Eleven Upper School students took part in a service project in Romania during half term in February. This project involves working with people, under the Roots & Shoots club at TASIS. Students learn about how they can make a difference to the lives of others, both while working on site, and with fundraising and follow up support after the trip is over.
Our students went to work with the charity, Romanian Children’s Relief (RCR). Our school has been affiliated with this wonderful charity for the past 17 years. Ms. Gediman, the trip leader, is also on the advisory board of RCR, and she regularly takes students from our school involving all three divisions, Lower, Middle, and Upper School. It is special to have developed a close relationship to the children and staff in Romania, which helps us to feel linked to the charity. Several students return all throughout their Upper School years. Some students continue their support independently, once they leave our school.
We travelled to Bistrita, Romania, which is a small city in Transylvania. Romanian Children’s Relief is a charity begun in 1990 by photojournalists, Michael Carroll, after he was sent by The Boston Globe to do a story as the grip of the awful dictator, Ceausescu, came to an end. There were thousands of abandoned children living in horrible conditions at this time.
Today, charities like RCR, help to make positive changes in the lives of children in their care. Romania has made progress since the fall of communism, but at present there are still many important changes to be made in regards to abandoned children, children with special needs, and the Roma society.
Our group worked each day in one of the programs either run by RCR, or linked by association. The students were divided into three groups each day. One group would go and spend the day at a hospital, working with abandoned babies in the children’s section. Holding the babies, feeding them, and giving them smiles, all are very important to a child living in an institution. The baby room is beautifully decorated and very clean and bright. It was not like this when Ms. Gediman first went to volunteer in 2002. Things have improved, but the reality remains that human contact is what is most needed for these little ones. Today, most babies stay only a short time in the hospital, being placed in either a foster or adopted home as soon as possible. Yet, even a month is a long time without a dedicated parent figure, and the staff of RCR, along with volunteers like us, help to give the love and care needed while in the hospital.
Another group went to Lacrima, a very loving special needs school. There are children aged between three and twenty-five at school between the hours of 9-4. Many of these children are living in foster homes, or are from very impoverished families, or live in the placement centre. This school is a place that gives each child the dignity that any child deserves. Our students were able to do some fun activities with these young people, including musical therapy, candle making, carpet weaving, painting, singing, math, and gymnastics. The staff there taught our students so much about the fact that all children and adults are equal, no matter what disabilities they might have. All people need to be respected, listened to, taught to do interesting things, and be treated as worthy. Our students learned so much and they now understand that disabilities only mean that expression and interactions are different for each individual. All of our students felt that the children they worked with were intelligent, just in a variety of ways.
The third place that our students went to each day was the placement centre, where babies and toddlers with special needs live until they can be either placed in a foster home, or in a group situation where they can be cared for. Our students were able to help the social workers and educators take children outside to play, or to the various play rooms equipped to teach and stimulate these children. Some of our students spent time talking to babies, holding them, and learning that some babies might seem like they are not able to understand us being there, until you see that sparkle in their eyes that tell you that they do. There were some babies with severe disabilities, but our students realized that they too need attention and love. All children are worthy of a life lived with love and care. We hope that these babies are able to find a foster home soon. There are some wonderful families who do take on special needs children and do amazing jobs integrating them into their families. Our students were able to visit some of these homes during the week.
In the afternoon, the students at the placement centre went to work with Roma children in an afterschool program. Both RCR and Open Doors run wonderful programs. Our students helped these children make valentines, learn some English words, do art projects, play games, and just have fun. The Roma children served by these programs often come from impoverished homes, where the families face many problems. The afterschool programs allows these children to learn skills they may not learn at home, eat a nutritious lunch, and just be kids. Our students, once again, learned so much from their interactions with these children. They realized that they were kids just like them, with the same hopes and inspirations. We even took a group of them bowling with us one afternoon and shared a dinner for 30 back at our hotel!
The TASIS students learned so much and gave so much. They all brought art supplies and other donations to leave in each program. We also brought new baby sleepers, Pampers, vitamins, and lovely gently used clothing for the older children. Our students are now working on raising money to continue to help support the programs they worked in. As well, through our joint donations, we were able to send around $7,500 to RCR.
What a wonderful week for our students, and we believe for the children we worked with. Many of our students are already talking about what they want to bring next year when we go once again!