I’m sorry that this is a long story but it’s very important to me and if you reach the end, thank you very much for your time.
I have always had the ambition to help vulnerable people. Seeing the improvements made in others that you assisted with, gives the most rewarding feeling. I struggle to describe how it feels to be honest, but lets put it this way, it’s the only feeling that drives me to what I want to do in life! This admiration only grew when I set out to complete my Residential section of Gold Duke of Edinburgh.
I had heard about the RAP Foundation through an old family friend and had always really known about it. From what I understood, it was an organisation that supported Orphanages in Romania. This seemed the perfect opportunity to do something I enjoy and complete my DofE award. My friend, Florida, was in the same situation as me and so we decided to do it together.
After months of interviews, written letters and processing of documents we were able to sit down with the head of the organisation to begin our planning. The first thing made clear to us was that we had to be fully committed. Secondly, she explained the background history of Romania; A communist Capital build by Ceausescu, made it law to have big families, once was the richest country however when it all fell through, Romania sunk into deep poverty and the amount of children could no longer be taken care of. I don’t think I realised how much work is needed to volunteer for a charity organisation; although it all became clear once I was there. Unfortunately due to the timings of our events this year there was a short window of just a week that we could make available for this adventure. However we definitely made the most of every second spent out there! More months went by and we were back and fourth for several hepatitis A & B jabs and we ran more and more fundraising events.
Finally, the end of May had arrived. The bags were packed and goodbyes had been exchanged. The adventure was ready to begin. Florida and I set of to Bucharest on the 31st of May. Once we landed we met Linda who was a volunteer for the RAP Foundation and was going to be taking care of us. As this was still for our DofE award, we were to share accommodation with people from different cultures, two Romanian girls, Betty and Valentina. The girls were very welcoming and kindly showed us around Bucharest. We all became very close throughout the week and I look forward to them both visiting us in Scotland later this year.
Anyway, the real reason of going out to Romanian was to help the children in any way we can. With the money we raised, we set out to purchased mainly arts and crafty materials for the children. But also essentials such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste etc. All things we’d take for granted but these kids wouldn’t receive unless donated. The first place we visited was a children’s foster care home. this wasn’t with the RAP Foundation but Betty and Valentina knew someone that could take us and we were more than excited to go. When we arrived and headed round the back of the building to the courtyard. I thought of it as just a normal foster home full of kids waiting to be adopted. We brought them blow up beach balls to play with which they loved, although we quickly realised the skill of learning to play together was severely lacking. The teaching instincts kicked in and I took to teaching them to play together. Believe me, it was one of the hardest tasks I’ve came across, I guess the language barrier didn’t help! The children were such kind souls and loved playing with us, it made my day to see their faces light up. The biggest thing to me that seemed to be “out of the ordinary” was the carers that worked there. Their faces drained from all emotion send signals of the true foster home. Or even more the real Romania.
I loved being with these children, I know they have gone through a lot and that breaks my heart, to leave them was a terrible feeling but I was also able to leave with my head held high as they began to grasp the concept of sharing and using their manners. One of the girls was even teaching me how to dance! What a feeling to walk out of their knowing I have made some impact on the children.
I must apologies again, I’m afraid I haven’t even started on one of the biggest and hardest stories to tell! so here we go…
Linda picked us up one morning and we set of to Plateresti, the main place we had heard so much about. As we travelled through the countryside, we were both completely Speechless! this was the Romania we had heard about, complete old fashioned and I don’t mean old fashioned as in they didn’t watch TV, I’m talking horse and cart old fashioned!
There is a lot a could say about this town but I’m worried I don’t want to ramble on too much. All I’ll say is the experience of driving through Plateresti was a major flashback to the history books.
As we carried on driving we reached an institution resembling a prison; little did I know that was the Orphanage…security guards opened their gates to let us in to the other side of the high, barbed wired walls. By this point, I didn’t know what to expect. We were greeted by the director, well not so much greeted, more of being warned. “NO PHONE, NO CAMERA” he shouted in his most Romanian accent. I believe he seemed very worried that people that had never been here before, are now here. We did as we were told and were escorted round the back of the building.
There sat a handful of, well no longer children… these were adults… not just everyday adults though either… these poor souls have been trapped in this institution since their childhood and throughout their time have developed disabilities such as lacking proper development physically and mentally. I have never seen anything like it. My heart was in my mouth, speechless again, I was unsure what to do. Sitting here, writing this now brings it all back to me, shaking hands and faintly feeling are coming rushing back. As I put on a smile and greeted these people, they seemed delighted to see us. Old friends of Linda’s I imagined as she visits regularly. As the director witnessed Florida and I handle the situation well, we were then given the all clear to go into the courtyard beside us. I walked in, thinking that I had seen it all and I can do this! “Keep a brave face and make them smile, its the reason your here” I told myself. As we walked through the brick walls, my heart jumped!
Hundred’s of, what I can only describe as zombies came rushing over. I don’t mean this in a harsh way but this institution has zombified these people! Lord only knows how many years each of them have spent in here but they’re mental minds weren’t here at all. As they approached us, shouting things in Romanian, grabbing our hair, holding our hands; I also looked around to see so many people starring at walls, screaming, smacking their heads and some just completely unaware of everything. I kept strong despite all that was going on. I spoke to those that wanted to listen and many burst into tears to be able to given the chance for some communication, even if it was in a foreign language. One old man came to me, shook my hand and gave a little kiss on my palm, he then noticed I had bracelets on my wrist. But it wasn’t the shining silver that took to his eye, it was my hair bobble. He was fascinated in this plain, basic coloured band. Knowing this hair band meant nothing to me, I slid it off and put it on his wrist. The reaction that came next still sets me into tears. The man then burst into tears, shouting and pulling me closer. Linda’s husband came rushing over to help as the man wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t fear that hit me at that moment, it was disbelief. This man couldn’t have shown more appreciation if he tried, a band that mean nothing to me, means more than the world to him. I felt so selfish, greedy and inconsiderate as I never realised that such a small act could benefit someone so much. What more opportunities have I missed in the past? Where have I turned a blind eye to something that could of benefitted others? I took a minute outside after that to gather myself together before heading back in. After meeting everyone in the courtyard we collected together a small group of people and took them into a small room where we threw a little party for them. Balloons, music, food and we even had presents to hand out. Their faces were shining brighter than the Northern star and I loved every minute of it! We helped them try on their new clothes that were donated to them, painted their nails and had a good game of passing the balloons. Although its always hard to leave them behind and I feel like I haven’t done enough because they’re still stuck in there; the most priceless thing we gave them was a story to made them smile about everyday and to keep them going strong in such a terrible, mind-losing place!
The RAP Foundation doesn’t just stop there, they work and bend every rule to try their hardest to do anything to get them out of there and has proven to work! 5 boys they have managed to save and I literally mean SAVED! they got them out of such an orphanage and proved to the Romanian society that they are not a waste of space and should be given the chance to make a life. These 5 boys now share an apartment, have separate jobs, a social life and some even have girlfriends now. With help and support with the organisation these boys have been able to work around their disabilities to make a normal life for themselves. One of them even taught himself English! After meeting these boys and hearing their stories I find them completely amazing. They are an inspiration to me and I hope to meet them again some time!
This experience really opened my eyes to reality and highlighted how much I do want to help people, I want to make a difference, I want to see people succeed. Many people will be completely clueless about what really goes on in these institutions in Romania, and that’s okay because I was too. This is due to the lack of media. It is a very protected subject by Romanians so very little people do know. Which leads me to question, what else is going on in the world that we are unaware of? I find it very difficult to describe this experience and mainly advise anyone to take an opportunity like this to go and see what the real world is all about for yourself. Its left a great impression on me and I will take on board every life lesson as I begin now as a practising teacher; to make a difference to each child allowing them to make the most out of, not only their education, but their life as a whole.
http://www.rapfoundation.com/ – The link to the RAP Foundation Webpage for more information of their work. Donations will also be greatly appreciated! I will continue to support this fantastic charity and hope to make it back out to Romania after University.