It was a early Sunday morning, 4am to be exact when we finally arrived in the town Csikszereda, Romania. We were tired but oh so excited for what this amazing country had in store for us for the next two weeks. So excited that even though we were exhausted from our trip, after finally getting our things in our rooms, we sat in the hallway reading our induction packets instead of getting some sleep.
Our first day of induction was a overload of important information that we thoroughly tried to sponge up. It was an induction into the history and layout of the town, the specifics of our Agriculture projects, and a traditional meal cooked and hosted by a local family which even included some homemade Palinka! Ringing in the New year was a blast with tons of loud fireworks and excited locals toasting to 2018. We then had a few days off to sleep off the jet lag and explore the city, and by explore the city I mean walk around and look at everything but not go in. January first and second are bank holidays in the country of Romania, and let me tell you the locals take the word “Holiday” seriously. Every store, restaurant, and pub was closed. Americans should take some notes!
The agriculture project here in Romania seems to always have something going on, even in the winter! Our main tasks would be building a greenhouse that the volunteers would continue to maintain, putting in a drain system in the backyard which would include a tank to collect water for the greenhouse, and finally planting the seeds for the greenhouse and garden in an indoor facility. We would begin these tasks by making a plan. We also had to buy materials at Dedeman aka: Romania’s Home Depot. Our first week came to a close with a weekend full of exploring and excitement in store!
Skiing and Snowboarding is a blast here in Harghita! Going with a tour guide who has his own skis and can help you find your way around comes in handy. Bran Castle, Rasnov Fortress, and downtown Brasov are totally something to spend time doing. The structures of the buildings are incredible and is truly something we had not laid eyes on before. Spending time volunteering is amazing but leave a little time for exploring the country!
With the weekend coming to a close we had a full week of early mornings, layers of clothing, and mud fights headed our way! Monday we were able to get the structure of the greenhouse started, and a large portion of the drainage ditch dug before the mud got too much to handle. With one day under our belt Tuesday went by with a breeze, with Avery working on the greenhouse with the project manager Csongi, Peter digging the ditch, and myself working on the inside plants and growing lights.
“Frozen ground may be cold but at least it is not muddy” became the motto to live by with working outside. Csikszereda found the perfect combo for making mud, very little sunshine and a lot of fog! But, once you find your footing you can get a ton of work done and have quite a bit of fun doing it. Wednesday was a little more inside based with planting all the plants, hanging the lights, and organizing the inside facility. Thursday was a morning we were glad to have gloves and some background using a shovel. We finished the drainage system which included wrapping the pipe in geo- textile, laying it in the ditch, and then covering it up with all that dirt we so carefully dug out. We are so excited to have finished the drainage system, and almost have the whole structure built of the greenhouse built. Not too bad for two weeks of work and only 4 workers!
Our favorite part of the whole trip was the actual volunteering, we cannot wait to see how the plants are growing in the greenhouse and garden in a few months. The projects have meaning, what more could you ask for….. well maybe an amazing country to work on them in…. Oh wait you get that too!!
Thank you Care2Travel!
-Kara and Avery
During the week of September 23rd – 30th 2017, 42 high school students and 6 adults (4 teachers and 2 World Challenge leaders) from the Reddam House School located in Sydney, Australia arrived at a St Francis Foundation Home for Children in Gyergyoszárhegy/Lazarea, Romania as part of a World Challenge opportunity. Collaborating with Care2Travel Volunteers and local carpenters, an aggressive renovation and building itinerary was prepared. The primary projects included the construction of four buildings and the refurbishments of all the playground structures. Váli Csongi, the Project Manager, had to supervise over 65 people and coordinate daily feedings for everyone, without disruption to the children that lived at the home. The Reddam House students assisted by adding playtime with the children to their already busy schedule. This project was a huge success.
This World Challenge project also included about 750 kg’s of donated gifts that included tablets, mobile phones, clothing, books and musical instruments. Many of these items were also distributed to numerous families in the surrounding villages. An approximate total of 11,000 Euros was raised to complete the projects that required payments.
Group Photo – ALL THE VOLUNTEERS
Váli Csongi, Project Manager
Gifts from the Reddam House School
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.