In 2022, as part of our committment to support the communities in which we work, we donated £2,000 to the Yoyo Foundation in Transylvania, Romania, run by our friends and long-term culinary collaborators Anca and Charlie and their friend Marianne. They are community heroes. In August 2023, journalist and Slow Cyclist guide Iancu sat down with them and chatted about their various social and charitable projects.
The late afternoon sun covers the Transylvanian landscape in a warm glow as we rest, cool drinks in hand, on the porch of Anca and Charlie’s hillside home in Saschiz. I remember meeting the Romanian-French couple for the first time – entering their long Saxon yard with the house on one side, barn on the other and a vegetable garden and an orchard at the back. This is where Slow Cyclists have been welcomed since 2015, with Anca’s “cabbage lasagna” proving a reliable shortcut to a cyclist’s heart.
But Anca and Charlie have so much more on their plate. Having met as students in 2005, they moved to Anca’s native village of Saschiz and worked for the local NGO “Adept”, focusing on the preservation of rural customs and communities. This is where their culinary journey started, as they prepared jams and chutneys first in the NGO’s shared kitchen, then in their own kitchen after the couple converted Anca’s late grandfather’s house. During the restoration, Charlie taught himself carpentry – a hobby that he eventually turned into a full-time pursuit.
Then, there’s the community-building. The Neighborhood Women organisation, of which Anca is an active member, is based on a traditional Saxon support network and has multiple purposes – from everyday assistance between neighbours to advocating for local people’s rights and promoting traditional customs through events such as the annual Saschiz Rhubarb Festival which has gained nationwide notoriety. Anca and Charlie are also constantly getting involved in initiatives to improve the life of the local community: they were amongst the earliest supporters of the most significant private initiative in the field of active tourism in Romania – the 1,400 km Via Transilvanica walking trail – opening up their house, yard and kitchen for the volunteers working on building the trail, then maintaining its local segment.
But their most important effort stems from a tragic event – the poisoning of their dog, a rescue called Yoyo, by a neighbour. This is what stirred Anca, Charlie and their friend Marianne into starting their biggest project, an NGO dedicated to protecting the vulnerable, be it human or animal. Of course, it had to be named “Yoyo”. It focuses on preventing the abandonment of unwanted puppies and kittens by offering free sterilization campaigns for cats and dogs in Saschiz and the surrounding villages, as well as informal education for children. Before setting up the association, Anca and Charlie used their own resources: “I started doing this precisely because nobody else was doing it”, Anca tells me. “At first, I asked for donations from my friends and family, of £2 pounds a month. When I collected enough money, I used it to sterilize a dog or a cat. We are fortunate to have the support of local veterinarians Agnes and Răzvan Oacheș – the latter a childhood friend. As the locals grew accustomed to the idea, I started getting more requests, to the point of being overwhelmed. That’s when I decided to set up the association, so we could raise more money”.
The activity grew organically – from sterilization campaigns to vaccines and emergency medical procedures for dogs and cats. They involved the local children in camps addressing animal welfare, nature, flora, fauna, local architecture, creative workshops, hygiene and sports.
They also support the local animal shelter by running a foster home for abandoned cats and dogs, hosting up to 10 rescues at any given time. This is where The Slow Cyclist got involved in 2022 – as part of its pledge to support local communities – by contributing towards a heated shelter for the young or sick rescues during the winter months.
Our chat is suddenly interrupted by a knock on the gate: a neighbour just found three newborn puppies abandoned by the river, and he brought them to Yoyo. As the sun sets, I watch Anca and Charlie stir into action with rehearsed precision, preparing an enclosure with stuffed toys, medicine and milk. The puppies just got another lease of life, thanks to Anca’s Ark.