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

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

About my experience with Care2Travel and IVHQ

I love voluntourism because I think the best way to see a place is to get to know people from that area and involve yourself in their daily life.
And it’s affordable!
I picked this program because I usually do animal care when I volunteer as that is my professional background and I think it is important to try to bring some skills or knowledge to any program that you join.
Care2Travel (which partners with IVHQ for foreign volunteers)works with a local dog shelter that is supported by a German foundation. I always wanted to see Eastern Europe so it was a perfect fit!
The local staff, who are all native to the area, were extremely attentive. Every detail of my stay was handled, they were very involved in all of the projects volunteers were working on and I interacted with them every day. They were immediately responsive to any issue no matter how small, literally at any time of day or night!
The apartment I shared with a few other volunteers was clean, comfortable, had working WiFi, and the kitchen was kept stocked. This is the best accommodation of any program I’ve participated in.
Also provided in the cost of the program was a daily local lunches which offered opportunities to try typical Hungarian dishes.
My placement was right outside town so I easily rented a bike from the office.  I recommend this for getting around quickly because Csikszereda is a very safe and bike friendly place!
The shelter staff was friendly, helpful and my job was clearly explained. I really hope that more volunteers come to the animal care program because it is so rewarding for both the volunteers and the animals!
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Care2Travel far exceeded my expectations and should serve as a model for volunteer abroad programs everywhere!
Siobhan Nassalang
Madison, Wisconsin

Building, Planting, and Exploring!

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

Australian volunteer group in Szárhegy

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

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Váli Csongi, Project Manager

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Gifts from the Reddam House School

 

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