“Poverty at home and abroad

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At the April U3A monthly meeting in Ballymoney, Pearl Hutchinson spoke about storytelling and Jackie and Sam Cochrane talked about the SMILES charity, which works in Romania.

Pearl’s story ‘For the love of Rosie’, was about Rosie, a servant to the Hutchinson family in Kilrea. She had a little house rent free on the Upperlands Road and was allowed to take some eggs and other food home with her. She acted as a housekeeper to the then bachelor Tom Hutchinson. She baked breads fresh every morning in a ‘pot oven’, that is with coals on the top of a pot. On top of housework, Rosie worked in the yard too, milking cows and feeding pigs and chickens. She was also expected to take food to workers in the fields, including the times when they were threshing and neighbours came to help.

They also grew flax. Apparently she once had to feed 78 people who had come to help. A treat in those days was to go to Kilrea Fair Day where there were ballad singers, maybe an escapologist, stalls and second hand clothes. Rosie was also a handywoman who helped to deliver babies, all of fourteen in one family. She lived until 1967.

In 2003 Pearl decided to do up Rosie’s old cottage, which had become derelict. The porch was taken off and a half door added, along with curtains, a lit fire, electricity and chairs. It is open occasionally to groups and school children in order to share what Rosie’s life and what it was like living in those times. Lots of visitors to the cottage have their own memories of life in the countryside in similar cottages. Visitors have included members of the Irish Society, guests at the nearby engineering works. An elegant letter of thanks was received afterwards.

Both Jackie and Sam Cochrane spoke about the SMILES charity in Romania: a Christian-based foundation, which aims to relieve poverty and promote education with projects mostly for elderly, disabled or disadvantaged people. The part of Romania that the charity works in is near Hungary. Although the country is potentially rich in agriculture, leaders like Nicolae Ceaușescu, under communism, have sold food abroad in order to pay off foreign debts.

The country manifests extreme differences between the rich and poor: with communist tower blocks and huts that, to us, look more like garden sheds. The poorest homeless people may live in shelters made from anything from cardboard to blankets. As abortion and contraception were forbidden, many children were abandoned into orphanages, especially disabled children, and suffered institutional neglect. Romanian social workers cooperate with the SMILES charity.

Donations are now coming in from the UK and USA but the charity is particularly strong in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately Brexit has caused a fall in income of 20% due to the alteration in exchange rates.

Containers are sent by hauliers free of charge and people make ‘mission trips’ to see the work first hand. Properties have been built, repaired and decorated and basic education and health care supplied. Expertise is also shared in farm work; the growth of cereals and sunflowers and bedding plants in particular. Food parcels are distributed especially to the homeless, chiefly non-perishables and water. Help is also offered at a gypsy (Roma) community in terms of clothes, shoes, toys, balloon and sweets. Some of these sites tend to be a sea of mud, infested with rats. Small children wander around with few clothes and no nappies. When people learn that the charity will be coming back, their greetings change from sullen suspicion to smiles, which is where the charity gets its name.

Reverend Frances Bach gave genuine votes of thanks to both Pearl and the Cochranes.