Paul Brummell, British Ambassador to Romania

Paul Brummell

Head of Soft Power and External Affairs Department, Communication Directorate

Part of UK in Romania

4th June 2015

Great Britons supporting the disabled in Romania

People dancing
Some of those in this conga are deafblind. But you can’t tell which

Two events on successive days last week demonstrated again to me the important role which Great Britons working with Romanian counterparts in the civil society sector are playing in supporting groups and communities in need of help, in these cases young people coping with disabilities. On Friday I made my second visit to Galati, on the banks of the Danube in the west of the country, for a rather special dance festival, “Together Towards the Future”, organised by the Asociatia Children’s High Level Group. I joined Baroness Emma Nicholson, a longstanding friend of Romania and the honorary president of the Asociatia. Baroness Nicholson served asthe European Parliament’s Special Rapporteur for Romania’s European Union accession, becoming well-known inter alia for her work in supporting children’s rights in Romania. She has retained her close links with the country and was awarded at the event the keys to Galati by the mayor of the city.

Joined by a representative of the Romanian Ministry of Education, Baroness Nicholson set out to the local press the forward plans of the Asociatia, including a new programme, “deaf but not dumb”, which will encourage deaf children to speak, moving away from an historic over-emphasis in Romania on the use of sign language.

The “Together Towards the Future” festival paired children with disabilities, the “beneficiaries”, with others, “volunteers”, in what were essentially twinning partnerships between local schools. In its eighth edition, the programme involved schools from every corner of Romania. The dances were a mixture of traditional and modern. It was impossible to tell who were the “volunteers” and who were the “beneficiaries” among the enthusiastic young dancers. In a sense, all were beneficiaries in a programme of community action which was all about breaking down barriers.

Earlier in the week I had attended the closing dinner of the 2015 Conference of Deafblind International, an event that brought together those coping with deafblindness, volunteers and researchers from almost 50 countries. The hosting of the event by Romania is in large measure a tribute to the energy and activity of Sense International Romania and its enthusiastic director,Cristiana Salomie, with the strong support of the “parent UK charity Sense. Sense International Romania has made huge strides both in securing the official recognition of deafblindness in Romania and in helping the deafblind to get the support and encouragement that they need. The dinner was a lively affair, with participants getting onto the dance floor early and forming a conga in which it was again impossible to distinguish who was deafblind and who was not.

The appearance of a conga is however a universal signal to invited diplomats to prepare to depart, so I left the members of the conference to their well-earned party.