Scots helping in Europe’s poorest nation

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November 12, 2021
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    Moldovan child holds his dog in poor districtMoldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe

    2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier: Moldova v Scotland
    Venue: Zimbru Stadium, Chisinau Date: Friday, 12 November Time: 17:00 GMT
    Coverage: Listen on Sportsound; watch highlights on Sportscene; follow text updates on BBC Sport website & app

    Any members of the Tartan Army who were on Scotland's only previous visit to Moldova in 2004 will remember the capital city of Chisinau as an underdeveloped and impoverished place.

    Now, 17 years on, the travelling Scots will experience a revitalised city with gleaming sport cars parked on the streets – but where the money for those comes from is another matter.

    Take a trip outside the capital and you will find parts of the country on their knees, still suffering from years of high migration and corruption crippling the state's revenue.

    However, the current political direction has delivered renewed optimism, with Moldova now governed by a pro-European party – one with anti-corruption at the top of its agenda – for the first time in three decades.

    But the country is still one of the poorest nations in Europe and also has one of the worst life expectancies on the continent.

    Here, BBC Scotland finds out how a group of fans from these shores are aiming to provide a little bit of assistance to the former Soviet nation.

    'Finding a charity was difficult'

    Until March this year, Covid-19 vaccinations were not a topic of debate in Moldova – they simply could not afford them.

    But thanks to financial backing from Russia, among others, an inoculation programme did begin in early March – almost three months later than in neighbouring Romania.

    Due to a lack of support from the previous government, which left citizens to their own devices, the impact of the pandemic has resulted in further impoverishment.

    The nation's countryside is badly in need of accelerated reform. That is where the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal (Tasa) – a charity set up by Scotland supporters in 2003 – aims to step in and offer a helping hand.

    "We're donating £3,000 to a children's charity," Neil Forbes, chairman of Tasa, tells BBC Scotland. "It's going to families who are trying to buy a farm about 80km outside Chisinau.

    He calls it "a lovely organisation" that supports poor and disabled children, and children with Down's syndrome.

    "They are aiming to rent the farm so the children can engage with animals," Forbes adds.

    "It has been difficult selecting a charity because a lot of the orphanages – which there are many – closed down due to the pandemic, but I think we've found a really good one to make our donation to."

    Moldovan man closes gates in poor area of the nationLarge districts of Moldova are badly in need of reform

    'The piper is focus of attention'

    With the help of the Moldovan FA and a "great friend called Google", Tasa was able to identify the charity that will become their 88th beneficiary.

    It is a remarkable achievement from the group which, since its official formation in 2003, has gifted contributions from £1,000 to £5,000 on every single Scotland away trip in that time. The most recent was a £3,000 donation to provide disabled access at a Faroese playground last month.

    Another playground – this time at a children's hospital – was funded on the last trip to Moldova in 2004 but the money is accompanied by a dose of Scottish culture too.

    "Usually we go out a day early and arrange a coach," Forbes says. "But this time the charity are bringing a few kids in to meet us. We turn up in kilts and quite often have a piper with us, who becomes the focus of attention.

    "The locals love it. Every time you get the raw emotion and raw facts of what's going on. It really is quite emotional and difficult, but it's rewarding to have the privilege on behalf of the Tartan Army to make presentations."

    'It's so humbling'

    Although Tasa's first official donation came in Lithuania in 2003, the idea to start the group stemmed from a bar chat in Sarajevo four years earlier.

    Some Scotland fans learnt of a young boy named Kemal Karic, who tragically lost his limbs as a baby when his mother stepped on a landmine while holding him.

    Sadly, Kemal's mother did not survive and there were no finances available to fit the youngster with prosthetic limbs. So Scotland fans got together to raise money for life-saving treatment – kicking off over two decades of charity work.

    Forbes has been involved for almost half of that time, but picks out two poignant moments that still make him "well up" today.

    "In 2012, we donated to a children's ward in Brussels," he says. "A lot of the kids were terminally ill.

    "The father of one kid, who had days to live, asked me to present him with a Scotland top. The father was in tears, the mother was in tears and so was I just about. It was so humbling we could do that.

    "Then in Budapest in 2017, we organised £5,000 for an orphanage nursery. On the back of that, a St Andrews society put £5,000 in, a Robert Burns international foundation put £5,000 in, so did a Hungarian-Irish business association.

    "Rather than just painting and decorating the nursery, they were able to renovate them. I have great friends in Budapest to this day as a result of that."


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