Juliana Lodge - Special Educational Needs Teacher in Romania
B.Ed Hons (English & Drama) MSc Speech & Language Sciences
Primary teacher,(also drama & French teacher) Speech & Language Therapist and some experience working with adults with learning difficulties.
1st October – 30 December 2009
Leave your expectations at the airport, throw yourself into your time here wholeheartedly and be rewarded with one of the best experiences of your life.
Role of the Volunteer
- HOPE FOR THE NATIONS: BRASOV CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL. This involved working 5 shifts a week, either a morning or an afternoon shift, on which the volunteers visit the babies and children who are in the hospital “fara mama” :without mums. (Whenever possible the mums stay in the hospital with their children, but there are many cases where this is not possible. Sometimes the parents are not even able to visit. Some children get abandoned for up to several months. ) Without the volunteers to go in to interact with them, these children basically live in their cots -apart from when they are removed to have medical procedures. The role of the volunteer involves changing nappies (diapers) clothes, feeding but mainly taking them out of their cots and playing with them and hugging them to provide vital support with their emotional, physical cognitive and language development. The majority of the children there are delayed in some way. The most amazing job – and no paperwork involved when you are actually doing the job! At Christmas time it was very humbling to take gifts in to the children, parents and staff at the hospital. They were given things that we all take for granted – fruit, sweets, soap, toys, little hats or socks and yet they were so so grateful.
Hope for the Nations also organised two Christmas concerts, one for 200 children in care who were taken to a local centre and we performed Christmas songs in Romanian and English. Several of the HFTN team are very musical so our little band went down well! ( I was on vocals and drums!) We did another performance in a teenage girls’ orphanage (to an audience of about 50) in which we included games, the chance to come out and play percussion, a raffle, a video and a talk.
- ASOCIATION ATELIER SACELEAN: EDUCATION CENTRE, SACELE HOSPITAL, The main part of this volunteering role for me was helping in the Education centre. This runs 6 days a week for children who are behind in their learning and are at risk of dropping out of school. They are given help in all areas but most importantly they are shown patience and are given the encouragement and praise needed to get them to believe in themselves. I assisted in teaching children Maths, French, English, and some sounds in Romanian. They learn mainly through games. I also conducted a speech assessment, identified the speech processes he needed to work on and created resources for him to work on this. I was able to train the staff and explain to them about his difficulties. It was extremely rewarding for all to notice an improvement in his speech after 3 months. (His school teacher noticed too). I also assisted in collating an appeal for further funding for resources for the centre. The visits to Sacele hospital were similar to the work in Brasov hospital but on a smaller scale. This charity also organizes training programmes and delivers emergency aid to families in crisis. I was involved in delivering food, clothes and firewood to a family living in extreme poverty. In addition I took part in the giving out of Christmas shoeboxes (some of which were from the UK)
- Joint HOPE FOR THE NATIONS/ ATELIER SACELEAN PROJECTS: HOMELEARNING VISITS & TRIPS OUT. The home learning programme involved me driving the charity car about an hour out to a farm where the children needed support but were unable to get to the centre. It was useful to have some knowledge of teaching, learning difficulties and considering differentiation of tasks in planning the activities for these children. I would say that it helped enormously to have learnt Romanian to be able to do this.
The two organisations also funded a day trip out for the 22 children from the farm. We took them in a minibus (and 3 came in my car) into the town of Brasov. They went to visit the church, then the museum of the oldest school in Romania, then into the town centre to see the Christmas lights. After that we took them to a local restaurant for a burger each, followed by a children’s party by a clown!
- LOCAL SLT SERVICE: I met a local therapist to discuss how SLT (Speech & Language Therapy) works in UK vs Romania. From this meeting links were made with the head of the local SLT service to discuss how the local service is organised. She was very interested to hear how things can vary in the UK between boroughs. Following this another meeting was set up which included 6 other therapists and we discussed in more detail how we work and shared experiences and useful tips. Further meetings were proposed and email addresses were exchanged for the future exchanging of ideas for therapy.
- FUNDATIA RAFAEL: DAYCENTRE FOR ADULTS WITH LEARNING DIFFICULTIES. I spent one week in Codlea supporting adults with a range of learning difficulties. The centre provides educational, creative and functional activities. The centre is impressively well-equipped and even has a multi-sensory room and a massage therapist who visits once a week. The best day was when several Projects Abroad volunteers visited and paired up with the adults to learn some steps from a traditional Romanian dance under the instruction of a Projects Abroad leader. The adults loved it, especially the two wheelchair users who had thought they were going to be left out – but were thrilled to find they were the most agile in the swing your partner bit! I also met a few children here with Autism as they also access the centre. The staff asked me to give them advice and ideas for activities which i was able to do.
- MINI-DRAMA PROJECT RUN BY PROJECTS ABROAD Drama students. We took a play into local children’s homes. The play was an adaptation of a traditional Romanian folk tale, narrated in Romanian but acted out by 7 volunteers. The children loved it and some responded as if they were really at a pantomime in the theatre!
- As a result of links made with the staff on the visits to the children’s homes with the MiniProject, I was invited to go in and assess some of the children who were in need of Speech & Language Therapy. I was able to assess them (in Romanian) and to offer staff advice and activities to support the children.
Benefits to the community
The children who received Speech & Language Therapy were not already accessing the local service, for a variety of reasons. (In the children’s homes- also referred to as orphanages – the funding had run out and there had been problems transporting them to the local centre. The children who attended the education centre were entitled to access SLT at school but the post was vacant so were not receiving any input. There were reported improvements in some children’s speech, but even more exciting, improvements in the children’s ability to sit and concentrate for longer!
The staff were interested and receptive to what I explained to them about language development and how speech difficulties affect children. I feel they gained a better understanding of how difficult it can be for a child to change a habit established over 8 years, and they also learnt how to help.
The babies in the hospital benefited enormously from the time invested in them. One of the staff there asked me about why some children have language delays and when I explained that it is normal for between 5-20% of children to have some difficulty developing language she was so relieved she nearly cried. It turns out her daughter has a speech difficulty and she had been blaming herself.
By being able to drive and to speak the language I was able to facilitate in the home learning project and to share my teaching skills with the staff planning the activities for these trips.
The teenage girls’ concert felt like a significant achievement (not simply because of all the challenges faced to arrange it) but the girls really listened to the talk about why it mattered what you do with your life, and to be thankful for the skills and abilities you have individually.
I have learnt a lot about Romanian culture, the food, the music, the art, the theatre, the social life, the language, their beliefs and superstitions, their traditions, and their hearts. I feel I have begun to have a better understanding of the history here and the struggles the people have faced and lived through. I have been fortunate enough to have been welcome into the family life of local people and to have been included at a deeper level than that of a tourist.
As well as sharing things that are merely interesting at the level of a conversation, I hope that i have shared as much as I can about things they will find useful – in terms of Speech & Language therapy and teaching. I have taught the children games and songs (in English but we made up Romanian versions too!) that they can continue after I have gone. I have had many discussions too about the management of diabetes in the UK/ in Romania (as this is specifically relevant to me!) Certainly Romania has found a place in my heart and I am going to find it very very hard to leave here when the time comes!