After shortly arriving at Luton Airport on the 8th July 2012 I began thinking of ways to break the ice with the group. Some of us were from the same universities, others had never met anyone before, but we all had something in common: we had fundraised for the best part of a year, for the FutureSense Foundation. So, why Romania? Firstly, nobody in the group had ever done anything like this before. Many of us chose Romania because Challenges Abroad presented Romania as a unique trip: the only trip the offer in Europe that is basically just volunteering with weekends free. It also had a realistic fundraising target to reach in under a year.
Furthermore, we all had a passion to help the care system in Romania. Due to the devastation the Communist regime has caused to the country, Romania has long-standing issues of underdevelopment and poverty. It shocked us all to see how much this has left its mark on the country to this day. Child welfare is a particular concern as a lot of children are put into institutional care. Our expedition to Romania was going to allow us to get an insight into the issues facing many of the unwanted and vulnerable children, and have a chance to contribute to their support and development.
As part of the program Challenges Abroad direct we were to spend four weeks renovating one (very large) care home. This ended up being cut to two weeks when two little children from the care home wanted to return early because they missed their house. This put us on a tight schedule and we had to pull together to finish the house in just a week. Thankfully, the Nanny had asked for the rooms to be painted plain without pattern – so our job was fairly straightforward. Each morning we would wake around half 7 and begin painting. We painted the Kitchen, Dining Room, Two Bathrooms, Hall Way, Lounge and Two Bedrooms. In our final week of the trip we returned to the care home to see the children – they were all so grateful and it made our week of mayhem painting so worthwhile.
Having finished all renovation, we were moved into the centre of town for the next two weeks. We all missed our rural village and the hours walk into town each day – but it was also nice to experience a different atmosphere in the town of Szèkelykeresztur. For these two weeks we focused our time on the children. Most days were spent in the park at the centre of their flats. I think it shocked us all to see the communist block of flats still remained and actually housed the children. On one occasion the police were called because the children were playing football at the park and making “too much noise” – it’s then that it became clear of the life these children have and why they really valued their one on one time with us, playing. We also took the children swimming, on small hikes, for ice cream, to an activity centre and to a local fair. Seeing how so little could make them so happy really resonated in the group – and it showed us how much we take for granted.
When we weren’t with the children we were soaking up the culture Romania had to offer. Weekends were free and we made a point of using them wisely. We went to nearby towns, markets, salt mine, lakes, castles – Romania is so cheap the train prices were crazy. For one weekend we went to Brasov where we stayed in a hostel – this was probably a highlight. Spending the day site seeing, shopping and on the cable cars up to the mountain to take a look at the city meets mountains scenes. At night half of the group went Bear Watching – and managed to see a few cubs! While the rest of us hit the Brasov night life.
Overall, our experience on this trip was so positive we would all have loved to stay longer. Each person from the group took something different from it – it will stay with us, and shape us, I would recommended it to anyone . Challenges Abroad have created a fantastic program and opportunity for students.