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article imageMan Who Brings The Light lifts Romania's poor out of darkness

By Mihaela RODINA (AFP)     Aug 29, 2017 in World

It is late, but Nicoleta Monea and her children cannot sleep. This is the last night the family will spend without electricity, thanks to "The Man Who Brings The Light".

For five years now Iulian Angheluta and his Light For Romania project have been bringing power into some of the lowest-income homes in the European Union's second poorest nation.

The Moneas, who get by on little more than 100 euros ($118) a month for a family of eight, certainly qualify.

Their home in the village of Gorbanesti, in the northern Botosani region, lies in one of the most deprived parts of Romania.

Many have left the area in search of work in richer parts of Europe since Romania joined the EU a decade ago.

Along with poverty, lack of property deeds and even family inheritance disputes contribute to the fact that nearly 100,000 homes remain cut off from the national grid, forcing families to live by the rhythms of the sun.

Almost 100 000 homes in Romania  the second poorest country in the EU  still have no electricity
Almost 100,000 homes in Romania, the second poorest country in the EU, still have no electricity
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI, AFP

"The children have had to do their homework as soon as they got home," said Nicoleta, 39.

"If they left it too late, night fell and they couldn't see any more. Sometimes they were left in tears."

The Moneas have lived in the same rundown house for 20 years, and their children all grew up here.

"It was hard, especially when they were babies," Nicoleta added.

- 'Doing the government's job' -

"We are doing the job of the government, who are funded with our taxes," said Angheluta, a 42-year-old former advertising executive, as he and three volunteers unloaded their gear at the Moneas' home.

"There is an energy strategy that is passed on from one government to the next, but nothing actually gets done."

Cash-strapped authorities admit that a promised electrification programme is effectively dead.

The Moneas get by on little more than 100 euros ($118) a month for a family of eight
The Moneas get by on little more than 100 euros ($118) a month for a family of eight
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI, AFP

Nearly 99,000 homes were supposed to have been connected to the grid between 2012 and 2016, but the economy ministry told AFP the work was never done because the government could not scrape together the required 210 million euros.

Angheluta's solution is to install solar panels in selected houses and schools, criss-crossing the country to spread the light.

The Moneas, the 92nd family to benefit, get by on welfare payments of 90 euros a month, topped up by meagre extra earnings from the children's father Georgica for tending to the neighbours' cows.

Until now, their only source of light has been a tiny, battery-powered LED bulb, and occasionally a candle to light their Orthodox icon.

"When Dad has to charge his mobile phone, we go to a neighbour's," said 14-year-old Catalin.

And even that's not free, his mother pointed out. "We paid six lei (about 1.30 euros) to charge the battery."

The solar panels will provide enough power to charge Georgica's phone and keep the lights on, though a refrigerator still remains out of reach.

- Tears of joy -

The renewable energy means no electricity bills, and the family did not have to pay the 1,000 euros it cost to install the panels, either.

Iulian Angheluta  a former advertising executive  says his team are doing work that should be done b...
Iulian Angheluta, a former advertising executive, says his team are doing work that should be done by the government
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI, AFP

"We have sponsors who finance our operations according to their means: some pay for a house or a school, others for a whole village," said Angheluta, adding that his team prioritises households with large numbers of children.

Not far from the Moneas, Vasile Iftimie and his wife Anca were also waiting for solar panels.

"I said to myself that if my house was to be lit up, it would be as if we were in paradise," said 35-year-old Vasile, a father of five.

The winters are the hardest. "The nights are so long and the children just sit there, in the dark, without doing anything," he said.

Angheluta said lighting was "a step forward" for Romania's poorest, "but people are lacking so many things -- education, money, access to a health system."

And sometimes, when free help is offered, it is greeted with suspicion.

"People have trouble believing that we are lighting their house for free," he said. But he has seen old men burst in tears after seeing their homes connected to the grid.

In contrast, Angheluta said some children seem too traumatised by a life in desperate poverty to show much emotion after seeing the lights go on.

"But I know that in the evening, once we have gone, they'll play with the light switch and dream of cartoons."

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