In August 2013 I got a fantastic opportunity to go out to Romania with a group of volunteers signed up with Life2Romania – all sharing a passion and enthusiasm for children’s work.
My experience there was unlike any before. My eyes were opened to a whole new way of life, a bunch of fantastic children, and a language and culture I had never come across.
In this blog post I share my experience with Life2Romania, and give you and insight into a real passion of mine – children’s charity work.
Who are they and how did I get involved?
“Life to Romania Fund exists to promote indigenous Christian children and youth work in Romania by sending UK volunteers to run Summer holiday clubs and by training and supporting youth leaders in Romania”.
At the time I was a Sunday School Teacher for my local Church which I had grown up in. My co-worker who had been with Life2Romania last year just kept telling me about her time out there, how she was eager to go back and (without blowing my own trumpet or anything) how perfect I’d be for the role out there.
So, it was an easy decision. We both signed up, and so began the planning and fundraising for our trip abroad! With the help of many wonderful volunteers, friends and family we ran a massive second hand sale selling of everything from books to dolls houses, crockery and CDs. Oh, and of course no fundraising is complete without a cake sale as well.
August 2013: Takeoffs and Landings
An early start, and finally we were off. The journey was long, with a stop over at Munich, before finally touching down in Timisoara at 1.30pm. The temperature was a roasting 38°, and my mind, and body, lethargic and disorientated from the early start in England.
Before we got to our base in Pojoga we spent two nights in the Carpathian Mountains – the most picturesque mountains I have ever seen.
We swam in the valleys, went walking in the mountains, did salsa dancing in the evening, had BBQ’s under the stars, and explored the Romanian Ruins.
It was awesome. All this was able to happen even though the people we stayed with spoke no English and we spoke broken basics of Romanian. However, it was as if the language barrier did not exist.
However this idyllic and relaxed environment was the complete opposite from what the next day would present to me in Pricaz and Pojoga.
The contrast in lifestyle from those living in the city to those just a few hours outside in Pricaz was extreme. The big open roads were replaced with dusty, dirt tracks, and the children outside playing wearing nothing but ripped clothing, and wild dogs hunting through the bins for scraps to eat.
Diary Entry; Saturday 10th August:
One thing that broke my heart was seeing one of the younger boys push a small girl to the floor, probably no older than 6, and start spitting on her. Becky rushed over to pick her up and Judy* and me joined later; Judy* put a smile back on the girls face by bouncing her around on her hip.
We spent the evening watching the ‘Singing Fountains of Deva’ that were mesmerisingly beautiful, before loading ourselves back in the car to reach our final destination where we would be setting up our holiday club: Pojoga.
When we first arrived in Pojoga I remember firstly being relieved this place existed. Before leaving England I had tried pin-pointing it on Google Maps but it is such a small rural area that nothing appeared … a little disheartening when it’s your first time travelling without your family.
Our accommodation was beautifully simple. We stayed on a farm with a very hospitable couple. The toilet; an outhouse in the farmyard with one large wooden hole I feared I may fall down in the night. To get there was an obstacle course through animals, and more than once I’d be sitting there, doing my business, and become aware of chickens accumulating around the door and the shadow of a large pig plodding past.
I enjoyed life on the farm – the fresh milk and produce was dished up at every meal time and warmly welcomed before the long days spent in the heat with the children. The water was pulled up from a well, and we would sit outside in the courtyard in the sunshine eating together.
Since this was my first summer away where I’d considered myself “recovered” from my anorexia, I did struggle with the diet – there was a lot of food and the diet was very high fat and my stomach found it hard at times to digest the rich flavours, only on once occasions did it make me sick and that was probably not helped by the long hours spent in the heat.
It wouldn’t be kids work without some challenges…
When we were told we would have to start from scratch setting up the holiday club, we didn’t take that as literally as maybe we should’ve! The first problem we faced was not having the village hall to run it in, and instead we were given a rather dilapidated house to transform in an evening into a child friendly holiday club – Health and Safety would’ve had a hear attack.
The club ran in the mornings; I started the day with a fun ‘morning aerobics’ to get the children dancing, and then this was followed by story’s, arts and crafts, songs and a memory verse to learn.
The age ranges were from toddlers to pre-teens. The language barrier difficult – but the children were SO enthusiastic about communicating, with gestures and learning some English and we learnt some Romanian too! I was even able to draw on some Makaton sign language I had previously picked up in my work with non-verbal children at various play-schemes back home.
Due to the weather being so hot we would break at lunchtime, and spend the afternoon resting out of the sun, and usually having a nap before preparing for our afternoon session which ran in the cooler evenings. In these we did sports, balloon crafts, and face painting with them outside on the green by the farm house.
The children never wanted to go home and were always early the next day, eager to start again. This was amazing to see, and as the week progressed the numbers attending grew and grew.
Diary Entry; Friday 16th August
On the last day one of the boys made me a heart balloon and his little sister a beaded necklace she’d made. He took my arm and said “Joss you are coming to my house now”. As we were leaving the children kept coming up for hugs and to be picked up and spun around.
It was awesome seeing how much we’d impacted these kids in just one week.
My time running the club was incredible – It warmed my heart to see how happy the families and children were. Their constant laughter and light despite the conditions of the town and their health; many had black gums from no dental care, and dirty or ripped clothing. They came full of energy and eagerness to play, be involved in games and make new friends.
In the weeks that passed afterwards I heard the club was continued by some local volunteers who we’d helped to train whilst there, and I often think back to the times spent in that community and the future prospects of those children today.
Last Stop: Timisoara
To end the trip we spent some time being tourists in the city of Timisoara. We did a lot sightseeing, visiting the very ornate Catholic Orthodox Cathedrals, looking around the city and walking by the river Bega. In the evening we got pedalos out on the river and drifted alongside the stunning views of the city lighting up – thoughts of the children back in Pojoga floating round my mind, it felt so serial that both places were so close by, yet so opposing to each other.
By the time we were packing to go home I felt ready to leave. It was a very busy, full on and emotionally draining trip.
What I took away…
The whole experience was just awesome. From the people I met, the activities I ran in Pojoga, and the sites I saw.
It opened my eyes to the amount of need there is around the world, but also the amount of good that can be done just in the smallest acts in the smallest amount of time; like running a weeks holiday club.
You could see the seeds of hope and joy planted in these children’s lives, which I hope to this day continue to grow.
For anyone looking to do charity work abroad, or even in the UK (there is a lot of need on our own doorstep) I would thoroughly recommend it!
Four reasons I think you should give it a go:
- You will develop so many transferable skills – teamwork, planning, organisation, communication (across language barriers).
- Meet the most amazing people – be it team members or those in the communities you work in.
- You will be challenged, and grow the more as you take your eyes of yourself and see the potential you have to positively impact those around you.
- A chance to travel and experience a new culture, learn a new language and see new beautiful sites.
I would love to hear about your own experiences, charity work or upcoming events and how you’re preparing for them, so do get in touch and share the seeds of hope you’re planting too!