. 
~William Lyon Phelps

See what you think.....

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


One Life

On Friday 4 May 2012, Hospice Angelus hosted its 3rd Annual Charity Ball - "A Night At The Movies". I'll write a full post about it later when I have access to all the photos and final figures but I wanted to share our video which was made especially for the event. Our friend, Valeriu Istrati, put together this incredible short film which tells a beautiful story and shows the reality of what our medical team has to go through every single day by simply doing their job.

I am delighted to announce that because of the generosity of our supporters, we raised 27,000 EURO at the event. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who gave their time, effort and funds towards making this night such a success...

Monday, April 16, 2012


‘Hristos a inviat’ means ‘Christ is Risen’ in Romanian and it takes over the usual greeting of ‘Buna Ziua’ as of today for 40 days. Yesterday, the Eastern Orthodox Church all over the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus and Moldova was no exception. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar and as a result, Easter here more often than not comes a week after Easter in other parts of the world and is a much bigger holiday than Christmas (arguably, this is as it should be). People come home to visit their families and with 25% of Moldovans living overseas, the border crossings were crazy this past weekend with apparently 150,000 cars crossing into Moldova on Friday alone.

Last year, I was invited to the village of Izbiste which is around an hour’s drive from Chisinau to celebrate. My friend Jessica, who serves in the Peace Corps here, invited her boyfriend Jeremy and I to see how the villagers celebrate as Chisinau becomes a ghost-town over Easter weekend. A night in Jessica’s host-parents’ house was interrupted around 3am by a wake-up call for church. Most Moldovan villages are not gifted with street lights so the 15 minute walk to the ‘biserica’ was in pitch black. On the winding road up to the church, the first thing that strikes you is the singing from inside the church being played from speakers at the top of the bell tower. On arrival in the churchyard, there was a ring of babushkas (wee old ladies) surrounding the building with baskets of bread and food waiting for the blessing of the Priest. Candles are lit in anticipation of the coming of the Priest and then he emerges from the church – with a sprig of twigs and a vessel containing the holy water – to literally soak the people and the food of those around the church*. Most people have not only brought bread but also their entire meal and for it to be blessed is the most honourable of gifts on this Holy Day. People shriek with excitement when the Priest soaks them and before long, the families are all on the way back to their houses to start preparing the food for a massive meal to be served around 7am. After this visit, which was absolutely fascinating but ultimately freezing, Jeremy and I vowed that once was enough to see this very unique ritual.

However, almost a year later, Jeremy and I were questioning our prior decision as we slipped down the muddy hill on the way to the same church at 2am on Easter Sunday morning. Jessica had once again invited us, along with friends Amy and Becky, to experience Easter in Izbiste once again. Since last year, Jessica has moved to a ‘casa mica’, a small holding in the garden of a new host family. Rather than living in the main house, she now has a two room building without a drain, bathroom or proper heating. Instead, Jessica uses a bucket which is emptied in the street, an outhouse which is a shed with a hole in the floor situated in the garden and a soba which is an indoor ceramic chimney which heats up over some time.  

Easter Saturday brought some of the worst rain in Moldova so far this year and so the rural roads of Izbiste were soggy and mucky but we soldiered through the mud to get to the church to see the ceremony part of the Easter service. Women are required to dress in a dignified manner, so the girls wore dresses or skirts complete with headscarf inside the church and fitted right in with the babushkas. The service lasts for 6 hours and begins before midnight however we decided to skip to the exciting part where the priest appears and walks around blessing people and taking their candles wrapped in 1 lei notes (about 5p). It turns out that these candles can only be lit from the central candle in the church as the flame from this has come all the way from the tomb in Israel (how it gets through customs I have no idea). The priest then goes back to the pulpit and prays for those who have given him a candle. Throughout the service, the little babushkas continue to sing Easter themed worship songs while the priest proclaims ‘Hristos a inviat’ to which the congregation replies ‘Adevarat a inviat’ which means ‘He is risen indeed’. We decided that a decent night in bed would be a better option than to hang around until 6am for the blessing of the food so headed back and hit the hay.

The next afternoon we were invited to Jessica’s director’s house for the traditional Easter dinner which was shared with her husband and 5 year old daughter, Daniela. We ate like kings, the non-driving contingent (everyone bar me) drank like fish and we shared a great afternoon of fellowship and laughs with our new friends before heading back to the city for a well earned good night's sleep.

Jeremy and Jessica will sadly not be in Moldova in 2013 as their Peace Corps service draws to a close this Summer, however I hope that if I am still here then I find another rural village to celebrate this very unique celebration. While in the UK, I’m a fan of whacking back the crème eggs and getting up to watch the sunrise at the top of Kinnoull Hill, however I like the way that Moldovans (and the rest of the Eastern Orthodox Church) utterly immerse themselves in this amazing celebration of Christ’s coming back for us. It’s a time of reflection and thankfulness, but it’s also a time of family and I was blessed and honoured to have shared this magnificent day with the people who I am lucky to have had become my family here in Moldova. 

The girls preparing to fit in at the kirk (L-R Jessica, Becky and Amy)

We passed some rather hirsute looking babushkas on the way to church

Becky had a boyfriend once...perhaps this is why

A normally urban Amy goes rural in Jessica's 'casa mica'

Our massive Easter lunch

The painted boiled eggs (all ready for war)

Becky's game face ensured that this battle was hers

Chicken in jelly - as nice as it sounds

I ponder my first win while Jeremy is overcome with dismay that his egg has been annihilated

Only one of these war faces won the challenge...


Jessica reads 5 year old Daniela a story about a witch who lives in a moving castle built on chicken legs who comes and steals children away in a sack and eats them. Scarier than the Woman In Black. And Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

Our new friends, Natalia and Mircea, who so generously opened their home to us on this very special family day
 * The blessing of food at Easter is traditional but so is the blessing of other objects at the beginning of the school year including Jessica's laptop which was soaked just after she arrived in Moldova. Thankfully it still works. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Ae Fond Kiss

Our first fundraising event of 2012 was a truly Scottish affair with Hospice Angelus staging the first ever Burns Supper in Moldova. Sixty of our friends and supporters gathered at Vintage Art and Lounge Cafe in Chisinau to celebrate the 253rd anniversary of Scotland's most famous son, Rabbie Burns. Homemade haggis, stovies, tatties and special 'Moldovan neeps' were served along with the sweetest of Scottish desserts, Cranachan.

The night was a real success and we raised over 1000 euros which will go directly towards the work of Hospice Angelus in Moldova. Here follows some of our favourite video clips from the night.

Video 1: Kenny Wright addresses the haggis in true Burns style

Video 2: Alexei Ghertescu toasts the lassies

Video 3: Faith Tempest replies to the Toast To The Lassies

And last but not least, you can click here to watch a news report from the event along with seeing me back on Sare si Piper cooking Scotch Broth and home-made oatcakes and talking about Edward...sorry, Robert Burns. 

You can see some of the best photos from the first Hospice Angelus Burns Supper on our website


Since the start of January, we’ve had a lot of positive things happening at the hospice. The first is a partnership with an organisation called OM which has generously been supplying us with food packages to deliver to some of our poorest patients. I had the pleasure of visiting one of our younger patients, a 14 year old girl who is suffering with metastatic cancer and is tragically likely to lose her leg. It never ceases to amaze me the positivity that radiates from some of our patients. With a beautiful smile and a positive outlook on life, this young girl talked about what she missed about school as she is unable to attend now that she is sick. Sadly, because she has to stay at home, her mother no longer works and thus their income is limited. Indeed, they owe about £200 for their heating bill. The average salary in Moldova is around £150 per month so this amount is an astronomical amount for a family on benefits. Furthermore, and sickeningly, their landlord has said that they also owe around 20,000 euros in rent and if they do not pay this, they will be evicted. Another example of the exploitation of Moldova’s poverty-stricken by the terminally corrupt who seem to still have such a huge presence and influence in this country. We are grateful to OM for their assistance in providing these packages to our families.

One of our food packages donated by OM

As part of the fundraising team at Hospice Angelus, it can sometimes be very easy to forget why we are doing the things we do so these visits are necessary to remind us of the importance of raising awareness and funds to support palliative care in Moldova. Meeting the beneficiaries of our work and seeing the fruits of our labour is the most humbling part of working for Angelus. This past week, I had the privilege of visiting another of our patients for her birthday. A small team of hospice workers arrived to see another smiling and positive young woman beaming to see our director arrive with cake and flowers to celebrate this special day. Surrounded by friends and loved ones, it was an honour to share even a small part of this day with her. An English speaker, it was a rare opportunity for me to speak to one of our patients in my native tongue and to hear first-hand about the trials and tribulations of being a cancer sufferer in Moldova. It’s always great to hear about the differences that our medical team can make to the life of someone with cancer and to hear about what life might be like without the care that we provide makes us realise how important it is to continue the work that we do. And it's always mind-blowing to see the smiles behind the stories. 

Holes in the windows in a Moldovan apartment block make it very difficult to keep buildings warm

Monday, November 7, 2011


Running Up That Hill

On October 9 2010, I arrived in Bucharest, Romania to start my new job as part of the Hospices of Hope organisation. The night before, I was out in London with some friends and while in a restaurant, some very inconsiderate individual walked up behind me and stole my bag from the back of my chair. Inside was my passport, wallet (complete with bank cards, driving licence and cash), iPod, work documents including my contract, a book and my filofax (yep, very Gordon Gekko) with lots of interesting things I’d picked up on my travels over the years. The following morning, I spent the morning running across London to report the theft, apply for and receive a new passport and get to Heathrow all before 5pm to catch the flight to Bucharest. Having taken weeks to pack up my life in the UK to start this new chapter in Moldova, I had to try and get as many documents replicated as possible in the space of a few hours. I’m glad to tell you that I made it but it was one of the most challenging things I have ever had to do.  

Fast forward a year to October 9 2011 and I was about to undertake one of the other biggest challenges I have ever had to face – the Bucharest International Half Marathon. When I arrived at the Hospice offices in Bucharest a year prior, the fundraising team were knee deep in the organisation of the Bucharest International Marathon races at the end of the month. At that moment I decided that I was going to take part in the 2011 race and raise some money for the work of Hospice Angelus in Moldova. Of course, that was the easy part. Despite being overweight and unfit, I thought that if I gave myself a year, this would be more than ample time to train for running 13.1 miles (or 21.1 km). Actually, six months would probably be enough. Right?

In January of 2011 I found a running club called the Chişinău Hash House Harriers here in Moldova which consists of expats and locals who run every second Sunday around the city. For the first few months, I walked the courses and then started properly training for the run around April. A fellow Hasher, Teapot (who I also cajoled into running the full marathon in Bucharest), was consulted and put together a training program for me over a period of six months. It was designed to build up my strength and endurance and kudos to Teapot, because it worked! Admittedly, I didn’t strictly adhere to the program over the six months so by the time that the race came around earlier last month, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to make it.

Joined by Teapot and two other runners raising money for Hospice, Lindsay and Conrad, we arrived at the start line around 8am on 9 October 2011. Sadly, unlike the time we spent in training, it was lashing down with rain and pretty cold. For the parents, who had come over to enjoy the October warmth in Bucharest, they were disappointed that winter had come early but still came out with their Scottish flags in support.

The start line ran up Bulevardul Unirii towards The People's Palace, the second largest building on earth

At 9.30am, the start gun signalled the beginning of the race. Armed with an iPod full of tunes chosen by my sponsors, I was off and the initial view of running up Bulevardul Unirii towards the Palace of the Parliament was great as this still is such an impressive sight to me. Constitution Square, where the Palace stands, is normally the start and finish point of the marathon, however because of a NATO Summit, we had to start further down at Alba Iulia Square. Halfway up Bulevardul Unirii, there was a turn to the left across the man-made River Nistru and it was a long slog for about 2.5km down the edge of the river and 2.5km all the way back up the other side. The weather had kept any supporters at bay for this leg and so it was a bit endless running this part which was straight, dull and not in the slightest bit stimulating. This was when the tunes chosen by my sponsors kept me going – some favourites were Running Bear, Heigh Ho, Kinky Boots and my favourite, Keep On Runnin'.

Following the river part of the run appeared the first hill, which was gradual but thankfully very short. Back onto Bulevardul Unirii and down to Alba Iulia Square where the finish line was in sight. However Alba Iulia Squire isn’t really a square at all, rather a bit of a roundabout, so there are three roads which meet there and therefore the run also consisted of running down and back up the other two thoroughfares. The first was only about 100 metres down and back but the second road was probably about 1.5k and running away from the finish was really tough. It was great to run back up that road and not only see my folks waving the aforementioned flags, but to see the finish and my colleague Marc (the race starter) waiting to cheer...and send me on for the second lap. Yep, the race was two laps of the course for the half marathon and four for the full so off I went again. As I ditched my rain jacket I noticed that I had done the first half in 1 hour 27 – slow, but so far, so good. At this point I was starting to fade a bit so used the first ‘Gu’ gel which had been kindly donated by Teapot. Water and Isostar also kept me hydrated and everything was going great until I returned to the river part of the run. At this point, while I still hadn’t had to slow to a walk, I was really struggling to keep going but didn’t want to let myself down by stopping running. The four Team Hospice runners for Angelus Moldova had raised almost £6000 for the work done here and I was determined to not let my sponsors down so kept focused and pushed on. Coming back to Bulevardul Unirii and seeing Alba Iulia Square in the distance gave me the necessary boost to keep going and going. Supporters were starting to line the streets towards the end and this was another great push for me. Just as I was running down the last street of the square, I noticed the finish line and was gutted that I had to do that last 1.5km away from the chequered flag.

Running back up the street and seeing the finishing line in the distance, I had my finishing song on – Highland Cathedral by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (as recommended by a seasoned marathon runner). What a great song to finish on – the pipes and drums kicking in – really gave me that necessary push to run towards the end. Have a listen here and you'll hear what I mean. The sight of mum, dad, Lindsay and Conrad at the end made me go for a final sprint for the last 100 yards (ooft, this was a REAL mistake as I thought my legs were about to go) and I made it to the end to be met by the lovely volunteers with my medal. WOW! I couldn’t quite believe I had managed it. 3 hours and 5 minutes of running and I was now a half marathon runner.

The feeling afterwards was something else and I was really amazed at how quickly after I had stopped running that my legs started to turn to jelly. A congratulatory Snickers was soon followed by a beer with Lindsay and Conrad and then we went off to see Teapot as she crossed the line and became the first Team Hospice female to complete the marathon. Great effort and she joined Lindsay as the first Team Hospice female to complete the half marathon, so well done Team Moldova!

Lindsay, Conrad and I celebrate our half marathon with a cold can of Ursus, King of Beers in Romania (and the world)

Teapot hoofs it to the finish and completes her third marathon

Celebrating with Teapot and another Ursus

It really was a magic day followed by quite an epic after party (although I was so knackered that I only managed a few hours). With final calculations done, Team Hospice Moldova raised £6500, including Gift Aid, which is a staggering amount. But this was only part of the achievement – we all hit another goal that day. Teapot completed her third marathon while Conrad and Lindsay beat their time of the Miami Half Marathon they ran in March. For me, I had run over 13 miles. Six months prior, I couldn’t even run one. It really is a case of ‘if I can do it, so can anyone’ and I stick by that. I want to say thanks to all my friends, family and colleagues for supporting me throughout this time and especially for giving so much of their hard earned cash. Hospice Angelus really is a great cause to donate to and the money pledged really DOES make a difference. I am so privileged to work for such a worthy organisation and to see all of you get behind the work that we do is a great honour. Which leads me to one final question:  who’s up for joining me in Bucharest for the 2012 International Marathon?

And for anyone who would still like to sponsor me, please click right here to make a donation to an excellent cause.