The Effect of Snow in Poverty

Posted on March 5, 2010


The young girl emerges from the small shack she shares with her family in Arad, Romania

A little girl peeks out of the family hut, breathes in the -10°C air, then sneaks back in, only to reemerge with no jacket but wearing  a thin hat.

At the time I didn’t really take in the absurdity of this moment.  Sometimes my camera and professional mindset shields me from reality and it isn’t until I look back through the photos that I absorb some of the day’s events.  In this case the reality of winter in Romania.

Snow has been a big topic worldwide this winter, whether because of the lack of it in Vancouver for the Olympics or prolonged snowstorms in the UK, but it is easy to forget that when snow combines with poverty it can have a much more shattering impact.

Luiz David, 11 (left) and brother Darius Marcel Leleczi, six make their way home past the frozen laundry of a neighbour. Even the basics of washing are difficult with the rivers freezing and no space indoor for drying.

The makeshift village of Craica, Baire Mare, is a Roma community where they must collect water from a pump which, can freeze in cold conditions. The children of the Leleczi family pump the water together. They have benefited from a community programme with the charity Hope and Homes for Children.

This became clear to me a month ago when I was working in Romania for three very different charities, and with each I was struck by the same devastating effect that cold weather can have on those living in deprivation whether in a rural community or a large city like Bucharest.

Poverty is a word many of us naturally link to hot climates.  We’ve all seen the photos of poverty in Africa, and since I have worked there, this was certainly where my sympathies leaned.  But it was easy to forget that similar circumstances still exist within the EU.  A place like Romania, for example, often slips through the funding cracks.

From the outside it is easy to think that Romania is becoming wealthy.  I gave up counting how many BMWs, AUDI TTs and VW Passats were being driven around, but it wasn’t until I learned that almost all would have been bought on credit that I started to worry.  Then I began to notice a bank had popped up on every corner, along with a modern western culture where the main emphasis was being placed on appearances, having the correct shoes, clothes and cars. I received many strange looks from the local Bucharest ladies as I ploughed through the deep snow in my wonderful pink wellies whilst they tottered in high heels.

However, it is only when one looks deeper that poverty just as extreme as I have seen in refugee camps within West Africa becomes visible.  While working with Vis De Copeil, I met children sleeping five or six in a small hut, coming to the charity to obtain a warm meal, do their homework and wash.  Or with the charity Children in Distress, where I heard many stories of child abandonment due to disability.  Similarly, Hope and Homes for Children works with the local government to help create alternatives to the institutions that were covered by the world’s media 20 years ago.

Several members of one Roma family, outside their makeshift home in Arad, Romania. The families of this community have been at risk of losing their homes due to a new bypass that is being built.

The inside of the same home. This space is also shared by older siblings and their parents.

Great work is being done in Romania, by local and international charities, but much of it is certainly getting overlooked in funding due to the new stamp of ‘EU member’, a description linking the country with some of the world’s richest nations.  And it appears that with that label the division of rich and poor is simply widening…

Shopping sometimes needs a new form of transport and a sledge becomes a tool for Sofia Asan, 19. She is a resident of St Lawrence's homes for abandoned children with HIV/Aids funded by Scottish charity Children In Distress. She is now able to live a normal life in a hall of residence style situation.

The Horea area of Baia Mare, Romania, where one of the two buildings is recently renovated.

In rural communities horse and cart are common modes of transport. This becomes much harder in the deep snow that village Hulubeni, Romania has seen this winter.

A group who live on the street using charity Vis de Copil's day centre for learning to read and write.

Charity Vis de Copil day centre offers hot meals to those living on the streets of Arad, Romania

The Vis de Copil day centre offers a range of amenities to those living on the streets of Arad.

Andreea Stanescu, nine, has toys to play with and space to stretch out in St Margarets childrens hospice, Bucharest. Her family was told she would not live long and was abandoned. The centre is run by Scottish charity Children In Distress.

In -12°C the washing freezes,but with no space inside to hang it Daniela Mircea has little choice but to put the clothes out anyway.

The Mircea family spend time together in their one heated room which acts as a living room and bedroom sleeping all five family members.

Five-year-old Aurel Miltaru is a triplet but is the only one with illnesses. His family share a two room flat which sleeps nine people, five in a box bedroom and three in the living room. He is pictured playing with mother, Anisoara, whilst older sister Gabriela, 10, and uncle Gheorghe Gavrilescu try and find a little privacy on their computers

Members of the Sburatoru family, consisting of seven children, try to keep warm in their two room home. Pictured from left: Malisa, eight, Daniel, 12, Albert, five and mum Laura Golea.