Laura Parker - General Care Projects in Romania
University ended and we all asked ourselves, “What now?” Six months later, many of my friends had started jobs or returned to school, and I found myself still asking, “What now?” Throughout University I had enjoyed the opportunity to meet people from many different countries and to learn a lot about global politics and developing nations. This led me to desire to travel abroad as a volunteer and try to help in a hands on situation in one of these nations. A lot of my friends found themselves in similar situations with similar desires. I think many people have the idea in the back of their heads of wanting to provide assistance abroad in developing nations, but are never sure how to go about it. Once they know how, it is often too difficult because of financial reasons and other responsibilities back home.
I asked a friend recently about her future plans and she said she still really wants to go to Africa on a volunteer mission, but she needed some sort of motivation to sign up and just do it. I discovered it is as easy as that. You just do it. My experience in Romania taught me that getting involved with this type of overseas work is so much easier than I ever imagined. I never thought I would be able to afford the trip, so I never seriously looked into it.
That was until two friends of mine decided to pursue similar interests, and found Projects Abroad to go through. They asked me to join them and my first thought was “I could never afford this,” but when I looked into it I realized it was saveable. After a summer of work as a waitress I had raised half the funds I would need. I knew I could have borrowed the rest to pay off when I got home, but I didn’t even need to do that. With a little fundraising I raised the other $2500 dollars. It was amazing how my community came together and helped me pursue my goal. I held Bingo nights at the local fire hall, I went to the local school and pitched my story and how I aimed to help as a global citizen, and I got local businesses to donate prizes for a draw I sold tickets on. All of this eventually allowed me to raise the money to head to Romania on October 1st.
After 24 hours of travelling I arrived at the Bucharest Airport in the early evening on October 2nd. Leo, the Projects Abroad driver, quickly picked us out as the lost tourists. He introduced himself, took our bags and we began the long drive to Brasov. Throughout this three hour drive Leo began our Romanian education. He answered all of our questions, pointed out landmarks, and told us about the politics and economy of Romania. We arrive at our host family late that night. They were hosting the 3 of us and 2 other girls. We were brought upstairs to our own little apartment area. We shared a bedroom and a bathroom, and the hallway had a refrigerator for us.
Throughout our time in Romania our host mother would fill the refrigerator with hard boiled eggs, milk and chocolate cereal in the morning. At lunch there would be a loaf of bread and a tray of meats and cheeses. And each night we shared an amazing feast with our family for supper. We spoke not a word of Romanian and our host family spoke no English, however the universal language of smiles got us everywhere we needed. One member of the host family spoke English if we needed translation, however for the most part we attempted to communicate with hand signals and smiles, and slowly learned small amounts of the language.
The town of Brasov seriously looked to us like a movie set; I could have sworn the houses were painted on to the side of the mountain. The beauty was majestic in the sense you believe could only exist in the movies. And complete with Hollywood tradition a giant white lettered sign identical in stature to the Hollywood sign sat at the top of the mountain reading BRASOV.
After a tour of the beautiful city of Brasov and meeting the office members and other volunteers, we went to start our placement. Our placement was in a hospital in the town of Sacele. This hospital was run down and was a hospital primarily for patients from the Gypsy village. We worked in the babies’ room. Each day we would come in, check to see how many babies were in the room and say hi to them. Then we would do a head count (usually 6 or 7 children between the ages of newborn and 4 years) and go upstairs to get enough diapers, new clothes and toys for them. We would return to the room, change all their diapers, put them in new clothes, and play with them for a couple hours.
Then the nurses would come and give us food to feed them (usually a baked potato or a mash potato with peas and beans and bottles for the babies). We would feed them and then we would leave them to go upstairs and work on the playroom we were putting together upstairs. Here we cleaned out the room of everything that was there originally, painted the walls, scrubbed the floors, put in a sink and mirror and tiles, and set up the room with tables, chairs, boxes, toys, a cushioned baby area, and so on. When this room was finished our daily routine changed. When playtime came we took the babies and toddlers upstairs where they could play with the older kids in this new room.
In our time away from the hospital we would go into town and buy supplies with our own funds, and money our communities had raised from home. We had two very successful and memorable trips in terms of buying supplies. First we bought a large lockable cabinet to hold diapers, toys and clothes in. Until this point there was just shelving for these products and they would often get stolen. The other very successful shopping trip was when we bought a kettle, bathtub and bathing supplies. The hospital did not have running hot water and so the children seldom, if ever, received baths. I believe that they may have received a few baths in the heat of the summer. With these new supplies we implemented a hygiene system at the hospital that is still running strongly, according to my communications with staff.
In our time away from the hospital we also chose to volunteer at a centre for kids to do homework and play after school. In this centre the kids had a chance to learn English, to meet friends, to play (something that isn’t a universal right like it should be for children), and to catch up on their educational studies. The children here were aged 5 to 12. I also got to learn so much in my time here. Before long I could say duck duck goose in Romanian, I could count to 10 in Romanian and I could say the days of the week. It was an amazing experience.
My time working with the children, both in the hospital and in the children’s centre, will always be a precious memory for me and I hope to return in the future. I learned so much about universal children’s rights and changes that need to be made globally for children to have these rights. I learned about politics and lifestyles in developing nations. The oppression and discrimination of the Gypsy village really affected me, and I believe we all have a responsibility to help these people and many more as global citizens.
Finally, one of the most amazing things I learned was about happiness. It is so very simple. I had the assumption as many people in western nations do that children in developing nations did not lead happy lives. I believed they were neglected, suffering and hurting. The truth of the matter, in my humble opinion today, is that their situation is one of neglect and suffering, but as individuals they know happiness. The kids I worked with did not know that anyone else in the world was better off than they are. They lived their lives the only way they’ve ever known and they found happiness in the simple things.
One of the most precious memories I hold is of a little girl named Crayola. We brought bowling pins and balls for the kids to play with one day. Crayola picked up one of the plastic bowling pins, and got me to help her wrap a diaper around it and put a bonnet on it with an elastic. She then carried it around all day. It was her very first doll. It was both hilarious and adorable. Moments like this, and the education you can gain in no other way than being there, make volunteering abroad a must do.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.