A newly qualified Registered Mental Nurse was doing voluntary work at a small hospital for abandoned babies with HIV in Romania and was taken to Tarnaveni Hospital. He was profoundly moved by what he saw and by the overwhelming levels of need.
He believed that “driving over lorry loads of aid and walking away feeling like we’d achieved something was not the solution. I wanted to get to the heart of the problem and to find out what was wanted.”
The Tarnaveni Project was founded by a group of psychiatric nurses based in London, Birmingham and Swansea as part of The Relief Fund for Romania.
The project provided aid such as bedding, but the main purpose was sending volunteers to work with the patients and staff.
An Occupational Therapist persuaded the hospital to open up a basement room to provide therapeutic activities for patients.
The project continued to organise some overland trips along with short volunteer placements.
Volunteers for Mental Health became a registered charity and an independent organisation.
It began to recruit long-term volunteers to work with patients, prioritising this over the supply trips.
Volunteers divided their time between working on the wards and providing activity in the basement room, which became known as the "Club".
There was a break in volunteer activity while the board reviewed its work in the hospital.
New trustees were recruited to join the board and placements began again the next year.
Volunteers began to organise structured programmes of activities for patients and to hold regular meetings with Nurse Managers.
A translator was employed to help with communication, promote understanding and improve working relations with hospital staff.
Romania joined the EU and new legislation led to significant challenges for the hospital and a period of uncertainty for the charity.
Trustees commissioned an independent review of its work by an experienced V.S.O. volunteer and some key recommendations were adopted, including a move towards localising the project.
VfMH appointed a Romanian Volunteer Coordinator in partnership with Pro Vobis, the Romanian National Resource Centre for Volunteerism.
It also created a formal Collaboration Agreement with the hospital as a first step to localizing operations.
The Coordinator’s role was to oversee the work of volunteers on placement at the hospital and act as a link between hospital and the charity.
VfMH set out a new Vision, Mission and Goals with objectives for 3 years and continued to recruit volunteers for placements of 3 – 6 months.
The hospital opened a new Occupational Therapy Department and VfMH was invited to move into the unit with the aim of developing collaborative working.
The next year the Volunteer Coordinator left the charity and the post remained vacant.
Trustees reviewed the Vision, Mission, Goals and set new 3 year strategic objectives with a clear direction for the future work of the charity.
A Development Director was appointed to develop strategic planning and to promote community based alternatives to institutional care whilst based as a long-term volunteer in Tarnaveni.
Two staff members from Tarnaveni were recruited to support UK volunteers and went on to run the activities programme independently, providing consistency and culturally appropriate support for patients.
A new Development Lead role was created for a Romanian consultant to develop the work of VfMH in Romania according to the Delivery Plan
This post holder was also to assist in recruiting and leading a small team of Romanian staff, to deliver support to patients and to develop and extend opportunities for community based activities.
Work began on setting up an NGO based in Tarnaveni, to take over provision of the service, together with a greater focus on providing services based in the community.