Inside the grey block of flats where Marta lives with her family, you would think you had travelled back in time to the days of communism.
The hallway leading to Marta’s home is dark and musky. She shares a tiny bedroom with her four brothers and sisters, with the old gas stove in the corner with pots caked in days-old food.
Many people in the city of Victoria, Romania, have poor living conditions. Forced industrialization during the communist era meant that blocks of flats were built in Romanian cities in large numbers but often not to quality standards. When the flats were later privatized after communism, any renovations would have to be agreed by hundreds of households, an almost impossible task.
Insulation and other important maintenance works frequently did not take place and many blocks have fallen into serious disrepair.
Marta’s parents have left their poorly paid jobs at the factory to work in Germany over the summer. This is common in Victoria, where the only jobs available are low paid or temporary, with no job security. Many people commute for miles to work – or seek better opportunities in other cities or abroad. Vulnerable children are frequently left behind in the care of elderly grandparents or left with little supervision.
Seven-year-old Marta is fortunately taken care of by her grandparents – and her parents will return. And while she is at risk of being caught up in the same poverty as her parents in the future, she is part of a community where she is supported in her education and given practical support amidst the financial struggles her family faces.
Marta is sponsored through Mission Without Borders (MWB) and attends a Soup Kitchen where she and other children receive help with their homework and are given a hot meal to eat every day after school. The MWB coordinator, Radu, offers support to the children, all from vulnerable backgrounds, and so does the pastor of the local Baptist Church that partners with MWB.
Marta arrives at the Baptist Church in Victoria for the after-school club, carrying an old backpack without straps. She is smiling, not thinking about the difficult circumstances at home, as she arrives at the place that is her happy refuge, a home from home where she is cared for and secure.
Today Radu has something special to deliver to Marta: a beautiful new backpack filled with school supplies.