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.

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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

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