Addison Fickas - General Care Projects in Romania
I arrived in Bucharest late at night exhausted, jetlagged, and harried after a day and a half of travel, struggling with my luggage and a bit lost in the heat of a Romanian summer. The hottest it gets back home in dreary Washington State is about 60 degrees. It was nearly two in the morning when I actually opened the door of my host house and met Nuti, my host mother, and Lorna, another volunteer I was to be sharing a room with for the next three months. Nuti spoke very little English, but Chris, a Projects Abroad staff member who picked me up from the airport, managed to translate the conversation and I was soon asleep in my bed.
The next day Daniela, my work coordinator, picked me up after a wonderful breakfast of papanasi (a pastry eaten with jam). She took me to the Projects Abroad office with a few other volunteers who had arrived around the same time I had and showed us where to exchange money, use traveller’s checks, and buy phone credit. After lunch, I returned home and unpacked my things. I was never particularly nervous or scared of what it would be like to live with a Romanian family (or Romanian mom in my case), but Nuti was so welcoming and kind that I felt at home instantly.
After a few days, I started work in the orphanage about fifteen minutes away from my home in a town called Sacele. There were about eight kids ranging from six to fifteen, all very loud and energetic. I had worked with kids before in the States but I had no idea what to expect – whether they’d speak any English, what kind of games they’d like, what they’d find funny… I quickly learned that card games and skill games like table tennis and pool (billiard) appealed to them – sadly, my skills in that area were lacking and the kids found endless enjoyment in making fun of me for it. I bonded with the smaller girls instantly and within an hour they were clamouring for me to pick them up, giving me tons of kisses and “makeovers” – usually involving a large number of shiny barrettes, stick-on earrings placed on my face, and pigtails. The boys were friendly as well, and enjoyed shocking me with the amount of dirty words they knew! I would usually work about five hours with my roommate, Lorna.
Communication with the kids was surprisingly easy. The older kids spoke a bit of English and the younger ones knew a few words as well, but the main way I learned Romanian versions of common card games was them either laughing at me or accusing me of cheating when I misinterpreted a rule. Although the caretakers didn’t speak much English, they seemed to like us and encouraged us to eat with the kids at lunch, seemingly always concerned with the fact that we weren’t eating enough. The kids chattered to us in a charming mix of English and Romanian, their voices often overlapping each others. We didn’t have much authority over the kids, but they were generally well behaved - although when they squabbled with each other, we could never tell what they were fighting about and were often helpless in the situation, leaving the caretakers to sort it out. Needless to say, by the time Lorna and I got home, we could hardly do more than collapse on chairs and enjoy the phenomenon that is the Romanian traditional dance channel. I could try to explain it, but words fail in this situation – I just suggest turning the channel to 18 and experiencing it for yourself.
Of course, most nights we met the other volunteers in the town square. When I arrived there were nearly forty volunteers – it was nearly impossible to find a restaurant or bar to accommodate us all. Every other day was someone’s “last night” – an all- around excuse to stay out singing karaoke and enjoying each other’s company. By the end of my stay our numbers had dwindled to about twelve, but the experience was equally enjoyable (and involved a lot less cross-table introductions). On the weekends and after my placement ended, I travelled around Romania with some other volunteers – we went to Bran, Rasnov, Sinia, Sibiu, and Bucharest. I later went to Prague on my own for a week.
Romania is a beautiful country and you will not lack for places to see and things to do here. A surprising amount of Romanians speak English – at least enough to trade stories and give you advice on sights to see and things to do (My first weekend, I found myself at the edge of Brasov at two in the morning “bear watching” next to some garbage cans – apparently that is a popular thing for the younger people to do – sadly no bears were to be seen that night, but it was quite fun regardless).
By the end of my three months in Romania, I felt like I was leaving home rather than returning to it – I was so sad to say goodbye to my host mom and the kids. Overall, my summer in Romania was one of the best experiences of my life and I would recommend volunteering in Brasov to anyone – I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll want to come back.
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.