Mary Whitfill - General Care Projects in Romania
I had no plans for the summer following my senior year of high school. So I decided this was to be the year that I do something meaningful – to go out and explore. This was an opportunity I knew I wouldn’t have once I entered the ‘real world’ of college classes.
Choosing my destination
I decided I wanted to work with kids, but beyond that I was open to anything. I wanted to go somewhere I was needed, somewhere I would be appreciated and somewhere I could make a difference in the little time I had. So what was my first thought? Africa. And what was my mother’s first thought? Absolutely not!
“It is not a good time to be in Africa” she told me. She made it clear that if I wanted to volunteer internationally, it would be somewhere she approved of, somewhere she thought to be safe enough to send her 18-year-old daughter. My second thought was Moldova - the poorest country in Europe. After that was vetoed we sat down and settled upon Romania, a country with a high number of orphanages and a proportionally low number of volunteers.
I signed up for a month. This seemed like a crazy amount of time to be without an American cell phone, without my boyfriend and without a stable internet connection. However, the point was to get outside of my comfort zone and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
Arriving in Romania
I boarded a 9-hour flight to London, followed by a 3-hour flight to Bucharest. I landed in an airport without air conditioning, the first sign that things were going to be different. A Projects Abroad volunteer coordinator picked me up from the airport and we set off for Brasov – a 2-hour drive from Bucharest.
When I arrived, I was immediately immersed in the Romanian culture. My host mother showed me to my bed room and fed me dinner. I was told that someone from Projects Abroad would be by to pick me up in the morning.
I will admit - the first two days were hard. I was convinced that I would be alone for the next month unless I wanted to walk the half-hour to the Projects Abroad office in the hope that someone would want to hang out with me.
Then something happened that changed everything – Alex, the volunteer coordinator I would spend most of my time with, invited me to have crapes with the other volunteers. It was at this point that I made friends and everything started looking up. Savanna and Katherine, the two girls I became closest to, lived 2 floors above me in my building and became my go-to girls for nights out, weekend adventures and afternoons spent watching American movies.
My Care project
Three days into my stay I started my Care project in Budila, a tiny town that required two bus transfers to get to every morning. I worked in a sibling foster home with children who no longer had parents, but still had their brothers and sisters. There were 10 kids who lived there full-time and, while I could never understand a word they or the people who worked there said, I loved every minute of it.
Each day we would do an activity, anything from floor puzzles to painting pots and making bracelets. We would also play outside on the massive lawn. I taught them how to play new games, they used me as a pawn in theirs, and we taught each other how to count to 10 – something I practice daily just to remember how sweet and eager they were.
It was great to see how much they enjoyed having me there with them, paying them the attention that they obviously craved.
Traveling in Romania at the weekends
Evenings and weekends were free-time, during which we got to explore Brasov and the surrounding towns.
I had three full weekends in Romania and I didn’t waste a single one. The first weekend we stayed close to home and explored Tâmpa Mountain (we took the trolley car to the top) and visited the ultimate Romanian tourist trap - Bran Castle. The following weekend, Savanna and I went to visit the bear caves in Chișcău. Whilst it was not the smoothest trip travel-wise, we had a blast and made it everywhere we wanted to go!
On the final weekend, a group of us took an overnight train to Budapest and explored Hungary! We stayed in a hostel in Budapest, visited parliament and the royal palace, and relaxed on Margaret Island. We had a great time.
My volunteering experience
My trip to Romania was eventful to say the least. I made great friends and really got the chance to do something I never would have thought I could do. I had such a great time that I went back to Brasov with Savanna the following summer - this time for 2 weeks. We chose to do a veterinary project and worked in a small animal clinic in the city.
All in all, both of my trips were life-changing experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I made some great friends, saw some amazing places, and ultimately fell in love with a corner of the world I probably would have never normally visited.
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.