Sara Griffiths - General Care Projects in Romania
I remember distinctly sitting in the airport awaiting my flight; I was overwhelmed by a nervous excitement. A few hours down the line, two flights and a rather bumpy, hair raising car ride later I had arrived in Brasov. This was to be my home for the next month and what a home it would turn out to be.
My initial impressions of Brasov were that it was a run down city that was strangely both quaint and imposing. It was very attractive in its own special way, a combination of old, vibrantly colored medieval architecture in the old town that ran fluently into the modern more concrete structures of the newer areas. I liked it immediately, and I suppose rather unexpectedly from the moment I set foot in the town it felt instantly like home.
My host family lived just a short walk from town, the Projects Abroad office and my placement at Brasov children’s hospital and this proved to be the perfect location. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family, they welcomed me at once and despite their minimal grasp of English they made me feel at home and their warm personalities and forever smiling faces were there every morning, afternoon, evening and night to greet me.
On returning to England, I have often been asked how I coped living with a family for a month that didn’t speak much English. My answer is that really we coped through a lot of highly emphasized gestures! It is not until you are placed in a situation like this that you realize that really a lot of understanding is not in fact through spoken language itself but through the universality of body language and as a result the fact that we didn’t know each other’s languages was not an issue.
The day after my arrival saw my induction of the town. I was taken for a traditional Romanian lunch at a restaurant called Sergiana’s by Alex, a member of the Projects Abroad team. Here I was treated to a traditional dish called sarmale (cabbage stuffed with minced meat, rice and vegetables) which I found delicious and I was able to grill Alex about all aspects of Brasov, Project’s Abroad and of my coming placement.
After my induction I met up with some of the other volunteers and we all hit it off immediately. These volunteers and the rest of the volunteers I met later were to become great friends. We would spend most evenings and weekends together exploring the town and surrounding areas. We had memorable trips to Bran (sampling the most wonderfully potent ‘vin fiert’ or mulled wine), Sibiu, Sighisoara and a mammoth hike up to Poiana Brasov to name but a few!
The most important and life changing aspect of my stay in Romania was certainly the work at my placement at Brasov children’s hospital for a group called ‘Hope for the Nations’. Our role as volunteers was to spend time with the babies and children in the hospital, playing with them, comforting them, feeding them and just holding them. It was incredibly rewarding to see the children grow comfortable in your company and see the children, who at first are expressionless, begin to smile as you develop a bond with them. I’ll never forget holding my first baby at the hospital, I had never held a baby before and this was a particularly poignant moment for me.
The placement gave me a sense of being involved in something very special and I learnt a lot from it. I arrived with no illusions as to what I should expect which I felt was the best way to start. I soon saw that life in a Romanian hospital was a far cry from hospitals at home but this was to make the experience all the more rewarding as you had a real sense that your presence there was a massive help, especially to the babies as it was enabling them to develop a trust of human beings and provide them with the constant stimulation that they so desperately needed for their regular development.
Finally there is only one thing left to say and that is a massive ‘thank you’ to all the staff at Projects Abroad. From the outset all of the staff were always there for each and every one of the volunteers and felt to me like a family away from home. We had many a great evening spent in the office with the staff and took part in some fantastic organized evenings. I can’t thank you all enough for helping to make my experience in Romania such a special one. I took away from this experience many new friends, plentiful wonderful memories and a hunger to return as soon as possible!