It’s been a journey to Romania of a quarter-century-and-counting for Ian Tilling. During that time he has been instrumental in setting up long-term shelters in Bucharest, the capital, initially for orphans, later for the homeless, and later still for families suffering from domestic abuse.
Casa Ioana, which he founded 20 years ago, recently opened a second night shelter in Bucharest, where women and children can go to feel safe and start to rebuild their lives. The charity is also about to roll out a series of courses to help recovering women develop job skills.
“Without a job the chances of changing the situation [for these women] is quite remote. The only way out really is through employment,” says Mr. Tilling, sitting in the historic Old Town neighborhood in the heart of downtown Bucharest.
Tilling, a retired police detective from England, first came to Romania after seeing disturbing televised images of institutionalized children that were broadcast around the world following the Romanian revolution in December 1989.
“My wife asked me if I had seen the pictures coming out of Romania, the awful images of children languishing in orphanages,” says Tilling, explaining his first glimpse of the country that would come to dominate his life.
Within six weeks he and a British nurse had gathered up supplies and were driving across Europe in a borrowed van filled with donated baby food, diapers, toys, and medicine. They ended up at an orphanage called Plataresti, a “hellhole 40 minutes drive outside Bucharest,” Tilling recalls.
At Plataresti, Tilling was asked to help with a group of twenty 7- to- 9-year-olds who lived together in one room. Their cots were lined up 10 on each wall “like a row of prison cells” and the children never left them, he says. Most were still being bottle fed. The smell was awful. Tilling was tasked with talking with the children and keeping them clean, neither an easy task.
“For the month I was working there I was numb,” he says. Yet during the drive back across the Continent to Britain he decided he must go back to Romania. A little while later he did return, this time with 298 other people and a convoy of 100 trucks with supplies.