Friday, March 20, 2009

Saying Goodbye

As we stood idle on the bus ready to leave, the children from Open Door banged on the tinted windows and yelled goodbye for the millionth time. Our entire group was lucky enough to spend part of our final afternoon together at Open Door. After playing games, doing gimp, and having a dance party, we walked the children home like we always did. However, this time we spent much longer in the street outside of their homes hugging and saying goodbye. None of us wanted to say our final goodbyes. Some of the children even followed us back to our hotel when we finally mustered up the strength to leave their street. There, the children helped us haul our luggage to the bus, and we had them sign our notebooks for memories’ sake. The inevitable moment came when our group had to board the bus. We still waved out the window, blew kisses, and mouthed the words “te iubesc” (I love you) to the children outside whose eyes were now forming tears. Ours were too. When the bus started to roll away, the children chased after us, still waving. We all watched them until we rounded the corner and couldn’t see them out our windows anymore. Although at that moment we lost sight of them, we will never lose sight of the treasured memories we share with them and the lessons we learned during our time in Romania.

-Leah Stansky

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sightseeing and back to work!

We arrived back in Bistrita around 9:30 on Sunday night from our weekend sightseeing trip. On Saturday we took a two hour bus ride to Tirgu-Mures, where a tour guide showed us around the old citadel, the cultural building, and a few of the other prominent sites in the city. We then hopped back on the bus for a one-hour ride to Sighisoara. Upon our arrival in this medieval city, the oldest in Eastern Europe that is still inhabited, we checked into our hotel and did some sightseeing on our own. We walked the streets and paths going into every cheesy Dracula-themed gift shop we passed. (Sighisoara is Dracula’s birthplace.) We gave some serious business to one particular shop across from our hotel. Every time we walked in the door (probably twenty different times), the two ladies behind the counter would smile because they knew we were buying.
We spent the night at the hotel and slept in on Sunday morning. Most of the day was spent searching for new paths we hadn’t been down the day before. We also found a cart in the street that was selling fresh bread made right in front of us. It wasn’t exactly bread loaves as much as it was a thin spiral of dough dipped in cinnamon. It was amazing though, and after eating a loaf between seven of us, we went back for two more. We also walked down into the more modern city towards the end of the day, where we explored some shoe stores and sat in the park. We found our bus driver around 6:00 p.m. and headed back to Bistrita, making one pit stop for snacks on the way.
Monday morning we split up into new groups and headed off to the hospital and the placement center. Susie, AJ, Leah, Lindsay and I went to the placement center to play with the special needs children.
Unfortunately when we got there we were informed that two of the kids were sick, so we played mainly with four of the children: Nicoletta, Vasi, Mia, and Lecree. They were all very entertaining and after our three hours with them had passed, the majority of our group took a much-needed power nap in the “playroom.”
In the afternoon our groups switched, and the group that had been going to Open Door last week stayed at the Placement Center to be with the girls in the after school program there. I was with the girls last week, so I went to Open Door today. The kids were so funny, and after we helped them with homework we played for about three hours straight. We went through multiple rounds of Uno, countless flashcards, and I even got my hair done by one of the girls, Mona. After they had taken all of our nametags, we walked the kids home. I raced some of the kids up the sidewalk and gave another boy, Adrian, a piggy-back-ride for the majority of the walk.
I can’t wait to see the kids tomorrow and pick up where I left off today.
~Alexis Antonelli

Friday, March 13, 2009

Temporary Improvements

This morning, we split into two groups. One went to the Placement Center, where they spent one-on-one time with children living with mental and physical disabilities. I went with the other group to the hospital, where we spent a few hours with a group of abandoned babies two to seven months old. I walked in and saw the cutest baby girl named Georgiana; she has big blue eyes and can’t sit still. It turned out that she was going to get picked up to go to her new foster family that morning. Hopefully it’ll go well, and she’ll have a new home. Then I held a two-month-old boy named Mihail who looked a little like a very contemplative and concerned old man. He was tired and before long fell asleep in my arms. Every now and then he would stretch out and smile, and it was adorable. I think that these babies get more one-on-one attention than children in other institutions, but all the individual attention a child can get is valuable since contact is such an important part of emotional development. I know that, due to our limited time here, we can’t have a lasting affect on the lives of such young children, but I’m glad that we are here to provide, in the very least, temporary improvement.
After a morning spent at the hospital, I went again to Open Door, the after-school program for Roma children. There, they are given extra work to help them improve in the subjects they’ve been studying in school. They are also given a hot meal, a shower, and clean clothes. Romas are discriminated against in Romania, and have limited opportunities to improve their quality of life. Hopefully, Open Door will motivate the children there to go on to receive a higher education and improve their lives. The kids there live in houses made of barbed wire, sheet metal, and wood, most without running water or electricity. Despite sub-standard living conditions, they’re absolutely hilarious and just as spirited as kids who have a stable home environment and an air conditioner. It’s an incredible program and a huge triumph for the amazing people who organized and run it.
Yesterday I spent the morning at the Placement Center. There are toys there and wonderful professionals who care for the seven children I met. But it’s still heartbreaking and difficult being there because all I want to do is help the children overcome these impossible obstacles. And I can’t. I realize that the six days I’ll be volunteering here will not be enough to make a significant difference to them, and that’s been the most difficult facet of this trip. In day-to-day life back home, I approached problems with a “fix it” attitude, and, of course, I can do nothing of the sort here. I want to make it better, and I know that I can’t.
-- Anna Cummings

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Beginning

Our departure date coincided with Andrea’s birthday. Our chaperone Susie McGee made a Devil’s Food birthday cake with cream cheese frosting, which we all ate before leaving from Rivers that afternoon. After an anxiously awaited eight-hour flight, another hour flight, a final two and a half hour flight, followed by a two-hour bus ride, we finally made it to our hotel in Bistrita, Romania (Transylvania). Only one of our bags was lost! Although exhausted, Dan and Susie forced us to stay up in order to get used to the time-change. After dinner and discussing the pertinent history of Romania, we all instantly fell asleep at nine.
Waking up to the sounds of roosters cockadoodledooing outside our windows, we were eager to begin our first day of work. Alexandra from Fundatia Inocenti met us at the hotel, and we followed her to the office. There, we met Marin, the director of Fundatia Inocenti, and he provided an orientation of the history of their programs and our participation. We then split up into two groups to begin our work with the children. Leah, Alexis, Lindsay, and Kate went to the Hospital and Ryan, Andrea, Anna, and Alicia went to the Placement Center. At the Hospital, the group decorated bags with some of the kids and their mothers. At the Placement Center, the group played with the special needs children. The groups joined at noon for lunch.
In the afternoon, Leah, Alexis, Lindsay, and Kate went to the Placement Center. They made appreciation bracelets for the Romanian student volunteers. Following this activity, the four girls played with a group of ten Romanian girls in the Placement Center’s afternoon program. Ryan, Andrea, Anna, and Alicia went to Open Door, an after school program for local Roma (gypsy) children. Here, they played and interacted with the children. Natalie, the head worker at the program, left America after visiting Romania a few years ago. Struck by the difficult conditions present in the lives of Roma children, Natalie has dedicated the past three years working with a group of 12. This after school program not only provides running water and clean clothes for the children, but also assists the kids with school homework. The workers at Open Door give the children points, which in turn can be exchanged for prizes. This aspect provides motivation for the children to do extra work, which elevates their literacy.
Today, March 11, was not only our first day of work but Susie’s birthday. Throughout the day we all were so immersed in the work that even Susie herself forgot her birthday! At dinner we surprised her with a cake that we all shared. After the first day of work, the whole group feels impressed with the welcomes we have received. Also, the dedication of the Romanians working with these children has inspired us.
-La revedere! From the 2009 Romania Crew