Children in care homes in Romania are neglected by the government. Thus, the work of volunteers is very important in order to teach them social and life skills through play and show them that there are people who care for them.
This summer was the second time that I went to Romania as a volunteer. Together with a group of other international and local volunteers we organized summer camps for children from care homes. When I tell people about my volunteering there the older generation first thinks of the horrendous state of children’s homes during the dictatorship while younger people do not know what all the fuss is about. As the age range in a children’s home is quite large (about 3-18 years) we split the kids by age into two groups. I decided to work with the teenagers because everyone is keen to work with cute young children but only few people want to work with difficult adolescents. As I am thinking about going into youth work it is kind of a good practice for me.
Talking to them I realized the gravity of their situation. Many of them were already smoking and drinking and when they were taken away from or abandoned by their parents they had already been old enough to understand what was going on. All these angry teenagers had no faith into the world and other people. After all, what parents would treat them like that? The fact that many of the carers were not trained well enough (even though they mean well with their work) and did not know how to deal with these kids did not help.
Care homes are also way underfunded which means they are unable to give the kids all the support they need. This is one of the reasons why our voluntary work there was so important. Summer holidays in Romania last around three months and if you do not have the possibility to go away on holiday with your parents or attend a summer camp somewhere those three months can turn into a really long time. With this one week full of activities we gave the kids something to look forward to and at least during that week they were kept busy and they did not do stupid things. They also profited from the fact that they had someone who was listening to them and could give them some basic advice and try to sow the seed that they were the masters of their own future and that they could achieve something in their lives, no matter their background, if they just decided to work hard for it.
As our budget was limited and we were supposed to teach them some English as well as life skills we decided to go for easy and cheap but at the same time fun games. This meant that we had to think about different games with the same equipment. This made us really creative (there are loads of games you can play with a set of self-made memory cards). We also put an emphasis on creating arty things together with the kids so they could keep them after the camp and have something to be proud about (and they really were!). It was simple things as making a picture frame out of cardboard or decorating an envelope but at the end of the week each kid had several items THEY made and that they showed off proudly.
This showed us that being creative and spending quality time with the kids is very important, even more important that material things, and we will definitely be back in coming years :)