Copshaw schoolboy Dean Armstrong learns new house building skills to help a family far away.
Landlocked between Romania and the Ukraine, the republic of Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and once described as the world’s least happy place. Newcastleton teenager Dean Armstrong had the opportunity to check that out for himself when he visited Moldova earlier this year. It wasn’t a holiday though – Dean went there to help build a house.
‘I was asked if I would like to go by a friend called Jake Little who does missions abroad, helping to build schools and houses,’ Dean explains. ‘Moldova is a really poor country so I thought about it for a while, then decided yes, I would do it.’
At fourteen, Dean was the youngest on the trip organised by the Christian charity Amor Europe. Every member had to raise £950 to pay expenses and contribute to the building project. He also had to be kitted out for the nine-day stay.
‘We had to take sleeping bag, pillow, work trousers, boots, long-sleeved t-shirts, sun cream – though we didn’t need it and water bottles.’ They also had to take two portable solar showers apiece – one for themselves and one for the buddy they would be paired up with in Moldova. The trip did not get off a great start when delays left them stranded at Frankfurt Airport for 35 hours. Because they were on a charity mission, flights to Bucharest were eventually organised, followed by a bumpy eleven hour journey in an old-fashioned, cramped and smelly train.
They eventually arrived in the early hours of the morning and got to work straight away. It wasn’t all hard graft though. During their stay they also visited a local orphanage to entertain the youngsters. For Dean it was eye-opening and very moving. ‘It was honestly the most heart-breaking thing I have ever experienced. The children were well looked after, but it was so sad seeing them there. They were really nice kids, aged from about three to fifteen and we enjoyed each other’s company though they couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Romanian.’ For Dean, the best bit of the whole trip was seeing the house finished and meeting the family who would be living there. ‘They were lovely. They had been living in a little shack with an outside toilet that was really just a box with a hole in the ground and the Dad had to work in France as there was no work locally. We had a ceremony handing over the keys and the looks on their faces were just amazing.’
The experience has clearly had a profound and lasting effect on this Copshaw teenager and it took quite a while after he returned home to even be able to speak about it. ‘The poverty had a big impact on me and made me realise how fortunate I am. It really stayed on my mind when I got home and I found that quite hard.’
Dean’s already planning to go back next year and planning to start fundraising soon. ‘The people were just so amazing. It was a wonderful experience and I really want to do it again.’
QUOTE BOX – ‘The poverty had a big impact on me and made me realise how fortunate I am. It really stayed on my mind when I got home and I found that quite hard.’
Moldova has a population of around 3.5 million
It has the biggest underground wine cellar in the world – stretching for 150 miles and containing 1.5 million bottles
It used to produce half of all the wine made in the entire USSR.