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Pembroke Christians send aid to Croatia

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The Kalaš family: Now have a home thanks to Omri and Betty Arnold

The Kalaš family: Now have a home thanks to Omri and Betty Arnold

RETURNING from a two week visit to Croatia, which was organised to celebrate 25 years of links with Croatian churches, Pastor Rob James of Westgate Chapel in Pembroke said: “People say a week is a long time in politics but, as far as I am concerned, a quarter of a century is but a fleeting moment when it comes to Christian fellowship.

“I first got involved with Croatian Baptists when civil war broke out in 1991 and a close friend felt he ought to take humanitarian aid which could be distributed through their newly formed organisation ‘My Neighbour’.

“It has proved to be a deeply humbling and hugely inspiring experience.

“We have built long lasting and very deep friendships with our Christian brothers and sisters and we can look back with a sense of wonder when we think about the staggering amount of aid we have been able to take there over the years.”

“It was particularly moving to meet up with two members of the Kalaš family, former Bosnian refugees who now have a new home thanks, not least, to Omri and Betty Arnold of Pembroke who simply could not rest until they had done something to help them.”

The current trip was no humanitarian mission, explained Rob: “More than 70 of us travelled by coach to Rijeka. We wanted to celebrate our 25 years of partnership in the new pastoral centre currently being built by the local Baptist Church.

“We have been intimately involved in this project from the beginning. The foundation stone was laid in 2004 and we are amazed when we think of the progress that this small group of people has made. The new building (which has a roof shaped like praying hands) is in use, even if not completed, and has cost more than 1m euros to date.

“They have raised much of the cash themselves – although they have hugely encouraged by two amazing donations in particular. A German businessman gave a gift of half a million euros and even their bank gave them a further 100,000 euros to further the work. As I see it, their story is both a testimony to their commitment and to God’s goodness and can’t wait to see it completed.”

Expressing his deepest thanks on behalf of Rijeka Baptist Church, Srecko Ilionsovic said: “When the war started, there were some 80 or 90 people in our church. Things were very different then and because of this the church had a very different mindset.

“The repressive communist regime did not welcome social engagement and we could do no work in the community. That meant we were closed in on ourselves. However, things began to change in the two years before the war, and when it finally broke out we seized our opportunity and began to distribute humanitarian aid. This was our biggest form of outreach and as a result of it we developed good links and great credibility within our community.

“But now we are facing new challenges. We do not need humanitarian aid in the way we did before, although there are some 400,000 unemployed in Croatia and we do some work with refugees fleeing through Bosnia. Standards have changed too. Institutions that we once helped, such as the hospital, would not be content with secondhand equipment now. This new multi-functional centre will help us continue to engage with the community, although our main goal is still that of reaching people with the message of the Christian gospel. The centre will allow us to do much more than hold Sunday Services. If it were just used for that, we would not need it at all.”

Reflecting on the past 25 years, Skewen-based team leader John Thomas said: “I’ve been planning this trip for over a year. The original intention was to be present at the official opening of the Pastoral Centre but, when we realised they would not be able to complete it in time, we turned it into a holiday and celebration of a quarter century of mission and fellowship.

“Our Christian brothers and sisters gave us a truly wonderful welcome and we had a really blessed service on the Sunday morning. It was a very, very special occasion for every one of us. We worshipped together, we sang for them and I was privileged to preach the sermon.

“We reflected on all that had happened and I was presented with a plaque to mark the occasion. The service concluded with communion, with Pastor Rob James assisting at the table. This was followed by a fantastic lunch that had to be seen to be believed.

“As for the future, we hope to be present at their official opening but, looking back on this trip, I think I am reflecting everyone’s feelings when I say it has been a wonderful time and we thank God for his travelling mercies. I was in my mid-fifties when all this started and never ever dreamed that it would end up like this, although we all know that it hasn’t ended yet.”

To everyone’s amazement, Project Nehemiah was soon helping refugee families to purchase new homes! Pembroke-based Omri Arnold, a regular member of the teams, met the Kalas family while he and his wife, Betty, were on holiday in Croatia in the summer of 2001.

Stipo Kalaš suffered from epilepsy and he had escaped from Grgići in central Bosnia with his wife and two children, Ivana and Dragan, some 10 years before. The family had lost everything – even Stipo’s medication. Relocated in Croatia, the family found themselves the only Croats in a hostel full of Muslims (their persecutors in Bosnia) and girls who had turned to prostitution.

The family of four had been forced to live in one appalling room for eight years. Confronted with this harrowing situation, Omri said that he and Betty knew they ‘had to do something’. “That hour’s experience was unforgettable,” he explained. “It made us realise without any doubt that ‘we were their neighbours’.”

On returning to Pembroke, the Arnolds shared their concerns with their neighbours and especially with the staff and pupils of Monkton School, where Omri’s daughter was the school secretary. In fact, he told them that they would love to help the family to obtain a ‘cosy little house with a garden big enough to grow their own vegetables and even keep some chickens’.

Omri was then told that there was a suitable house for sale for £7,000 and so he immediately set about raising the necessary cash. And it didn’t prove difficult. As he explained: “People sent gifts from all over South Wales. Less than six months later we were able to give the family enough money to purchase a three bedroomed home in the peaceful village of Lic.”

Omri was overwhelmed by the generosity he encountered, especially from the pupils of Monkton School. “The school is itself in a very needy area,” Omri said. “But some of the children even went without a piece of toast in their breakfast club to support the Kalaš family.”

It gave Omri an immense sense of joy to report back to the school. “We are greatly encouraged by the gifts you have given,” he told one packed school assembly. “It means the family have been able to buy a wonderful house and pay for the 5% land tax. This is really important because it means they can get passports as citizens of Croatia.

“The house has been beautifully refurbished and will allow Mr and Mrs Kalaš, their two children and their aged mother and father, to live in their own new home and garden in peaceful surroundings. What a difference to having to live in a single room of 14ft by 10ft for the rest of their lives.”

All of this had an enormous impact on Omri; years later, he still recalls standing in the kitchen of his own home reflecting on how the Kalaš family must be feeling. He said: “When there were sufficient funds to instruct Srećko to buy the home, I felt as if a physical presence took a heavy weight off my shoulders and it was replaced by a joy in my heart. It became a quiet assurance that the waiting for the money was over.

“For me, there was nothing more to be done and all my anxieties were swept away. Calmness. Finished. Oh Hallelujah.”

It reminded him of the joy he had felt when he had bought land to build his own home some 30 years before. He remembered thinking: “It’s my very own – I belong to Pembroke,” he said. “My mind instantly went to the village of Lič and to the Kalaš family.

The vision wasn’t limited to the Kalaš family because there were soon enough funds to purchase homes for the Gavrić and the Lesic family as well as help other refugee families with their varying needs.

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Community

Library reservations service expanded

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PEMBROKESHIRE’S Library Service has extended its reservation service.

Customers can place up to two reservations for books and audiobooks, which are available and in stock at libraries in Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Milford Haven, Narberth, Newport, Neyland, Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Saundersfoot and Tenby.

Items are also available to reserve from the service’s Stack (store).

Library members can place reservations free of charge, in person or via the online catalogue.

To access the online catalogue, log on to https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/libraries-and-culture and select ‘Find Library Books’.

Customers can also place a request for an item not currently in stock, to be purchased as one of their two reservations.

The Library Service is not offering an Interlibrary Loan service at the present time.

For details on the library services currently offered in Pembrokeshire, please view https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/libraries-and-culture

 

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Extra police patrols at Tenby skate park after ‘men approached young girls’

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CONCERNED locals in Tenby have taken to social media to write about concerns of inappropriate behaviour – between males they think may have been asylum seekers currently housed at Penally Army Camp – and young girls in Tenby.

The police have said they are investigating the matter.

Witnesses have said that young girls have been approached by males while at the skate park in Tenby.

The Home Office has said that the camp will be used to house up to 250 male asylum seekers whilst their claims are processed due to a shortage of alternative accommodation, caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Reports circulating on Facebook have claimed to have direct knowledge that male residents of the camp have been talking and exchanging contact information with local school girls, some suggesting that they were in school uniform when talking with the men.

However, the police have not confirmed that that is the case – it remains an unproved allegation.

One local claimed on Facebook: “So tonight a few of us concerned local parents decided to go to Tenby skate park.

“As we got there two young girls where sat on a bench waiting for someone.

“Some kids told us they were the ones talking to the men yesterday exchanging Snap Chat details and stuff.

“Then the men from the day before turned up… saw us and scurried off down the beach.

“The two girls then quickly wandered off.

“These girls were about 14.”

One resident had stated that they had reported the incidents he had seen and heard to the local police station, he claimed that an officer told him they were in talks with Greenhill School about the incidents.

Pembrokeshire County Council said that they are unable to comment on the alleged incidents, however a spokesman told The Herald in a statement: “All I would say is that our schools regularly advise pupils not to engage with strangers.”

Dyfed-Powys Police confirmed they are investigating two alleged incidents at the skate park, and have been in contact with the local schools.

A police spokesperson told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “We have received two reports of alleged inappropriate behaviour at the skate park in Tenby and are looking to speak to the people who contacted us.

“In the meantime the skate park is now part of our patrol plans and we have linked in with local schools to reinforce the School Beat Stay SMART online messaging.”

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Community

Off-duty lifesavers were lost but ready to react

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A PEMBROKESHIRE man whose life was saved by multiple twists of fate has praised those who stepped in during his hour of need.

Keen amateur triathlete Steven Landrey, 51, of Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, was out on a post-lockdown bike ride when he suffered a cardiac arrest that was to set off the incredible chain of events.

Steven said: “We were about 40km into an 80km ride when it happened.

“It was strange and lucky as only two weeks earlier I was running alone in Paris, and the night before I swam 2km alone in the sea, and during lockdown had done lots of exercise on my own.

“But that day, I had met my brother-in-law, Chris, and some friends.

“I dread to think what would have happened if I would have been alone.”

Meanwhile, just a mile or so away was off-duty Welsh Ambulance Service Community First Responder Angharad Hodgson, from Martletwy, and her firefighter partner Steve Bradfield, from Narbeth.

Steven Landrey, 51, of Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

“We were heading to meet friends at Barfundle Beach. We hadn’t been there for a few years so were following the sat-nav in the car,” said Angharad.

“We were running late and had taken a wrong turn as the sat-nav must have frozen or lost signal.

“We decided to turn back on ourselves, and that’s when we saw Steven on the floor being worked on by Chris.”

Always travelling with their defibrillator and kit, Angharad and Steve, who is also a trained medical responder, were able to pull over swiftly and step in with their life-saving defibrillator.

Angharad, 23, said: “We put the pad on his chest and after about 30 manual chest compressions, Steven had stopped breathing and the defibrillator told us we could shock him twice.

“We did it and he came back to us, but his breathing was very sticky so we continued CPR until the air and land ambulances arrived to take over.”

Steven was taken by road to Swansea’s Morriston Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to fit a stent into a lower left artery of his heart, which had flooded with blood and caused the cardiac arrest.

Steven is making a good recovery at home and is taking the first steps back to work in his role as a European Managing Director for Babcock Aviation, an aerial emergency services business.

He said: “I’m working with the National Cardiac Referral Scheme and also a personal trainer and am feeling well and getting strength back every day.

“With my work, I have seen emergency care provision across Europe and Canada and the care I received at every step of the way here in Wales has been world-class.

“I can’t thank Chris, Angharad, Steve, the air ambulance crew and the paramedics enough, along with the doctors and surgeons at Morriston, they were all amazing.

“I realise everything went my way that day, and for those few hours I was the luckiest man alive, but having these trained people in our communities to support emergency medical services is absolutely vital.

“Community First Responders like Angharad, CPR training and Public Access Defibrillators really do save lives and are to be respected.”

Glyn Thomas, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Community First Responder Officer in Mid and West Wales, said: “The prompt actions of Angharad and Steve were no doubt a major factor in the patient’s survival.

“Even off-duty as they were, they demonstrated control and organisation – they are both a credit to their communities and organisations.

“We wish Steven a smooth recovery and all the best for the future.”

Today is Restart a Heart Day, a national initiative run by the Resuscitation Council UK, British Heart Foundation, St John Ambulance and the ambulance services across the UK to promote education around Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).

In the absence of physical events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Welsh Ambulance Service is encouraging people to watch a video by Resuscitation Council UK and keep an eye on social media from partners like Save a Life Cymru who are promoting key messages such as early recognition of cardiac arrest, early CPR and early defibrillation.

Restart a Heart Day runs parallel to the Trust’s month-long Shoctober campaign which aims to educate primary school children on the benefits of getting confident with CPR – even making this brilliant animated video.

Angharad, who also works for the local authority’s social services team in Pembrokeshire, has been a Community First Responder since April 2019 and was inspired to make that brave step by another incident back in 2018.

She said: “I was driving home from shopping along the A40 in Carmarthen when I came across a terrible car accident on the opposite carriageway.

“I pulled my car over and crossed the road to try and assist without any thought process really.

“Seeing the work of the paramedics on scene really spurred me on to become a Community First Responder.

“I’d like to thank Tony Wall who is my CFR Co-ordinator for being so supportive and giving so much of his time to fundraise for life saving equipment such as defibrillators in local communities.”

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