July 22nd 2015 saw the start of my second trip as a volunteer to Romania. I felt much better prepared than I had done in 2014 when nothing could have prepared me for the immediate and unconditional trust and love given to the volunteers by the children and young adults at the orphanage in Lugoj.
We were warmly welcomed to the house in Stiuca, our home for the next three nights, by Sorana and Kati. The house is in a lovely setting on the edge of the small community of Stiuca. During our welcome tour there still seemed to be so much work that needed to be completed before being suitably habitable for the young people who it is intended for. Potential living rooms were piled high with furniture, clothing and resources in unopened boxes, many of which were donations from abroad. It didn’t prevent any of us from having a fantastic time and I know it’s going to make a terrific home for those youngsters when it’s finished. There is no comparison between the house and the orphanage.
Sorana and Cati had prepared a much needed supper which we enjoyed on the veranda overlooking the small town and after a good night’s sleep and breakfast we eagerly awaited the arrival of the young people who were the reason for our visit, Adam, Anna-Maria, Paiu, Ela, Simi, Florin and Bianca. They excitedly fell out of the minibus and greeted us with hugs, kisses and lots of smiles, which immediately melt your heart! We too were excited to show them their bedrooms which we had prepared the night before with brightly coloured duvet covers, toiletries, pyjamas and sunglasses. All of which had been kindly donated by many of our friends and families prior to our trip. I don’t think that the people who help so generously with fundraising and donations realise the pleasure that their generosity brings to these young people. A simple second hand pair of sunglasses is received like it’s the greatest gift on earth. It’s their appreciation of everyday items, which we take so much for granted, that will keep me wanting to return to Romania in future years, despite being the ‘grandma’ of the group (thanks to James for that title!).
During our time at Stiuca we made jewellery, painted a flag, designed T-shirts, had water fights, walked to the local shop for ice-creams, sewed dubious looking wild animals (Ellie’s was definitely the best!), face painted (Megan’s artistic skills being appreciated only by the children). The whole group were an absolute pleasure to be with and so keen to help and share their own skills: Adam with his dishwashing; Anna-Maria with her cooking; Paiu with his great sense of humour; Ela constantly looking out for Bianca, who at 6 years old was the youngest member of the group; Simi looking out for Florin, who enjoyed his own company at times and would go for little walks around the house, always returning with a big smile.
The time went far too quickly and Saturday morning arrived when the group had to return to the orphanage in Lugoj, followed by ourselves who would spend the next three nights at the hotel opposite the orphanage.
Our arrival at the orphanage was met with great excitement but, sadly, new fences around various areas meant that the children were not as free to roam as they had been the previous year. The fencing greatly upset the younger members of our group who felt that the children were being penned like animals but it was explained to us that the fences were a necessary security measure after an incident earlier in the year. It is not for us to pass judgement on such decisions, no matter how wrong it seems, so we had no choice but to embrace the new system during our time there.
The next few days saw us painting, sewing, singing, blowing bubbles…, to name just a few, with children who wanted nothing more than our company and attention. There were times when I sat back and just watched what was happening – it’s those moments when you get a real sense of the bond between the children and the volunteers, who only see each other for one week every year yet share so much mutual respect and love. It will never feel right that these wonderful children have to live in this institution but they don’t seem unhappy and their relationships with each other and with the orphanage staff resemble a close knit community. Having said that, there are children there, who in England, would be in mainstream school and flourishing academically because of the resources available to them. It’s that massive inequality between their world and ours that makes their situation seem so unfair and why it’s so important to me personally to stay involved.
I asked myself last year if the children and young people remember their English visitors from one year to the next. I don’t really think it matters if they remember us by name but this year my question was answered when a young man, Gabriel, who last year painted a self portrait as a gift for me, this year welcomed me with a gift of a hand painted plate depicting the Holy Family. On proudly presenting his work to me, he told me that he had made it because ‘you are like my mother’. Enough said!
Our visits, our gifts, donations and our time, no matter how small do make a difference.
By Collette Denby