Retired Derry firefighter Wills Lynch will travel to the poorest reaches of Romania, Moldova and Ukraine for the 28th year running this summer on his ongoing mission to improve the lot of the most impoverished communities in Europe.
The Drumahoe-man has been travelling to the fringes of the continent, delivering much needed food aid since the collapse of the Ceaușescu regime in 1989 and hasn’t looked back.
This Friday, April 12, at Glendermott Presbyterian Church Hall, Wills has organised an evening of Gospel Praise during which an offering will be taken up for anyone able to make a contribution to his mission in Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine.
Commence at 8 p.m. it will feature music from Margaret Johnston, Acclaimed, Heavenly Sunshine, George Graham and James Strange.
Wills says the proceeds will be used to help pay for medical supplies, food aid and educational equipment from Botoșani, Iași and Pașcani in northern Romania, through Orhei in Moldova, right into the western Ukraine.
“We did a lot of Romania last year, right down the east side of Romania from Iași and then the north visiting poor people, hospitals and children’s homes.
“We were up in the very north of Moldova, our first time there, for a week. We went into Orhei in the north of Moldova and worked there, around some of the poorest homes and the villages.
“The people are very, very poor. They have to pay for all of their medicine.
“Elderly people are sitting with ulcers and boils and if they get treatment, they get treatment. They get one meal a day. We give them food help, pay for medical treatment, electric for a month or so, pay for gas bottles for a bit of heat,” he explains.
This year’s mission will be a particularly poignant one for Wills who in January lost his missionary colleague and friend Marchal to oesophageal cancer at the age of just 64.
Marchal, a native of Romania, provide Wills with much needed linguistic and logistical support and the pair worked hand-in-glove together from the early 1990s.
“Marchal was in England for treatment and I had to leave him there when I went out last summer. In October/November when his health allowed him he came out for a few runs.
“We went to an orphanage in Sebeș, dead centre. We bought them tonnes and tonnes of potatoes for the winter time. We buy about 40 or 50 tonnes from the local farmers. Around the winter time it’s a good food source and can be used for a lot of things.
“A couple of bags of potatoes goes a long way.”
Wills says Romania is now beginning to see some of the benefits of European Union membership, which it has enjoyed since 2007.
“Romania is well-up. It’s like here. If you go into Bucharest you can go to a Ferrari garage now. You have an airport like Belfast International, as good as that. Big firms like Sony, DuPont, Samsung, John Deere, all these companies have moved in, but it’s all in Bucharest.
“When you go out to the villages and to the North it’s much different and you don’t have to go too far in the cities to find the slums.”