Stephanie Bryant - General Care Projects in Romania
As I rode through the Carpathian Mountains on my way from Bucharest to Brasov, I could feel the anticipation and excitement grow. Was I really here? Did I really leave the country for the first time all by myself into a world that was completely unknown to me? Yes I did, but somehow I wasn’t scared. The wild, unmanicured countryside was breathtaking, and I couldn’t wait to get to Brasov and see what else was in store.
I arrived at my host family, to find that they spoke virtually no English. How was I going to communicate? Sure, I had my language book, but I hadn’t practiced nearly as much as I wanted to. It was hard at first, but I learned basic phrases, mastered hand gestures and we made it through. It was quite cute actually. At dinner time, Olga and I would both sit with our language books and attempt to have conversations about our daily activities and extended lives. It was a superb experience being completely immersed in the culture. It forced me out of my comfort zone, helped me to learn more Romanian and gave me a better insight to what daily life was really like. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
My first day was a bit overwhelming but exciting nonetheless. I was exposed to the city and its transit system, Romanian cuisine, and about 14 other enthusiastic volunteers from all over the world. You feel like a kid that has moved to a new school at first, unsure of yourself and how you will fit in, but immediately everyone welcomes you with open arms and accepts you as part of the group. The staff gives you a sense of safety and makes you feel at home offering help whenever and wherever you need it.
On my second day, I had the opportunity to visit three of the orphanages and my actual placement. It was amazing! The children immediately run up and throw their arms around you, embracing you in warm hugs as gigantic smiles spread across their faces. They are excited to see new people, and instantly you are filled with a joy and a rush that they must be feeling as well. Then, you better hold on, because you will be pulled in every direction; running, jumping and hopping your way to each child and new activity that they want you to be a part of. And if you are a girl, don’t worry about doing your hair! I think my ponytail was removed within 5 minutes as a little boy began performing his beauty salon skills leaving me with quite the stylish do. It was precious and priceless.
My actual placement was at the Secilli Hospital in Romania. It was perfect for me. I really wanted to work with infants, but also desired the opportunity to interact with children of different ages. There I was able to incorporate both. The babies were adorable and sweet, and the children were as well. I worked with ages from about 6 months to 14, and it was absolutely wonderful.
I would recommend this experience to anyone that is looking to get involved with an extraordinary organisation and to add a little perspective to their lives. I felt honoured to be a part of this special community and around the staff from Romania. You can see in all of their eyes and hearts that what they do isn’t just a job, but something that they feel true passion about. It is about helping others and giving back. I truly cannot describe in words, and certainly not in this brief essay, what the experience did for me. It impacted my life in so many ways and on so many levels. Seeing the children that have nothing, or next to nothing, who are still positive and happy everyday is awe-inspiring.
Those of us who have many blessings in our lives often take the simple things for granted. We allow negativity to easily enter our lives and consume us. We can all learn lessons from these children about how to embrace life and be happy for just being alive. Fyodor Dostoevsky says “The soul is healed by being with children”, and for me, this experience perfectly illustrated that. Not only does the volunteer work give you a new perspective, but so does the exposure to the cultures of your placement country and the origins of the other volunteers. You will learn so much that you don’t know and make memories and friends that you never thought possible.
I was only there for two weeks, so if you have the time, go for at least a month. When I had to say goodbye, I can say without doubt, that my time in Romania was too short. Be prepared to walk a lot, climb inclines, get lost a few times, eat lots of pastry and ice cream, but most of all, have the most amazing time of your life.
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.