I interviewed my niece about her mission trip to a Romanian orphanage in 2007. This striking, bright-eyed young lady has a gift for working with early childhood children. Her compassion for mission work in this area was perfect for voluntourism. Her Orthodox background played an important role in her enthusiasm for working with young children. She was candid, frank and sincere in describing her trip experience and how she evolved from it.
What inspired you to travel to Romania?
During my senior year in High School, I was researching which mission trips I could go on. The choices included Tanzania, Guatemala, Romania, etc. There was an opportunity to build a church in Guatemala and that interested me. But my love for kids drew me to an opportunity to work in an orphanage in Romania. I had just graduated from high school when I found out that I would be going to Romania a month later. What did your trip itinerary involve?
Three days before we left for Romania, we went to Jacksonville, Florida for a three day training where we met the other kids who would be on this trip. The kids were from Kansas, California, Michigan, etc. One girl was from Romania originally and had moved to the states but went back to do this mission trip. When we got to Romania, we spent the first few days sightseeing in Cluj. We spent two weeks in a youth camp up in the mountains and went back into Cluj where we worked at the orphanage for three days. We stayed at the Bishop of Cluj’s apartment. St. Michael’s Cathedral was across the street from the apartment. Bishop Vasili stayed in his quarters but visited us every night. What excursions and museums do you recommend?
It was pretty cool! We weren’t allowed to take pictures of Dracula’s castle. The outside was beautiful and the inside was like a museum….with many pictures of Dracula. The Nicula Monastery is the oldest monastery in Transylvania.
What meals do you recommend? How would you describe the perfect Romanian meal?
In Cluj, we ate a lot of cabbage rolls with chicken and rice. The cabbage rolls had either tomato sauce on them or lemon juice. The biggest thing over there is cabbage rolls. All the monasteries served them.
Describe the vibe of the Romanian people?
In Cluj, the people were very nice, very open. People walked up to us on the streets and asked us if we needed help or information. It was obvious we were tourists.
Perfect strangers? Were you supervised by an adult?
Yes, we were supervised by an adult. They offered to take us on tours when they saw us looking at maps.
Describe the terrain of Romania.
It was mountainous, beautiful and everything was in bloom when we went in late June/early July. There were beautiful rose bushes everywhere! I was shocked at the amount of rose bushes. Any challenges in getting there?
We flew from Florida to London, then Bucharest to Cluj…..all in all, approximately 12.5 hours. We had a long layover in London which made it nice. The Heathrow Airport is huge and we had to ask people how to get around it. In London, at the Heathrow Airport, we saw David and Victoria Beckham.
POSH AND BECKS?
Yes, they were friendly and waving to people.
What did you learn about yourself on this trip? How did it enrich you spiritually?
When I went, I had just turned 18 years old. I was immature, in the high school phase and the center of attention. Seeing people who don’t live financially comfortable lives made me realize how great I had it growing up. I appreciated my big family. The orphans had nobody. Spiritually, I got more out of the monasteries just sitting there where I wasn’t really comfortable. There were no pews–everyone participates, sings and says prayers together which is a different side of church from what I’m used to with the priest and choir doing most of it. They don’t have choirs at most churches in Romania. Chanting comes from parishioners. Men stood on one side and women on the other.
They do that in Greece, too, …
This was 4 years before I went to Greece so I had never seen that before.
Describe your experience volunteering in the orphanage.
It was mainly just playing with the kids so they had an interaction outside of the people who normally work there. We took them outside on walks. They were all little; 1-5 years old. There was a one year old I wanted to adopt and take home!
How many orphans were there?
There were nine orphans. It was at the orphanage called Protection of Theotokos Family Center. Most of the orphans are there because their mothers were too young to take care of them.
How did you grow from this trip?
I learned patience with older kids at the youth camp. They were 10 years old to seniors. We worked at the youth camp which was similar to the youth camp I work at in America . They had Orthodox Life Sessions, outdoor recreation, skits and sing a longs.
I remember contributing to the funds that you raised for the trip. Describe that process. What is the name of the program?
I gave a presentation at church and raised approximately $1700. The only thing I had to pay for was airfare. The program was OCMC: Orthodox Christian Mission Center. Other people in our church did this as well. I hope people who read this are inspired to take trips like this. It was my first trip by myself. I was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. It was a religious experience and I got to work with kids. The Romanian kids didn’t know Americans and we didn’t know Romanians…until then. It was an eye-opener and I branched out to see the world. It was breathtaking and I’d definitely go back!