Valerie Case - General Care Projects in Romania
I never thought that I would have the opportunity of taking part in volunteer care work in Romania but after being made redundant as a teacher I seized the chance to join my friend Rosie on a ‘senior’ gap experience. I left behind a rather bemused husband giving him lists of instructions on how to operate the washing machine, put on a clean duvet cover and water the house plants, but the ironing he would have to negotiate with his mother.
I arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed after a good flight from London, Heathrow. Leo from Projects Abroad met us in arrivals with a welcome bottle of cold water and soon we were speeding along towards Brasov, which is a 3 hour journey on a good day. My first impressions or Romania were of a flat landscape, firstly industrial and then farmland but as we steadily climbed into the mountains the scenery was breath taking. During the ride Leo told us about Romania and its culture and the Director of Projects Abroad in Romania rang us, which was very welcoming. The journey ended in the centre of Brasov, just off the main square, this will be my home for the next month. We were warmly greeted by our host (thank goodness she spoke very good English) we had a meal and soon settled into our room.
Over the next 2 days we met with the Project Abroad team, they were very friendly and supportive. Danni the care supervisor came with us to make sure that we were confident getting to our work placement and that we were aware of the routines at the hospital, as well as being able to find our way around the city. We even went to a Romanian restaurant and had a typical Romanian dish of sarmale. I felt eager, well prepared and privileged to be part of the care program.
My work placement was at Sacele Hospital in the pediatric department in a small baby/toddler room. Very near to Sacele there is the largest gypsy settlement in Europe and consequently most of the children in the hospital are from gypsy families. The number of babies/toddlers under 4 years varies on a daily basis and as volunteers we are never sure of their ages or what is actually wrong with them. The lack of Romanian language was sometimes a problem with staff and the gypsy mothers but working with the babies you only need baby talk and expressions.
Generally the children in the baby room were behind in their development due to lack of stimuli in their environment. Babies can stay for up to 2 weeks and are often transferred from Brasov Hospital. Parents are encouraged to collect their babies but they usually return. Most parents do not come to visit their babies in hospital so it is very rewarding as a volunteer to care for the babies by cuddling them, talking and playing with them. On my first day at the hospital I was confronted with having to treat head lice- oh joy!
As the week progressed I became familiar with the routines. I arrived at the hospital, collected any clean laundry from the basement then went to the baby room to count the babies. In the playroom also run by Projects Abroad volunteers, I changed into my nursery top and white clogs and collected diapers and toys appropriate for the age of the babies. The babies were bathed but it was not an easy task and definitely needed several pairs of hands as for most of the babies it was a new experience. Usually we had an audience of gypsy mothers who were very keen to stand in the doorway and watch. Dressing the babies was another challenge as clothes for the toddlers was in short supply.
The rest of the morning was spent playing with the babies but they did tire easily and often just wanted to be held close and cuddled. It was lovely to see the toddlers that had spent so much time in their cots sat in a baby walker and then suddenly realizing that they could move around the room - the smile said it all! The morning session ended with feeding the babies their lunch, those on solids had mashed potato sometimes with bits of chicken and it never varied for the whole month I was at the hospital. After lunch the babies were returned to their cots to sleep and there they remained until the next morning. It was hard to walk away especially if they were crying but the next morning they would be beaming when they saw you and the routine started again.
On returning to Brasov after work at the hospital Rosie and I became tourists and visited as many museums, churches and historic buildings as possible before returning for our evening meal. When we arrived in Brasov we were lucky enough to see the Brasov Music Festival and the finale was the pop group Simply Red for only £7 a ticket. In the evening we went to look at the lovely shops and for drinks in the bars where we met up with the other volunteers. Each week there was a social event and a larger event once a month so there was plenty of opportunity to socialize with volunteers. Brasov is a beautiful city and the surrounding area offers so much variety and can cater for every ones needs. The transport links are good and Rosie and I at the weekends traveled to Bran, Rasnov, Sinaia and Sighisora.
During the month that I was in Romania as well as the rewarding experience of volunteering at the hospital I also gained a real insight into the Romanian way of life. The country, the culture, the people and especially the babies become a part of you and you do not want to leave but you have to! In your heart you know you will return.