This charity is rescuing children from orphanages around the world

Maxim, a Moldovan boy with cerebral palsy who is desperate to be reunited with his parents (C) Hope

Maxim, a Moldovan boy with cerebral palsy who is desperate to be reunited with his parents (C) Hope and Homes for Children - Credit: (C) Hope and Homes for Children

Hope and Homes for Children, started by a former army officer from East Anglia, is counting on your support to help its work this Christmas.

Mark and Caroline Cook. Picture: Hope and Homes for Children

Mark and Caroline Cook. Picture: Hope and Homes for Children - Credit: Archant

A small girl kneels, alone and deep in thought, in an empty bedroom in a state orphanage in the heart of her Bosnian homeland.

Her history and her name are unknown, such details left unrecorded by the photographer who captured her moving moment of contemplation and isolation.

But far more upsetting images can be witnessed across the world in such institutions, where children spend their formative years without love or hope – and often with abuse, sickness and pain.

They are the nine million ‘warehouse kids’, packed like undelivered parcels in soulless buildings,facing a cruel and empty Christmas this year, worsened by the Covid crisis which has brought death and disaster to their already darkened doors.

A baby in a Romanian state orphanage reaches out for love (C) Hope and Homes for Children

A baby in a Romanian state orphanage reaches out for love (C) Hope and Homes for Children - Credit: (C) Hope and Homes for Children

For 25 years, our readers have supported the work of Hope and Homes for Children (HHC), started by Beccles-born former Army officer Mark Cook at the height of the Bosnian civil war.

That first year, he and his wife Caroline risked their lives to bring aid to orphans trapped in the besieged capital, Sarajevo, where snipers used civilians for target practice.

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But this Christmas, he fears will be one of the worst-ever across the globe for such children facing the misery of a loveless life further darkened by the pandemic.

“For many of them, this will be a terrible festive season; without even the barest minimum of support from staff cut down by Covid, they are facing increased levels of abuse and infection,” says Col Cook.

“And, amidst even harsher lockdowns and continuing waves of virus, an epidemic of family breakdown is seeing more children than ever without families this Christmas.”

At a global level, the charity is working with governments in about 25 countries to close down orphanages, reunite children with families and to end their abandonment for social, economic or even, cynically, for the exploitation of Western donors.

Around the world, former EDP deputy editor James Ruddy has witnessed both the horrors and the heart-warming results of such work at first hand.

“In Romania, young couples were encouraged to produce at least five children by law and thousands were dumped into huge and stinking state institutions where I saw toddlers rocking, alone and unloved, all day long in steel cots,” he recalls.

“In some parts of Africa recently, I saw well-meaning Americans providing money to orphanages packed with children whose parents were bribed with promises of healthcare and education to ‘lend’ them for profit.

“And in Europe’s poorest country, Moldova, I witnessed the joy of some of the 520 children who have been rescued and returned to their traced and well-supported families.”

Among these is Maxim, a tiny Moldovan boy with cerebral palsy, who spent the last two Christmases alone and ignored in an orphanage cot.

Poverty meant his family was struggling to care for him and the authorities decided he would be better off in an institution.

But Maxim has a dad, Alexandru, and a sister, Mihaila, who love and miss him very much: they want nothing more than to love him, cherish and protect him.

However, without extra support to meet his additional needs, they can’t hope to bring him home and care for him themselves.

“There is no joy here at Christmas without Maxim,” his dad says.

The charity is working hard to reunite the family and give Maxim some Christmas joy at last, as it has done with many thousands of children, with and without disabilities.

Mark Cook: founder of Hope and Homes for Children

“Caroline and I are anxiously waiting to find out whether we will be able to see our children and grandchildren at Christmas and I expect many of you are hoping to see your families too.

It is the most important and special time of the year and one that stays in our memories forever.

I can still remember very vividly the excitement and anticipation when I was a little boy as Christmas got closer.

My father was a butcher in Lowestoft and hundreds of turkeys would be hanging in his shop window. My mother made Christmas puddings and mince pies and my brother and I helped her put up amazing decorations in the house.

On Christmas Eve we went to the midnight service in St Margaret’s Church which was in darkness when we went in and then at midnight the lights were turned on, and everyone rejoiced as the great day had finally arrived. I can see and smell it all!

How lucky I was to have that love of a family in the security of our own home. Of course, I took it for granted then and didn’tknow how lucky I was until Caroline and I started Hope and Homes for Children 26 years ago.

If a child has no family, no home and no love how can they be happy at Christmas or any other day of the year? We have been into numerous orphanages and never found that unconditional love of a real family.

For most of us this is unimaginable but it is a reality for countless children around the world like Maxim, whose tragic story has been desribed.

Our team in Moldova are in the process of giving the family all the help they need so that Maxim can join them at Christmas and will be able to live with them in the future.

What a magical Christmas present.

You, the wonderful readers of the EDP and our devoted Norfolk Support Group, have given us the most amazing support over us over the last 25 years and I hesitate to ask you for your help again when I know that so many people closer to home are suffering at the moment.

But if you could help us to get another child like Maxim back home into their own loving family, I promise you that this would be the most amazing present, the true gift of love.

Caroline and I wish you and your families that love for a very happy Christmas.

Please donate now to our Greatest Family Reunion festive appeal – to help rescue children from orphanages and keep vulnerable families together.”