Still hoping, still helping
PUBLISHED: 06:26 06 October 2014 | UPDATED: 07:20 06 October 2014
Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Norfolk people have a tremendous reputation for fundraising and for supporting those in need both at home and around the world. This was evidenced in the remarkable response 20 years ago to the call for help by Beccles-born retired British UN commander Mark Cook, who launched the charity Hope and Homes for Children.
It was 1994 when Mark and his wife Caroline visited the Bjelave Children’s Institution in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Mark, who previously served as commander of the British contingent of the UN protection force in the former Yugoslavia, knew only too well the devastating consequences of Sarajevo’s long-running siege. But when he and Caroline went to the Bjelave Institution, they discovered 120 babies and children living in awful and dangerous conditions, with no glass in the windows, no running water or electricity and very little food. These children, who had already suffered the ordeal of being orphaned or abandoned, were now living in poverty, fear and misery, with little hope for a happier future.
“It was absolutely shocking to see that a home for neglected children had been deliberately and relentlessly shelled,” recalls Mark. “The children were so alone, distressed and living in such perilous conditions.”
On returning home, the Cooks set up Hope and Homes for Children, and soon found support in the readers of our sister newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press. The thousands of pounds that generous readers gave helped rebuild war torn buildings and support the children. Since then though the charity has continued to grow, both in terms of its ambitions and the numbers of children around the world that it has been able to help.
At first Hope and Homes for Children focused on improving the living conditions of children in state-run institutions, rebuilding war torn buildings, investing in equipment and facilities, and sending out qualified childcare volunteers to provide training to existing staff. As the years passed though it adopted a more radical appraoch to really transform lives by closing down orphanages and setting up family-based alternative care, and by working with families to prevent them breaking down. Today the charity works in nine countries across Central and Eastern Europe and Africa, with many of the skills learned along the way now recognised as best practice by governments and organisations, including Unicef and the World Health Organisation.