Bulgarian orphans who need our help

IT started with a love of a country’s beaches, its cost of living and the culture of a people recently set free from the mannacles of communism.

But for one Belton couple, what was previously a favourite holiday destination has developed into something more.

Their dedication to helping orphaned children in Bulgaria has met with such a generous local response, that they have had to dedicate an entire room in their home to baby clothes.

Grandparents Jennifer and Steve Lawson first visited the former Eastern bloc country in 1989, and following repeat trips back, eventually bought a holiday home there. But it was while at a bar run by British ex-pats a short distance from their new bungalow in Rogachovo last year that they first heard of a nearby orphanage.

Jennifer, 57, who used to work at holiday camps around the East Norfolk area, said: “We got friendly with the English family which run the bar and they were appealing for baby clothes.”

Steve and Jennifer decided to have a look at the orphanage themselves, and they fell in love with the children it cares for – currently it is looking after 168 youngsters aged from newborn up to the age of three.

Jennifer told The Mercury: “I remember hearing appeals about similar orphanages and it was better than I thought it might be, but the nurses don’t have the time or power to give constant attention, so we went there and gave the children a cuddle.”

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And when returning earlier this summer, the Belton couple went prepared with two large cases of baby clothes, supplies and toys – having put out an appeal locally and gained a great response.

Jennifer added: “It was brilliant, and we had hundreds of items donated because people were so generous. The venture scouts at Burgh Castle helped out, and we had a woman who made children’s clothes make some for us. When we went back this year with the clothes the nurses were over the moon. It meant they could give extra clothes to sick children and really made life easier for them.”

And on a six-week trip from which they have just returned, as well as relaxing, Jennifer helped organise a group of 11 from the bar to help tend the orphanage’s garden and lend a hand with caring.

With money raised previously they were also able to donate an air conditioning unit.

Daughter Donna Hanton accompanied them and her mum revealed she burst into tears just thinking about the parents who had had to give up their children – unable to care for them due to a lack of money.

She said: “When you’re there you can’t help but get attached, and I fell in love with one little boy called Ahgen, which means angel in English. He was a giggler.”

She added that the family who run the bar have now bought a van, and when they return to the UK to visit they will not be limited by airline restrictions on what they can carry.

Jennifer explained: “They will be able to pick up the bits and pieces from me which are filling up a spare bedroom.”

Steve and Jennifer hope to go back to Bulgaria at Christmas.

Anyone interested in donating clothes for babies or toddlers can give Jennifer a call on 07774505128.