AS the festive season gets underway and minds turn to a time of good fun and celebrations, one County Down man is making his final preparations for a road trip that will take him more than a thousand miles across Europe.
In a few weeks’ time Robert Maxwell (45) from Seaforde will be loading up his Land Rover with clothes, medical supplies and other items and making his way Romania.
Robert, a former solider with the Royal Irish Regiment, lost his right arm as a result of a road traffic accident nine years ago.
From then he has spent considerable time working with Blesma (British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association) which helps to provide support and assistance to service men and women wounded during service.
That work has taken him from Africa to America and many places in between.
It was Robert’s work with amputee ex-servicemen and women that made him acutely aware of the difficulties faced by children and young people in Romania.
“I have been involved with the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen for some time now and one of the trips I took part in was to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania,” explained Robert.
“It was a great trip and a truly beautiful part of the world. We also visited Bucharest and that is where I became aware of children who were living on the streets, abandoned by their families. They had nothing and simply approached people asking for money or food.”
This prompted Robert into action and on his return home he began searching for local groups who were doing charitable work in Romania. His research found Carryduff Baptist Church, who carry out work in Sibiu, in the Transylvania region, and the Sunshine Foundation from Co Armagh, who do work specifically with children and young people.
Robert will be bringing relief aid to both these projects as well as an orphanage north of Bucharest and paying a visit to a hospital to see Dr Mares Vireol.
Robert added: “I will be bringing clothes and medical supplies as well as wheelchairs out to these places. I’m looking forward to meeting Dr Vireol – he’s a brilliant guy.”
Like any trip planning is important but for Robert it is absolutely vital.
He continued: “I wanted to make sure I was taking the right things out to Romania – items that were really needed.
“People have been very generous with donations and the Land Rover will be full to the top when we load it up.”
However, Robert does need some sponsorship and support for a very important item and he is hoping the rural community, particularly businesses, can assist.
“I am very grateful for all the support I have received so far, but I do still require help with fuel,” explained Robert.
“I’m looking for four businesses that would be prepared to sponsor me the cost of some fuel. In return for their support I will be making a calendar, the profits from which will then go back to help the charities.
“I have been delighted with the support I have received so far. My Land Rover has been upgraded thanks to support from Trillick Land Rover Centre, and the UFU offices at Downpatrick and Rathfriland have agreed to accept donations for me.
“I’m from a farming background myself – my father and uncle have been farming for more than 50 years – I know the rural community and I’m hoping they can help,” he added.
To say this project is far removed from what Robert would normally be doing at this time of year is quite an understatement. Normally he would be hard at work as an adaptive snowboard instructor, which might see him on slopes in Austria or even America, however Robert is ready for this new challenge.
“This is something out of the ordinary,” said Robert.
“But it is to try and make a difference to the lives of children who have little or nothing so I’m ready for it.
“Stena have sponsored me the boat trip which takes me from Belfast to Liverpool and then from Harwich to Holland – after that it’s on the road from Germany to the Czech Republic, possibly through Austria or Hungary and into Romania.
“I know it won’t be easy – but I’m looking forward to it,”he added.
For anyone wanting to sponsor Robert he can be contacted on 07860 573 989 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.