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Voluntary Work in a Children's Hospital in Romania

 

After two years of waiting and planning, finally I arrived in Bucharest airport. Before I set off for London Heathrow Airport, I was apprehensive to say the least. This was my first time travelling alone and taking part in a project like this. Had I known everything would run smoothly, I would have been a bit more composed once I got to Romania and was met by the desk officer, Alex. From then on, it was good to know I was in safe hands.

Phillipa Beston did voluntary work on her gap year in Romania with Projects AbroadI had found out about Projects Abroad through an internet search for Gap Year companies and this seemed the most friendly and supportive. But the website, phone calls and emails couldn't prepare me for how friendly and personable the people who work for the company actually are. Alex and I had to wait for another volunteer to arrive before we could start our 3 hour drive to BraÅŸov, so to fill the time we had a burger and a chat.

When we got to BraÅŸov, late at night, I was surprised. The town wasn't what I was expecting at all. But I was too tired to take it all in. I got to my host's house and my host mother greeted me at the gate. I quickly realised that she couldn't speak a scrap of English as Alex was translating what I was asking. This was only a minor difficulty in the end, as we were able to communicate even if we couldn't have a conversation. My hosts were eager for me to treat their home as mine and slowly I found it easier to relax. My first night in my new home was rather scary, but I slept like the dead anyway.

In the morning, I was met by Dani, the Care volunteer supervisor, who took me up to the nearby Project's Abroad office, which was usually where all the volunteers would meet, even if they had a reason to be there or not. Soon, Alexandra, the drama and journalism supervisor, along with two other new volunteers, joined us in the office and then we all went to have our inductions. We were shown where the town was, the hub of the majority of social activity, and we had a typical Romanian meal. When I saw the town, it was more like what I had imagined of Romania, with all the old buildings circling around the Council Building and the Black church in the background. This was so different to where I was staying, where the buildings had no real identity and could belong to anywhere in the world.

The first volunteers I met on my induction were diverse in themselves. One was an Australian and the other a Brummie! But the more volunteers I slowly met through social outings, lunches and pub trips, the more I realised how diverse the group really was. Because of this diversity, everyone was instantly accepted by each other; no matter what you were doing, your reasons for being there, or where you came from. Everyone was so like minded in the end that it became a very tight group, which was invaluable as most Romanians had only a smattering of English and were mostly less friendly of Westerners. At first, I found Romanians very hard to approach, but the people more used to Westerners were friendlier, especially if you attempted at Romanian. I was once offered some local grapes by a Romanian ski instructor.

However, having the support of the Projects Abroad supervisors was also invaluable as they set up social evenings at the office. Nights which involved cooking our own meals from our home countries and watching Romanian films. Alexandra and Dani would also take us to places like the pancake house and occasionally join us for drinks. In the end, they seemed much more like friends than supervisors.

On my third day of being in Romania, I had my first shift at the 'Spitalul clinic de copii, BraÅŸov'; the Children's Hospital where I'd be working for a few hours a day for the next month. I worked with the organisation 'Hope For The Nations' who were also at the hospital and had a few long term American volunteers there. My first shift was amazing, quite simply. I was really worried about working in a hospital, but somehow it was different here. And in any case the babies' needs were greater than mine.

I found it amazing to just hold the babies and not even have to do anything special with them, just to know that they needed a little bit of attention and holding them was enough. I found working at the hospital really rewarding. I learnt how to change the babies, how to hold them and how to play with them depending on their temperament. Some babies would want to move around more and some would just want hugs. Working within the hospital system was more difficult, as the busy nurses would treat each baby the same and have no real time to comfort them. But seeing the babies was the most important thing and I would always look forward to my shifts and be eager to get back to the hospital after the weekend.

I also worked on the floor with older children, which was a little more demanding because of the language barrier. We would try to play games that involved little talking, which was usually snap! Some of the kids found that hard to grasp as they'd look at the cards before they put them down, although I have a sneaking suspicion they were good at pretending they didn't understand the rules! We also played a game that involved making animal noises, so I now know what sounds farmyard animals make in Romanian.

All in all, I was so glad that I was allocated at working at the hospital as it was so rewarding and turned out to be really quite fun. I got attached to so many babies in the wards. They all had such big personalities for such little people, and it was so amazing to see the smiles that you put on their faces everyday. It became really hard to stay impartial about such lovable and resilient babies, and even the ones who only stayed for just a few days in the hospital are imprinted on my memory. I also loved playing with the older kids because I could get much more out of them even if I couldn't speak to them. They were so lovable, and cheeky too. Working at the hospital turned out to be something of a gift, in the end.

At the weekends, we always found some place to travel to. Transport was frequent and decent enough to get to the places we wanted to see and it was always fun to take a day trip with a group of lively volunteers, even if some turned up at the bus stop at 6am, having had only a couple hours sleep! I loved seeing places outside of BraÅŸov, because it made me realise how diverse Romania really is. In BraÅŸov town, it was quite easy to blend in because the town is quite used to Westerners, but in places like the nearby town of RâÅŸnov, three blonde girls with quite nice clothes were worthy of being stared at. Whilst here, we also saw a horse and cart, which really made us realise that this was a rather different to lifestyle than we were used to. There were quite a few tourist attractions in towns outside of BraÅŸov, but sometimes it was difficult to find them. A good tip would be to always have a guide book handy!

But in any case, I always had a good time. Whether that was getting lost on the way to a castle, having an evening out with the other volunteers, sitting up at the office with Dani and Alexandra, playing snap with cheeky children and keeping cute babies amused. The whole experience has opened my eyes to a radically different way of life and has been something that has really impacted upon me personally. The friends I made and the babies I met will be something that I will always remember of my time in Romania.

Phillipa Beston's placement in Romania was arranged by Projects Abroad