Sarah Peters - General Care Projects in Romania
A few months ago if someone had asked me if I thought I could go alone to a country I’ve never been to before and volunteer with children, I would have said no. Now, after spending a month in Romania caring for children, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner and can’t wait to get back.
I’ve worked with children for a large part of my life, and apart from wanting to be a pop star when I was 5, I’ve always really only wanted to work with children. So, when I had the opportunity, over my gap year, to volunteer with children in Romania, as scary as it seemed, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and I wanted to do all I could during my short time there to help the children I was working with. So, after doing some fundraising (involving eating mashed potato for a week), a few vaccinations, and a short flight, I found myself in a car on my way to Brasov.
First impressions of Romania
On the drive, I was surprised at the mix of modern and traditional that was everywhere. There were big, fairly nice houses right next to old, beaten down houses. There were lots of cars passing cows tied to the side of the road. There were people working in fields, and traditional farming communities, working with horse and carts were a common sight. Stray dogs, beggars and hitch hikers lined roads as we passed by.
Brasov centre was just the same. It has a beautiful European town square with old, detailed buildings, lovely little bistros dotted around, a range of shops, and a McDonalds (of course). Then not far from the square you will find tower blocks, run down houses and more farming communities; such a mix of modern and old, new and poor, but all very beautiful in its own way. This was the town where I spent my month, and it soon felt like home.
My host family
My host family was lovely. I stayed with 4 other girls in an apartment type room, which before would have scared me, but everyone was really friendly so I felt immediately comfortable. We had a fridge stocked up with food for breakfast and lunch, with a microwave and kettle for heating things up. Our host mother brought a meal each evening. The food was not too different from English food, some nights we had pasta and cheese or pizza, and then other nights we were given traditional Romanian food, which was just as nice. There was plenty of choice for vegetarian’s too, even fussy ones like me.
My care placement
Each morning I travelled for about 10 minutes on a bus to a nursery, where I worked with children aged 1-2 years and 2-3 years. The nursery was very under-staffed, at times having only 5 staff members to care for up to 40 young children. There were very few toys for both age groups, and they weren’t age appropriate.
My role there was to support the staff by playing with the children and comforting them if they were upset. I also helped feed them lunch. I was sad to see that the children had so little to play with, but they were very happy children and I was always welcomed with lots of little, smiley faces. The best thing was seeing the babies dancing to CD’s the staff played, they loved it and were so cute, bopping up and down and flapping their arms.
With the money I had from donations I bought some more toys for the children, such as shakers and musical trains for 1-2 year olds, and drawing boards and jigsaws for 2-3 year olds. Having the money to buy things for the children was such a joy; the staff were so grateful and the smiles and excitement from the children were contagious. I am really grateful to everyone who donated money.
My second placement
The second place I worked at was a centre for abandoned and abused children aged 3-18 years, called Domino. Here I got to build on my teaching skills, as I had to plan, prepare and lead craft activities and games for the children to do. All the children were keen to get involved in all of the activities we provided, whether it was as simple as colouring sheets and hand painting, or a bit more complex, such as decorating photo frames and making puppets.
It was great to see the children enjoying the activities and they were very appreciative of what we gave them. I was surprised at how close I became to the children, with the language barrier and all that the children have been through, I thought it would be difficult to get to know them. However, I found that all the children, even the older ones, just wanted attention and someone to care for them and through trying to give them this I got to know them well, which made my time in Romania really special. I remember them all fondly.
One of my favourite times at Domino was when we were making star and moon mobiles. Most of the children had a go, but there was one girl who really thought it was the best thing in the world. She tried very hard making it and as soon as she had finished she excitedly rushed to stick it above her bed. They were so happy with the simplest of things, it made me realise just how much we take for granted.
The money people donated, enabled me to buy resources for the activities we did, some new toys for the children and stationary to help with the children’s school work.
My free time in Romania
Evenings and weekends were spent with the other volunteers. We had a brilliant time going to the bistro for chocolate fondue or out for dinner and travelling to Sibiu, Sinia and a late night adventure to Constansa. We all became really close and it was lovely to spend time with such amazing people from all around the world.
My time in Romania really was the best time in my life so far. Even though it wasn’t always easy, I feel I have grown in confidence and independence and my heart has been opened to so many new things I’d heard about but didn’t really known about. All the support from the Projects Abroad team was amazing and really helped make my experience all that it was. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing and I truly believe that a part of me will always be in Romania and with the people I met there.
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.