The Scotsman, UK
Dec 30 2004

Lifting the lid on the joy a shoebox brings

Lothian gifts delight children

JANE BRADLEY


STAFF at children's homes today told of the festive joy nearly 10,000
shoeboxes sent from the Lothians brought to deprived young people in
Eastern Europe.

The 9837 boxes, packed with toys, sweets and warm clothing, were sent
to Azerbaijan and Romania to give poor children a Christmas to
remember.

Collected through annual charity drive Operation Christmas Child, the
boxes - packed by people in schools, community groups, churches and
individuals across Edinburgh and the Lothians - have been handed out
to children in homes, gypsy settlements and to others living on the
streets.

"It's nothing to us to fill a shoebox, but to the children, it's
everything," said June Vasey, area representative for Samaritan's
Purse, which runs Operation Christmas Child.

Samaritan's Purse, an international foreign aid organisation, sends
out boxes to 12 Eastern European countries.

And this year, boxes collected in the Lothians have gone to children
in Azerbaijan and Romania, where orphanages are filled with children
abandoned by poverty-stricken mothers.

Tension between ethnic Roma (gypsies) in the country and Romanians
mean that Roma families find it difficult to get jobs.

A vicious circle of poverty and petty crime has led many local
governments to force Roma communities into out-of-town communes.

Liviu Balas, director of Ecce Homo, a charity which runs a children's
home and social centre to rehabilitate street children in
Cluj-Napoca, in Transylvania, Romania, thanked the people of
Edinburgh for their work.

"I don't think anyone really can imagine how the children feel when
they receive the shoeboxes," he said.

"The people in Scotland are very good at giving the children what
they would like and there have been some un- believable toys in the
boxes.

"One little boy, Alex, got a UFO with flashing lights and he just
loves it - but we at the centre were amazed by it too."

Ms Vasey said families in one village in Azerbaijan lived in wooden
railway carriages.

"Armenian families in Imishli first took shelter in the carriages
when they were trying to get back to Armenia during the conflict with
Azerbaijan, but they got stuck there."

She said the charity, which also organises other projects in Eastern
Europe throughout the year, runs soup kitchens for the railway
carriage families during the winter.

She added: "Temperatures are freezing cold in the winter and there
are only two water pumps for the whole five-kilometre row.

"We make sure there are some warm clothes in each of the shoeboxes.
If people don't put them in when they donate the box, we add them
from our store.

She said the boxes were given to children in Romania as a Christmas
present, but in predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan as general gifts.

The boxes are taken to Eastern Europe on lorries accompanied by
workers from Operation Christmas Child.