Celebrating 20 Years of Partnership
By Adam Jenkins, Master in Charge of the Moldova Project, Lower School Housemaster and Classics teacher

Moldova is a small Eastern European country, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, it has, since becoming independent in 1991, been considered the poorest country in Europe by most calculations. It is not generally seen as a major tourist destination and most people in the UK would not even be able to place it on a map, and yet well over 150 Abingdon pupils have visited it in recent years and there are many pupils in Moldova who know all about Abingdon School.

Our partnership with Agape, a charity based in Moldova working with poor and disadvantaged communities, celebrates its twentieth anniversary this term. It is a partnership that has seen numerous fundraising events organised at school over the years and nearly £85,000 raised to support Agape’s work, but it is a partnership that is about far more than just raising money and which has been of incalculable worth to both sides.

In 2003 we took a small group of pupils to Moldova to find out more about how our donations were being used by Agape in what was almost certainly the first ever visit by a UK school to the country. We stayed with Moldovan families in Ialoveni, a small town near the capital city Chisinau, and were treated to the most amazing hospitality both in their homes and everywhere else we visited. Much of the money we had sent to Agape at this point had gone to supporting educational projects and one of the highlights of the trip was spending time in some of the local schools, giving the Moldovan children the chance to practise speaking English. A particular memory that stands out is attending a concert at one of these schools that had been put on in our honour and gradually realising as it went on that we would be expected to “perform” something at the end of the concert – a rapidly formulated battleplan led to the Abingdon boys singing the rather eclectic mix of ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘God Save the Queen’, and ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ (the latter with considerable audience participation for the animal noises)!

Since then trips to Moldova have focussed on organising summer camps for children from Ialoveni and the surrounding villages. Abingdon sixth formers have taught English lessons, organised art, drama and music sessions, led film-making and photography workshops, and run lots of sporting activities, even managing to successfully introduce the concept of cricket to Moldova. All these activities have been embraced with great enthusiasm by the Moldovan children and it has often been the case that we have seen the numbers attending increase each day as the word spreads round the local area that the Abingdon boys are back – one notable occasion saw nearly 200 children arriving for a day’s entertainment. Friendships have formed very quickly and there have often been many tears shed, both English and Moldovan, at the end of the camp when it is time to say goodbye.

The benefits to the Moldovan children we have run the camps for and to those families and schools who have benefitted from the financial donations we have made are obvious, but the benefits for the Abingdon boys have also been considerable. They have, of course, had to develop their communication and leadership skills in order to run a successful activity session with a group of Moldovan children. They have perhaps gained a better understanding of how much planning and organisation their own teachers put in to putting together lessons – even if that has only come at the point when the material they have planned for an hour long English lesson has run out after 10 minutes – and they have certainly had to push themselves out of their comfort zones on a regular basis, especially during the annual ritual by which they attempt to dance the Moldovan hora!

But it is also the case that many of the boys who have travelled to Moldova have got to know themselves better on the trip and questioned what really matters to them – seeing how generous Moldovan families are with what little they have is a very eye-opening experience that makes you wonder about how much we take for granted, while observing a Moldovan boy be so proud of the paper aeroplane that he has made and decorated that he keeps it with him every day for the next week certainly makes you question whether you really need to have the most up to date bit of technological kit.

As part of an Abingdon education, we should be encouraging our very fortunate boys to see themselves as people who must try to “make a difference”, both while at school but also in their later lives. The Moldova Project has certainly seen pupils do that for the last 20 years and proven that it is often when we are making a difference to others that we also make a big difference to ourselves.

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