Home is where the heart is for Duncan Bannatyne

In the ITV programme ‘Celebrity Home Secrets’ – first broadcast in September 2016 – Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne talks fondly about a programme in Romania with historic links to the beginnings of Mary’s Meals. In this blog our programme officer, Elfreda, reflects on her recent visit there.

Back to all stories | Posted on 26 Sep 2016 in Blog

In The Shed That Fed A Million Children, our founder Magnus introduces us to a historical Mary’s Meals programme in Romania, which recently featured in the ITV programme ‘Celebrity Home Secrets’ with Duncan Bannatyne.

The Rhema Foundation provides all round care for HIV-positive young adults who were abandoned in a hospital in Bucharest as children.

The unique project in Targu Mures stands apart from Mary’s Meals’ regular school feeding programme. Support for the programme was initially given by Scottish International Relief (SIR), the humanitarian response organisation founded in 1992, which Mary’s Meals eventually grew out of.

The need for Mary’s Meals’ involvement in this programme has lessened over time. The children are young adults now and many have gone on to lead healthy and full lives, with some getting married and able to earn a living of their own.
However, a small number of these young adults have various complex medical needs and are still reliant on regular support. While Mary’s Meals’ involvement is very different to our core work (school feeding), it is always our approach to continue to be involved for as long as it is needed, and we still care very much about these young adults.

Thanks to the support of Mary's Meals and Duncan (his backing funded the construction of a home for the children called ‘Casa Bannatyne’), the residents have grown up surrounded by love and care and are now celebrating their 15th year together.

For the week that I stayed with them it felt like visiting a very large family. The young people (aged from 16 to 25) have an adopted mother called Ibolya, who founded the Rhema Foundation. Ibi, as she is known, is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met and it is due to her courage and commitment that the young people are still with us today. She and a group of very dedicated carers and doctors have been a loving constant in their lives.

The young people all have different health issues due to their HIV status; some are extremely physically and mentally disabled, while others have autism and are able to be more independent.
Ibi told me that she has tried very hard to make their surroundings a normal home and wants the young people to do things they enjoy as well as projects that allow them to learn to become more independent.
Lonko, one of the older boys, loves zorbing and has a job in a fun park where he rents out zorb balls. He uses the money he earns to buy wool for knitting, which he is very proud of, although one of the girls joked that she was mystified about why Lonko didn’t spend money on buying her flowers instead!

This sense of humour was typical and the week I was there was filled with lots of laughter.

The foundation has created a happy, positive environment; the staff are dedicated and have provided consistency in the lives of young people who have had very traumatic childhoods. The care for these young people is extremely complex, with individual needs varying considerably, but the Rhema Foundation continues to meet these needs with unfaltering commitment and love.