Did you know that there is no official, state funded form of hospice care in parts of Eastern Europe?
Andrew Woods, Meeting and Event Sales Director Leonardo Royal Hotels, didn’t either – but as soon as he found out he started to do something about it.
In just a few weeks, Andrew, using his own funds and annual leave, will head out to Romania to volunteer as a summer camp leader, bringing fun, joy and friendship to vulnerable, disabled or seriously ill children who benefit from the UK-founded Hospices of Hope.
Andrew’s learning journey started at his former workplace, Millennium Hotels, where a representative from Hospices of Hope, a charity that sends aid, funds and volunteers to areas like Romania – came to his hotel to organise an event.
“I used to do a lot of fundraising before I joined Hospices of Hope,” Andrew told The BNC.
“I raised funds for Christian Aid and WWF and when I learned about the plight of these children in Eastern Europe I had to do something about it.”
When the charity’s CEO Anna Perolls (whom he later fell in love with and married in June of this year) told Andrew about the summer camps that bring hope to children struggling with life changing circumstances, or are at end-of-life, he had to get involved.
“She told me she was off to Romania for several months for summer camps and I went: ‘ I’ll come!’
“I didn’t really think about it at the time. I got to the airport and my dad asked me where I was going. When I told him, he reminded me of the distressing Challenge Anneka programme that was broadcast years ago and I got on the plane and panicked – not really knowing what I was getting myself into.”
When Andrew arrived, however, all of those worries melted away.
“I was surrounded by kids who didn’t care where I was from and I knew instantly I was there to help them have what could be their last summer.
“I was surrounded by love.”
That was six years ago and since then Andrew has volunteered at several summer camps each year.
“It’s an amazing charity. My father-in-law set it up after losing his parents to painful illnesses in the late seventies, when hospice care wasn’t established fully in the UK.”
The father-in-law is no other than Graham Perolls, who opened one of the first hospices in this country, The Ellenor Hospice in Kent, and went on to set up Hospices of Hope after finding out about the lack of palliative care for adults and children in Eastern Europe.
At one point, Graham was ‘smuggling’ UK palliative nurses into eastern Europe to volunteer their expertise. Graham witnessed people in Eastern Europe dying without dignity and without pain relief and sent nurses out there to make someone’s final moments as comfortable as possible.
Since then 50,000 nurses have been educated in end of life care and in 2013 Graham was made a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.
Several hospices have been established with children’s summer camps developed to add a different dimension to the charity’s aims.
Housed in a building gifted to the charity the camps run every year and with the volunteers’ help, children enjoy weeks of outings, special meals and fun activities.
“What we do is we take them away from their worries. Often they don’t have the chance to be kids so we give them that. Even if it’s just sitting down with a child and doing a drawing with them. It’s something.”
Some of the children may not be ill themselves, but siblings of sick children, or children of parents who have passed away.
“What we do is bring all these children together it doesn’t matter who they are - they are all children - they don’t see any differences between them and we don’t either. We give them a summer holiday.”
Proof that the events industry brings together people, ideas and action, several industry colleagues have joined Andrew in his volunteer missions.
“I think they thought: ‘If Andrew can do it – so can I!’ They either come on camps with me or do things like Tough Mudders or Marathons in the UK to fundraise.
“When everyone does something small, it builds up into something huge. If more people did something small it will make such a difference.”
Andrew is self-funding his trip.
Donations to Hospices of Hope will go directly towards helping those in need by providing medical essentials plus summer camp activities.