The first time I took the children up to the plateau, it was a perfect fall day, the sun was bright and by the time we climbed up to the plateau we had all peeled off our coats. The breeze was gentle; the sunlight shifted through the branches of the trees, and even the ground was soft and warm with the light of the sun. We started out playing a game lying on the ground, with children’s heads on each others stomachs faces turned toward the sky, but what followed was a fit of uncontrollable giggling that never quite ended. After which we attempted to orchestrate a series of games focused on appreciating the beauty of nature, but the children weren’t much for following rules that day, but it didn’t bother us much. It was enough to see them having so much fun simply running around, chasing each other, enjoying the freedom of being outside.
I’ll never forget the littlest one, Elena, only 5 years old, who got more of a kick out of being outside then anyone. She jumped up and down, tumbled and rolled in the leaves until she was covered in them head toe. It always amazes me how the simplest things in life, can bring so much happiness to a child. An open field of grass, a pile of leaves, a flower, or a hill to roll down can brighten up a child’s day, but only if an adult takes the time to show it to them. From what I was told, this was the first time the children had ever been up to the plateau, and was one of the few times if any that they get to be outside of the Center.
At the Center in Lupeni, there are about 24 children who live there, all from the ages 5-18. My weekly visits to the center were by far my favorite parts of my time in Romania. Being able to spend time with the kids and doing the activities with them was challenging but was also a lot of fun and very fulfilling. The children were so curious and loving from the very beginning, randomly giving me gifts and always ready for a hug. It’s very easy to see how much these children crave love and attention, and unfortunately with limited human resources and the restrictions of living in an institution these needs are rarely met.
If anyone has heard about Romanian orphanages before, most likely they have a very negative picture in their mind. The world was flooded with news coverage after the fall of communism in the early 90’s that made Romanian orphanages infamous for their horrendous conditions. News reporters showed pictures of overcrowded orphanages, with children who were left in their cribs all day, permanently emotional, intellectually, and developmentally stunted, because of lack of human interaction. But the picture of residential centers today is much different. Things have greatly improved but still much work needs to be done, especially in the area of helping the children to transition from living in an institution to living on their own.
For my internship most of the week I spent in the office 9-5 doing office work but in the afternoons Wednesday and Thursday I got to spend at the Lupeni Children’s Center and on Friday evenings I spent at the Batania House, a private orphanage in the town over. The reason that they are now called Children’s Residential Centers is because often most of the children in these homes are not orphans as many of their parents are alive, but they are taken out of their homes because of severe abuse or neglect, or the family willingly gave them up because they wanted a better life for them.
The first time I arrived at the children’s residential center, to be honest it was not at all what I was expecting. The children live in a large beautiful building, but there is something about it that makes it cold, apart from the temperature that it is also always rather chilly. The staff for the most part are very kind and the children seem happy and well taken care of but there is something about the institution that somehow made it not feel like a home where children lived, there was a love and a warmth that was missing.
This is in direct contrast to the private orphanage that I went to on Friday evenings. Granted the children were extremely rowdy, fought more, and seemed to be left to their own devices at least for the time that my partner and I were present, but there was a love and warmth there between the children and the staff. They seemed much more like a family and this is evidenced by the fact that a few of the children even once they aged out of the program, choose to stay to either work at the center or to continue their schooling.
Unfortunately, because of schedule conflicts, and because Friday evenings were often our busiest days with the program I was not able to go the Batania house as much as I wanted to. Even though most of times when we did go the time was spent simply getting the children to calm down it was a lot of fun to spend time with them, as they loved the games, and the Bible lessons that my partner and I always had planned for them.
Going to visit the children at the orphanages was my favorite part of my time in Romania. They are such good kids with so much joy and such big hearts. I often was overwhelmed by how much love they poured out to me, a complete stranger. But somehow even with language barriers we were able to laugh together and learn from each other. I am also so thankful for the Romanians who accompanied me every week to the center to help me translate. Without them it would not have all been possible for me to work with the children and I am truly indebted to them that completely volunteered their time for nothing.
I know that in situations like these, it often feels like when volunteering in a foreign country that you receive much more then you give but for once I feel that this wasn’t the case. I feel that my time there was well spent, for 3 months I worked probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. I worked long hours, and it felt like I was literally always going, but I had so many wonderful experiences. Even though I still feel like I gained much more, I can also say that I gave, and that feels good. My prayer is that someone continues to invest in these children’s lives; they need positive relationships with adults so badly. But it also feels good to know that IMPACT will continue to be apart of their lives and hopefully more volunteers will come and invest in them also.