Lisa Barton - High School Specials, Photography in Romania
The concept of travelling and volunteering at the same time was what appealed to me when I began researching the different types of voluntary projects that ‘Projects Abroad’ offered. After reading about each of the different projects, I decided that the Two Week Specials would be the most ideal for me as a 17 year old student. Eastern Europe was a place I’d never thought I’d venture to. I always wanted to see the different cultures of Eastern Europe, so taking part in a project in Romania was a perfect solution. The Two Week Special – Photography in Romania was the perfect project for me. Having always loved photography and recently undertaking one year in photography at college I knew this was the ideal project.
As I waved goodbye to my dad and began my journey, it suddenly dawned on me that I was about to embark on my own adventure for the next two weeks. The thought was rather intimidating as I didn’t speak Romanian and was unsure as to how I would know how to cope in a new culture. However, I felt it was the time to show my independence and take part in something worthwhile. As the plane landed and I walked into arrivals, I saw the friendly face of the Projects Abroad desk officer, Alex, who stood holding a ‘Projects Abroad’ sign. As I walked towards him with two other volunteers who travelled from London as well I felt excitedly nervous.
From the start, Alex made us feel incredibly welcome and relaxed and talked us through what we were going to experience and take part in during our visit to Romania. As we drove through the gypsy villages, passing locals selling berries at the roadside on our way towards Brasov, it suddenly all became real. When Alex explained that my new roommate was one of the girls I had arrived with I felt more comfortable knowing that she was also English and would be there to share the experience of living with a host family. Our host mother was fantastic and made Jacqueline and I feel welcome from the moment we came in the front door. Throughout our stay she would always be there to help and support us if we were homesick. Throughout our conversations we needed the help of her grandson with translation and this made it a very fun and welcoming environment.
Day-to-day work at the Projects Abroad office was varied. We were taught different types of Photography techniques such as Panning and zoom-burst by Ana, our boss who was a fantastic teacher! She explained how each technique worked and then got us to practise each one. During the first week, we went to a Day-care centre in Prejmer where we took some photographs and taught the people how to use our cameras.
Our weekend trip was going to be in Biertan where we would get to visit a fortified church and sheep farmer, ending with a medieval festival in Sighisoara on the Sunday. During the trip we got to go on a horse-ride to a sheep farmer where the photographers got to take some stunning pictures whilst the journalists got a chance to interview the farmer. On the Monday, we went to see Bran Castle which was an interesting trip where we learned about how it became famously known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’. During our second week we were given the chance to visit the children at the Prejmer day-care centre as well as some of the volunteers at the Sǎcele Hospital. The children there were so sweet but very shy and I loved being able to spend time with them and learn about their culture.
Life was never dull during our visit! In the evenings we used to go to the cinema or have barbeques at the office as well as going out for a meal with other volunteers. On our last day, the Desk Officer Alex drove us to the Poiana Brasov where we walked up to the top of the hill and soaked in the spectacular view. After our climb, Ana came for lunch with us and on our last evening we all went to an amazing restaurant for our final night in Romania. On our final morning, our host mother cooked us pancakes for breakfast and her grandson took a photograph of Jacqueline and I with her. When Alex arrived at the apartment to take us to the airport I was so sad to leave as I knew how much I would miss what had become my new home.