My Transylvanian Adventure – NGO Support placement

My name is Byan, a 21-year-old travel enthusiastic. They always say the world is a small place and life is short, I tend to disagree, I find joy in travelling and I believe that even 70 years would not be enough to discover the different places and cultures our world is enriched with. I am not a typical person I prefer doing things in a different way, I like having different stories to tell and IVHQ gave me the opportunity to do so. I chose to volunteer in Romania with Care2Travel association, one of the best decisions I have made. The people I met made me feel at home right away, I connected to them easily as we all share one unique thing, we all want to make a change and are willing to act on it. The accommodation was very clean and organized, Norbi, the responsible for taking care of the place, was very nice and a friend with the volunteers. The accommodation was in the main street, everything was within reach which made it easier to spend time and hang out. The first day we met with Peter, the head of the association, Orsi and Boti who work with him. He introduced us to the culture and history of the place and then we had a welcome launch in the accommodation who fellow volunteers helped put together, the food was clean and tasty. We also went on a town tour with two local girls, they showed us the main sites of the place, in addition, we had a Hungarian language lesson where they taught us basic words. My project was NGO, I worked at the office, some of the main things we were asked to do is help introduce the association to more people on social media, research ways to help with the new Gypsies’ program, look for ethical tours in the area…etc. Peter always appreciated the work we did which made us feel important, a part of something big. Volunteering hours were between 9 and 1 and then we would go have launch in a restaurant, but we used to go earlier and finish even later than 1 because we liked the work we did. At nights we would make dinner together, watch a movie, go to a bar or just sit down and have chat. During the week one can do day trips in the area, with its beautiful mountains and magic there is so much to do. I went hiking one day with a local guide, he was very nice and his love to the place added to the joy of the hike, another time I went climbing with a guide and 2 locals, beside the amazing climb and the adrenaline rush, they also took me on a car ride to beautiful views in the area and invited me to Kürtőskalács, a sweet pastry specific to Hungary and Hungarian-speaking regions, it was so good I had to take the recipe.blog pic.jpg

In the weekends there is enough time to go discover other towns, visit castles or go camping. The adventure I had in Romania and specially in Transylvania is not over yet, the magic of the place is so big I did not finish discovering it yet. For whoever is reading this I encourage you to volunteer in this extraordinary place with these wonderful people, and when you go home I am sure that the best stories you can tell will be about this adventure.

-Byan

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Teaching in Bánkfalva

Telling a group of Hungarian students that one of the traditional ways of cooking food in your country is to bury it in a pit with coals is an excellent way to grab their attention. Getting them to talk, that’s the challenge when you’re new. They’re all curious and lively, sometimes alarmingly so, but a little on the shy side when it comes to speaking English. Telling them about something odd or unusual is a great way to break the ice. I learnt this on my first day of teaching.

Bankfalva is a village school outside of Csíkszereda. I was teaching a wide range of ages, from 6 – 14 years old, which also meant a wide range of English abilities. The young ones are predictably cute, the juniors the liveliest of the lot (I always prepared myself with more caffeine on those days) and the seniors, not surprisingly, more capable of understanding me. The first lesson for each class was an introduction to me and my home country of New Zealand, and all I can say is be prepared for random questions! After that I asked the teachers I worked with what was happening with the next lesson and prepared in the afternoon for the next day. Daily routines, weather, time and the five senses were some of the topics we covered, which gave me a lot of scope for material. The teachers I worked with were really supportive, making sure that I had what I needed and was comfortable in the class. I really enjoyed using games to teach. They are a great way to cement new vocabulary or to revise words already taught. If you can add an element of competition to it even better. One particular relay game involved a lot of running across the classroom, and on reflection probably should have been done outside J The kids got into it so much it’s a miracle they didn’t bash heads or trip over the furniture.

My main aim was to get the kids to speak English, even little bits and pieces. It helped to say a few words in Hungarian. If I made a fool of myself, they’d be more willing to try my language. The results were a mash up of surprise, delight, and hilarity. Accompanied by dubious drawings, a group of students and I spent some time thinking the other person put cockroaches on their pizza before eventually being saved by the sometimes helpful Google translate.

So, lessons learned and things discovered. Learn about the students and their world and they will get involved. Classes are run at a higher volume and with more interruptions than often seen in other countries so be prepared to be active. Check with your support teachers about what they are doing, it will make your prep work a lot easier. Lastly, enjoy the time. If you enjoy it, they’ll enjoy it, and it won’t even feel like work.

And when you’re not working? Walking, touring and trying all the local goodness. There’s a lot see and plenty that I packed in to the three weeks I was here. Road tripping with the other volunteers to see the stunning Peles Castle, Rasnov Citadel, the medieval town of Sighisoara, Fagaras and Prejmer.

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A day trip to Brasov was packed with sightseeing, a bit of shopping and taking advantage of the many outdoor dining areas which sprawl all over the pavement. I was also lucky enough to be in Csikszereda when the annual Pentecost pilgrimage happened and hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the neighbouring village of Csiksomlyo. Walking with them, hearing the songs and bells and seeing everyone gather on the hill at Csiksomlyo was definitely a highlight.

People ask, ‘Would you come back?’ Short answer? ‘Yes.’ Long answer? ‘ Hell yes.’

-Robyn Huggins

Canadian sisters volunteer in Bánkfalva

Julie:

“I volunteered in Romania from February 13th to March 10th 2018. I worked in the teaching program.

 

 

My placement was located in a small village called Bankfalva which was a twenty minute drive from the volunteer accommodation. My sister volunteered with me. The organization allowed for us to be able to work together in the same placement which was very important to the two of us. We worked with children in kindergarten to grade seven. The teachers that we worked with were very supportive of us. They were very clear with what they wanted us to do. The children at the school were very enthusiastic. Their attitude towards us made it easy for us to be able to enjoy our time at the school. The organization provided us with an abundance of wonderful food over the course of our stay. The accommodation that the organization provided for us to stay at was very comfortable and it allowed us to be able to meet people from around the world. We were able to create friendships with these people and learn about their culture along with the Hungarian culture that we were immersed in. I loved the time that I spent in Csikszereda and I am positive that three weeks was not enough time to spend there. Though I am grateful for the time I had there and all of the memories that I made.

I could not have asked for a better placement. The school that we were in was wonderful. All of the kids were so sweet to us. The teachers were extremely supportive of us. Everyone at the school welcomed us with warm hearts and we became part of the community. Our attitude toward the situation we were in helped us. We were happy and upbeat which was passed onto the kids we worked with and allowed us to get the most out of our placement. A positive attitude is always a must.

Each volunteer position will vary. Especially if you are working in the education program. Each teacher that you work with will expect something different of you, even if they are at the same school. It is important that you are able to adapt to the needs of each of the teachers. They will tell you exactly what they would like you to do you just need to be able to work on your feet and help them. That is what you are there to do. Do not be afraid to ask questions. The teacher that you are working with and the in country team will be more than happy to help you. You are better of to ask than to struggle.

The accommodation was a comfortable place to live. It was overwhelming when there were so many people living there at once, but once some of them left it was a much better experience. The accommodation staff were wonderful. They were always there to help us when we needed them and to solve any problem that came up.

The food was wonderful. We loved the restaurant where we ate our lunches. The people there were friendly and the food was delicious. The rest of the meals we cooked for ourselves which we enjoyed because we love to cook. And we always had plenty of groceries provided for us to use and a good variety.

It is hard to pick a favorite moment from this experience because there are too many wonderful moments to choose from. The time that we spent with the kids at our school will always hold a special place in my heart. I was able to learn so much about myself from working with these children. Our sightseeing helped further learn about the culture of the region we were in. The other volunteers that we met made this experience one I will never forget. I was able to building life long friendships with people from around the world. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have volunteered in Romania. It is an experience I will never forget.”

Kristine:

“Volunteering in Romania was life changing. I think I learned more about myself in these three weeks than I could have ever imaged. The staff at Care2Travel were extremely helpful and offered myself and my sister (who I was traveling with) a lot of support throughout our trip! I’m under the firm belief that, counter to popular opinion, one does not leave bits of themselves in the places they travel. Rather the countries that you go to become a part of you. The friends you make are absorbed into the very fabric of your soul and you are changed forever because of your interaction. I’m so happy that I get to keep a little bit of Csikszereda in my heart forever. A place that makes me want to dance and stay up with friends all night. A place that I will long for in the years to come. My time in Csikszereda was amazing and I will honestly yearn to be back there for many years to come!”

Volunteering in Bánkfalva with Julie and Kristine

Let’s See the Bear!

An Evening of Bear Watching in Tușnad

As a volunteer for Care2Travel, one also has the unique opportunity to become an ethical tourist, in that the tours and excursions we are able to partake in through Care2Travel benefit the community and the local people within it. After previously discussing our excursion options with Boti, the Care2Travel tourism coordinator, a group of us decided on an afternoon of bear watching at Medveles bear observatory. Due to the set feeding times of the bears, this trip had to take place in the evening, so at 5:30 pm, Boti arrived at our accommodation and we drove off towards Tușnad!

The ride from Csikzereda to Tușnad lasted a mere 30 minutes, and before we knew it, we had arrived at our destination and were meeting Jani, who would be our guide for the remainder of the evening. The volunteers mounted into Jani’s more durable car and were driven up the mountain. We went “off-roading” about 200 meters through the forested mountain. For the last 100 meters, we exited the car, being instructed to be absolutely silent, as we were close enough to the bears where even a seemingly reasonable amount of noise could either scare them off or attract them towards us. Walking single-file through the woods, we were led by our guide, who assured us that in any situation, we are not meant to panic and that he knew what to do. Even the slight risk was an adrenaline boost that only heightened our excitement!

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Soon enough, we arrived at a small observatory situated at the edge of the forest, overlooking a beautiful valley. In that valley was a bear! We quietly entered the shelter, which had protective glass windows so we could get a full view of the valley. Jani explained to us that he knew this specific bear from the time he was just a young cub and that the bear was not afraid of him. Jani had extensive knowledge about the bears and shared that information with us while we took pictures.

We were told that there is no ensuring that we would see a bear; it is pretty tough to control nature. If that were the case though, it was explained to us that our money would be refunded, which was a nice insurance. We spent about two hours in the shelter though, and during that time, we were lucky enough to see a total of four bears! The first bear came and went, the second one arrived near after and ate a bit, and then two bears, apparently a couple, stopped by. Aside from putting out food, the process is completely natural and untouched, and the bears come and go as they please, or not at all. It was an incredibly peaceful evening, where us volunteers got to be spectators to nature in its truest form.

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NGO Support Volunteer Testimony: April 2018

My name is Andrea Tata, I’m from the United States, and I have volunteered in Romania with Care2Travel in NGO support for one month. During that time, I accomplished a lot and learned even more. Everyone in the office was incredibly helpful in making sure I was doing beneficial, important work. What was expected of me was clear from the beginning, and I never felt lost or like I didn’t have something to work on. I spent the majority of my time working on three different “mini-projects”. These involved writing blog posts, contacting bloggers, and editing documents. The details of what these entailed are explained as follows:

Involved writing blog posts

Care2Travel offers a wide variety of tourism opportunities, but what they are now trying to promote is their ethical tourism excursions. During my time in Csikszereda, I was able to partake in two of their ethical tours: cheese-making and bear watching. Both trips were wonderful, and each were very different in their own ways. Because these tours offered by Care2Travel are still somewhat new, I was able to write blog posts about my experiences for future volunteers and tourists to reference when deciding which tours to take. With this came the task of uploading pictures and writing a short statement about our tours, posting that on the IVHQ Romania page.

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Contacting bloggers

Going along with the promotion of Care2Travel’s ethical tours, I was tasked with contacting relevant bloggers in order to get them to either publicly support these Care2Travel tours or to come to Csikszereda themselves and partake in the tours which they could then write about. Composing these emails involved explaining Care2Travel as an organization, the work that they do, and their ethical tours more specifically, while also aiming the email to grab the attention of the specific blogger.

Editing documents

Lastly, and what I spent most of my time doing, was that of editing documents. A woman from Mikó Castle contacted the office about having a volunteer edit recently translated documents for future museum exhibits. I volunteered for the job which entailed me reading over the translations and making sure that the English blurbs were grammatically correct and read smoothly and clearly. While one may think that this is a tedious task, I found this work to be incredibly interesting since the documents told different aspects of the history of Csikszereda, and one was even a personal account of a Jewish man living here during WWII and his subsequent hardships under the reign of the Third Reich.

Museum

Working as an NGO support volunteer provided a lot of flexibility and also presented opportunities to do things outside of the office. For example, during the area’s “alternative learning” week, I was able to spend two days, one at a Romanian school in the city and one in a Hungarian school in a village, working with children on their English. It was awesome to be able to do something more immersive and help out outside of the office even for a little bit.

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In all, I had a great time volunteering with Care2Travel as NGO support. It was definitely a learning experience and gave great insight as to how an organization like Care2Travel works. It was inspiring even more so to learn of all of the projects Care2Travel already has in place and the upcoming projects that they have in the works. It was a month well spent and I only wish that I could have stayed longer!

Cheese Making in Romania: Experiencing a Family Business in an Ethical, Tasty Way

Excursions through Romania can take many unique forms, you just have to look beneath the surface. Care2Travel provides a wide variety of ethical tourism opportunities, meaning that the tours they offer benefit the community and the local people within it. Us volunteers living in Csikszereda still have a decent amount of time to explore our surroundings when we are not working, so we thought to take advantage of what Care2Travel has to offer. This process was simple: Boti, a Care2Travel employee, came to our accommodation with an information pack containing various tour opportunities within the community and surrounding areas. He proceeded to explain to us all of the details of the tours that Care2Travel presents, but what caught our attention were the ethical tours. Boti talked us through what each tour entailed as well as the cost of each. With that being said, us volunteers decided on a morning of cheese making at Homoródalmási Kézműves Sajtok! The day went as follows:

Part 1. Our Arrival

Boti arrived at the volunteer accommodation promptly at 8:00 AM. The volunteers piled into the car and he drove us through the beautiful countryside. After about an hour, we arrived at our destination: a quaint family home amidst the outlying village of Homoródalmás. We were immediately welcomed in and offered tea and coffee by Flóra, one of the family members working at the business. The history of how the small family milk business evolved into the successful cheese-making business that it is today was explained to us by Sàndor while the cow milk was being collected. This was Homoródalmási Kézműves Sajtok.

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Part 2. Making Cheese

After finishing our drinks, hairnets and white smocks were handed to us; we were ready to begin making cheese! We were led into the small workshop, which happened to be connected to the house itself and was not really much of a typical workshop at all. As we began, it felt more like making cheese at a relative’s house, with a very personal feel. Our “jobs” ranged from cutting cheese, weighing cheese, melting cheese, stirring cheese, packing cheese, and much more. All of this was done while Sàndor and Flóra explained what different types of cheeses were being made and the ingredients and techniques used to create them. We were allowed to be incredibly hands-on, making us feel like we were really part of the process. We were even allowed to try bits of cheese along the way!

Part 3. Exploring the Farms

 Once we were done making the cheese, Boti and Sàndor brought the volunteers via car up into the mountains to their farm where a big barn housed the cows. We lucked out by having lovely weather, but regardless, the views were wonderful and seeing the cows gave us perspective into the first stages of the cheese-making process. We then went to see their pigs, which are fed the whey (the watery bits of milk) that remain after the cheese curds. The farms also contained a number of friendly dogs that were excited to see so many visitors – just another added bonus!

Part 4. Cheese Tasting

We were expecting a small cheese-tasting when we returned from the farms, but what we got exceeded our expectations! A table was set for us containing various cheeses, sausages, bread, butter, wine, and the traditional Hungarian brandy Pàlinka (all of which were home-made). We ended our five-hour trip at this wonderful family business and home eating plenty of food and talking with Sàndor and Flóra about their jobs and our time as volunteers in Romania. After happily stuffing ourselves full, we were able to purchase the cheese that we liked best to bring back to our accommodation. We were even pleasantly surprised to find that Sàndor and Flóra gave us the cheese that we had made ourselves earlier in the day!

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Part 5. Reflection

As we left toting our cheese goodies, us volunteers agreed that our experience went beyond classic tourism in that it was incredibly authentic and genuine. Care2Travel made it possible for us to spend a day learning about the entire process of cheese making in a sustainable, ethical, and involved way! A lot goes into making cheese, more than I think most of us realized, and it was heartwarming to see this process exposed to us with the passion of a family who really cares about their product and its recipients. A cheese-lover or not, our time at Homoródalmási Kézműves Sajtok was definitely a day well spent!

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A day of childcare volunteering — 5 April 2018

Time always flies when you spend your day with lovely children. We had Claire from the United Kingdom and Alex from Mexico visiting children volunteering at the Babba Mária Family Type Children’s home in Csikcsomortán. The children welcome them warmly with hugs and greeted them by their names. Children have been familiar with Claire and Alex after 2 days they have spent together.

Before setting off to the children’s home, Claire and Alex planned the activities with resources provided in our office. Both indoors and outdoors activities were planned ahead in case of adverse weather.

Volunteers, together with the local translators, Rita and Sanyi, took a ten-minute bus ride from the main bus station to the children’s home. After getting off from the bus, it only took them about five minutes to arrive at the placement.

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The fruitful day started with introducing two more new volunteers who were there to take photos and record videos. The children were very excited to meet Mathilde from France and Grace from Hong Kong. They had a great time in learning new languages in which volunteers learnt Hungarian and Romanian from the children while the children learnt English, Spanish, French and Chinese from the volunteers.

As a warm-up, Claire and Alex played the game, “Simon Says” with children. Volunteers gave out instructions in simple English, for example, “Simon says, clap your hands”. When children heard volunteers saying “Simon says” before the action, they followed and clapped their hands, if not, they should not follow. The game was fun and taught children English in an intriguing way.

Children later had the chance to make their own bracelets and necklaces as well. It was so lovely and warm-hearted of the children that they gave their work out to thank the volunteers.

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After that, the sun was up the sky so we moved to the outdoors. Children had a lot of fun playing with ball games and table tennis. Younger children gained a lot of fun from painting too.

Volunteers left the placement at about 2 in the afternoon as the children always have their lunch by then. Volunteers spent most of their time in the same placement to really build relationship and trust with the children. Though there may be language barriers and cultural differences, volunteers and children are connected by their hearts which go beyond words.

By Grace Yu from Hong Kong