St. Francis after school club summer camp for the villages Szentegyháza (Vlahiţa) and Kápolnás (Căpâlnița)

Transylvania is beautiful no matter where you look with lush green fields, seemingly endless forests, valleys and mountains, and picturesque villages. But there is more than meets the eye. To anyone just travelling through, life would seem idyllic with a slower and more traditional way of life apparent from even the use of horse-drawn carts that farmers use for transport but the lack of tractors and large agricultural machines is far from a choice. Poverty is rife in some areas of the country and children, especially, often miss out if someone doesn’t step in and provide them with the opportunities they need to succeed. This is what Care2Travel aims to do.

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For the kids, summer camps are a mixture of fun and games, but for the staff at Care2Travel, they are carefully organised programmes to cater specifically to the needs of the children who are being served.

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The summer camp in Szentegyháza (Vlahita) serves children living in low socio-economic circumstances and sometimes even from families broken by alcoholism and abuse. Often, families are large and parents can’t provide the attention and support each individual child needs to reach their potential. During the school term, an after-school programme provides these children with a safe place to do homework and have a hot meal that may be their only hot meal of the day. When summer holidays come around, summer camps fill the void.

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For the volunteers, the day starts with a winding drive from Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc) up into the mountains. A daily debrief is held to make sure everyone is on the same page and any changes are made while local volunteers prepare a breakfast of salami and cheese sandwiches on potato bread. Then, the children appear from across the field and the day begins.

The food disappears at an alarming pace and the next activity begins. The local pool has allowed the children to come and use the natural mineral water pool for an hour each morning and the children love it. Games and splashing abound with both local and international volunteers looking on to make sure everyone is safe. An hour is by no means enough for the children but the next activity awaits.

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After a quick dry off, change and a snack, the children are separated into groups to have their English lesson. Games and puzzles help the children learn and the beautiful setting of a rural field helps the volunteers maintain a relaxed and fun learning environment. Drawing and coloring whilst listening to instructions was also a winner with some artistic talent becoming evident.

All the while, some of our local volunteers prepare a delicious hot lunch with potatoes, cabbage and salami cooked together in a giant outdoor, fire-powered vat known as a bogrács. Potatoes may sound boring but when a culture thrives on them, creativity shines with their being no room to get bored of the plethora of preparation techniques available.

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Again, the food is consumed quickly but every last drop is mopped up with the local potato bread that is in no short supply. However, with the seasons changing from summer to autumn, the weather is changing too and rain puts a damper on some activities.

Nonetheless, the camp goes on and the ever-adaptable team keeps the kids busy under the tent that provides just enough shelter for everyone. When the sun comes out and there is a break in the weather, a game of football is back on the cards and volunteers and children of all ages get involved to find out who is the winner!

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Summer Camp in Bánkfalva

It was a Tuesday morning and the weather was looking a little bit overcast – Oh no! It was the first day of summer camp and beautiful sunshine had been imagined. Thankfully, the sun started peeking through the clouds but let’s be honest, summer camp is too much fun to be dampened by some silly clouds!

The day started with lots of name games so that students and volunteers alike could get to know one another. While learning people’s names isn’t usually considered fun, it is at summer camp! Lots of laughter and energy came out with the sun as students played ‘Whack-a-mole’ and the creatively named ‘Blanket game’ as they tried to compete against one another to be the name master.

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After everyone knew everyone else the running began but the fun certainly didn’t stop. ‘Toilet tag’ proved to be very popular but also exhausting with students and volunteers alike needing a bit of a break.

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After a short break for some snacks and water, and a chance for the volunteers to cool down and catch their breath, an opportunity to learn a little bit more about each other came up in the form of ‘Name BINGO’. The race was on to find 16 different people who could answer ‘yes’ to a question with the winner being the first person to write down someone’s name for each square. After a false winner, a true winner was found and some congratulations were in order.

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Outside again to try and outrun each other with a game of ‘Bulldog’. Sneaky moves were tried to avoid being caught but even the fastest and cleverest of runners were eventually caught.

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A game of ‘Conductor’ meant that students had to practice their observational skills as well as their sneakiness as the Conductor led the circle in a series of actions and other students followed with a guesser in the middle trying to find out who was leading the group. Some were sneakier than others, and some students have very good powers of observation!

Finally, the day was brought to a close with a chance to check all of the new words that students had heard during the day to be quizzed on later in the week.

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The fun will continue as the week goes on until finally on Friday, it’s time to say not goodbye, but see you later to all the new friends that have been made.

Clara’s After School Support experience

I recently returned from an incredible 4-week volunteering experience in Miercurea Ciuc (Csikszereda), a city in the Harghita county of Romania, with a predominantly Hungarian population. The Szekely community as a whole was amazingly hospitable, its people friendly and accepting. As an Asian (they don’t get many Asians in this part of the country), I always stood out but this was also a great opportunity to share about myself and my country with the people (locals, volunteers, children and carers at my placement) I met.

(Note to future volunteers – bring along maps and photos from home.  This is a great way to break the ice with locals and fellow volunteers. You will have many opportunities to whip out those materials).

The good folks at Care2Travel are a great team. They are passionate about their work in the community they operate in and have put in a lot of effort to provide a comprehensive orientation program, resources (like teaching guides, materials, props, etc.) and support to volunteers to maximize their effectiveness in their placements. The team is also very happy to provide suggestions on how you can spend your weekends/free time and a great source of help for anything you might need while in-country.

I was placed in two Afterschool clubs in the nearby villages of Szentegyhaza and Kapolnas (about 60-75minutes outside Miercurea Ciuc). The children, aged between 6 to 15, who attend the clubs are from disadvantaged backgrounds; many of them from Roma families. My role included teaching basic English, helping the children with their English homework, preparing fun games and activities to engage the children, and providing general support to the carer of the club. You don’t have to be able to speak Hungarian before you start your volunteer stint but it is good to pick up some basic words and phrases while you are here.

The first couple of sessions with the children were challenging – some children need more time than others to warm up to you. The language barrier doesn’t help either. Many of the children, especially the younger ones, know little or no English and some might be reluctant to use it even if they can. However, it is extremely rewarding once the children feel comfortable enough with you to want you to play with them (expect to play lots of foci or just kicking a ball around), demand you sit next to them at meal/snack time, or come to you wanting extra time to practice/learn English or simply responding to you when you interact with them. The children would also try to teach me Hungarian while I tried teaching them English. This mutual learning process works well and is a source of much laughter and fun.

It has been an interesting and memorable experience to learn about the history and culture of this beautiful country. Romania has lots of fascinating cities, sights and activities to offer visitors. As it is not as popular a tourist destination (yet) as other Central/Eastern European countries, it is relatively cheap to travel in Romania.

I would also recommend volunteering to everyone, regardless of age or background. If you want to be more than just a tourist, if you want to immerse yourself in the culture of a country and give a little something back to the country you are visiting – volunteer! Go with an open heart and open mind, be willing to learn and adapt to your environment. You won’t regret the experience.

-Clara
From Singapore

John’s teaching experience in Bánkfalva village’s school

I recently returned from a 4 week volunteer trip with Care2Travel in Romania.  It was one of the best and most fulfilling times of my life.  I have been retired for 4 years and wanted to do something that I had not done before and in some way give back.  I chose Romania because I had already been there and really enjoyed the country and the people.  As much fun as my first trip to Romania was, it was just a shadow of my volunteer trip.  I was able to work in Bankfalva with Hungarians and teach English in an elementary school.  The first week was a camp-like atmosphere as the children were out of school and volunteered for the camp learning and practicing their English.   Twice while I was there 30-40 children volunteered to study English with us while they were out of school.  It was amazing!  The first week working at the camp really helped set me up for the next two weeks teaching regular classes in the school.  For me that was the highlight of my trip, to be able to teach every day and interact with the children and the other teachers.  I was very well accepted in the school by everyone.   I had taken the Teaching English as a Foreign Language course and was able to use some of that as I even had the opportunity to teach a few classes unassisted.

IMG_20170117_152300.jpgIn addition to learning a little Hungarian and meeting many Hungarian people I also had the pleasure to meet and work with volunteers from several other countries such as; South Korea, Panama, Kazakhstan, Syria, and Australia.  It is something that every American should do and so few will.  Meeting people from other countries and being able to show our American culture in a positive setting is important and even more so these days with xenophobia so rampant.  The administrators of Care2Travel are fantastic and the support is exceptional.  Their goal is to provide to the Hungarian people the very best service they can through the volunteers and to the volunteers their goal is to provide all the best support so each volunteer has a fulfilling and worry free experience.

I would highly recommend that every person who can volunteer some of their time to others do so, and this is the easiest way to do that with no worries.  Care2Travel, Peter and Orsi, will go out of their way to make this an experience of a lifetime.  You can’t change the world in just a few weeks but perhaps you can help a little and it will likely change you as it did me.

Scarlette’s teaching experiences in Szentsimon school

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t, and contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland

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On December 15th I found myself arriving into a kind of cold and frozen wonderland. Just like Alice I got into a new adventure because adventures always comes first, you know, explanations take such a dreadful time; just as Lewis Carroll mentioned in his book, and just like the time it will take me to summarize a six weeks experience in one small entry, but I will try my best not to leave anything behind.

I volunteer in the teaching project and in the Children’s home project. I adore both projects and I truly felt that my work and my knowledge was valued. I had the opportunity to be in the Children’s home project because of the winter break in school, and it was an amazing experience. The kids were truly wonderful and moms were committed with the children’s learning. As a volunteer in the Children’s home project I really liked that I had full flexibility about how and what to teach. The children were always excited about learning English

In the teaching project I had the chance to make materials, and work closely with the English teachers in a little public school. I loved the engagement that the teachers had in relate to their students learning. All of them worked hard to make the children have a better future. I am an English teacher in my home country Costa Rica, and this was like looking to a different world through a mirror. I learned so much from the teachers in the school! I was able to compare the educational system in my country with the Romanian educational system which was a fascinating experience because it helped me to learn new things.  Like in Lewis Carroll novel we need characters in our frozen wonderland and the people from the school will absolutely have major roles.

“It’s always tea time” that is a line we will read in Alice in Wonderland; let’s change it a bit “It’s always English club time”. What a marvelous thing can commitment do! And Care2Travel has a very strong commitment to help Csíkszereda to grow, then as a part of this grow we have the English clubs which I absolutely loved. They gave me the opportunity to meet new people, to talk about important cultural things and to share information and experiences. Like in every mad world is not crazy to introduce yourself five times per day, so talking about my country was always a great way to start. One of my favorite thing of the English Clubs was to see how people improve and how they overcome their shyness and fear, and they will try to speak in English, how they will try to make you feel welcome, how they will ask questions, take notes, share with you and in general be part of the amazing thing that an English club time is.

This is the way I explain my ski experience “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop”(Alice in Wonderland) Yes, exactly like that. Without the help of my amazing tour guide it would have been very difficult to stop, at all. To anyone coming to Csíkszereda and want to explore and do other things you can truly trust in Care2Travel knowledgeable and nice tour guide. It’s common knowledge that all the best people are entirely bonkers like my Hungarian teachers, my Care2travel coordinators (ALL of them), my tour guide and a lot of the people I met in this amazing country called Romania, in this stunning place called Csíkszereda.

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To summarize six weeks in a few words or a few lines is too difficult; and when people asked me how my time in Romania was, the only thing I can answer is that “I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then” and “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”. This experience has changed my life and a piece of my heart will always live there.

 

View from the school

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Christmas fair

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Yichen and Chaoyue NGO Supporting experience

After a five-hour journey, I arrived at the volunteer accommodation on Saturday evening. My first impression about Romania is about the heavy snow, which I have never seen for 2 years. And I love this city since everything is pretty with snow and it is a lovely small city.

About the temperature, it is colder here than I thought from the information on IVHQ’s website. But I am getting used to it in the following days.

For our project here, I am doing NGO support, which is basically help in the office and prepare things for other volunteers. But I experienced a lot more in this short one week. I really enjoyed the English club, since it is good to see people try to improve their English and it is nice to meet local people here. And I feel really good to introduce everything about China to local people since I was keep trying to volunteer in London in “Culture day” or in Chinese New Year to help to propagandize Chinese culture. Thus, I am really glad to bring our culture to here in Csíkszereda. Also, there was a lot of fun to do activities about Christmas.

Since we do not celebrate Christmas in China, but I do know something about it when I was in London, so it is my first time to celebrate Christmas and with the festival atmosphere all around.

At the end, it is a great fun to work with staffs in Care2travel and with other great volunteers, and I would love to volunteer at here again next year.

Yichen and Chaoyue