Rosemary Prebble - General Care Projects in Romania
Romania had been in my head since the revolution but I didn't actually imagine I would ever go there. When I decided to retire from my job as a teaching assistant, specializing in special needs, I found myself on the internet searching for voluntary work with children in Romania. Before I knew it, I had booked up to go for 3 months. I am 61 and had never been on a plane before!
I had volunteered to do a Care project and chose to spend half the time in a hospital and the other half in a foster home. I was not sure what to expect in either placement, or even what the city of Brasov was like.
I was pleasantly surprised. The weather was hot and the city was buzzing. The shops were open until late and the cafes and bars were packed. There are obviously some people, especially the young who have good jobs and money to spend. The women wore incredibly high heels of every color you could imagine, always with a matching handbag! It reminded me of England in the late 1950's when people were beginning to have money to be able to buy what they wanted rather than what they needed.
Dani, my Projects Abroad Romanian supervisor, introduced me to my work at Sacele hospital. I met up with Sharon, a volunteer who I had met at a Projects Abroad open day in London. Sharon had worked at the hospital for two months so she was able to show me the ropes.
Sacele hospital is on the edge of one of the largest gypsy villages in Romania which meant that all the patients were gypsy. Our job was to work in the baby room with children from 0-4 years old. There were six cots and the children had no visitors. There are many reasons for this, some come from families with as many as 14 children, they are very poor and their housing conditions are diabolical. The hospital is so short of staff that, without the volunteers, the children would be left in their cots with nothing to do except look at the ceiling.
Our duties were to take toys into the room, bath and dress them and then interact with them with toys and music. The children and babies loved the music and clapped their hands and laughed a lot. At the end of our shift we had to take the toys away and put them in the cupboard which was then locked. We had to do this otherwise the gypsy mothers who were in hospital with their children, would have taken them. It was understandable, they had absolutely nothing and they had to look after their own. It was sad though, not to be able to leave a soft toy in the cots.
My second volunteer project was at the Lizuca foster home in Tarlungeni. One of the conditions for Romania to become a full member of the EU is to get rid of all their orphanages and replace them with small foster homes. There were 11 children who lived at Lizuca. They all had special educational needs. Two boys went to the local village school and the rest went to a special school for just two hours a day. My role was to have them 1-1 and do educational activities according to their needs. This job was simply made for me, I was in my element. Three of the children could not speak and one little girl could not hear or speak. They were all great fun to be with. I taught them card and board games, we had a Halloween party and they all made masks and costumes.
Some of them insisted I learnt Romanian, I learnt to count, I managed some colors and animals! There was a hammock in the room and some of them just wanted to be rocked, it was a way they could relax and have 100% attention. The facilities are not good at the foster home and most of the toys are broken and mixed up. I suggested that they had some cupboards so the children could learn to put toys away and look after them. I also suggested that each child had their own locker so they could keep their special possessions safe.
The week before I left in December, we made Christmas decorations together. The children loved it, everything ended up with glitter on! I was really sad to leave as I had built up relationships with them all as well as the ladies who ran the home.
My whole experience in Romania was amazing. I have found it difficult to settle down to a quiet life in a tiny English village. I will definitely return whenever I can. The worrying thing is that several volunteers left at the same time as I did and there was only going to be one volunteer, over Christmas to cover the work at Sacele hospital.
If you are reading this and are wondering whether or not you could volunteer, please try it, the children need you, even if it's only for a couple of weeks. Remember it doesn't matter how old you are.
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.