Here’s a trivia question for you: Did you know that Romania is a member of the European Union (EU)?
They joined back in 2007, over a decade ago, but not many people realise they are… probably because they don’t care, which is totally fair enough, but bare with me.
This is my experience of travelling to Romania, and supporting a communitiy that the EU had forgotten about and exiled; an amazing and beautiful community that had absolutely nothing.
In 2016 I had the pleasure of going over and volunteering with a charity called Love Light Romania. The NGO worked with the Roma community to support those with HIV/aids, those who were homeless and those without access to education, clothes and food.
I went over to support their summer education programme, which was a scheme that gave the children of the Roma community a chance to escape the (literal) slums they grew up in, get a camping holiday in the mountains and learn new skills that they could take back home.
It would be an understatement to say that I was nervous beforehand. I mean, how was I going to communicate with the kids? How could I help if they don’t understand me?… I got in my head a lot.
Regardless, before I knew it, they were there and I had a job to do. Sort of.
They had mud all over their clothes and feet, boys as young as 7 had tattoos (clearly done by other children) and the girls were so timid as they walked towards us wearing clothes that were far too big.
As soon as they arrived, we distributed out the donated clothes and shoes. The kids were so happy. Even though they weren’t the right size, they were theres to keep and take home and it was clear how much it meant to them: to have belongings.
It was an incredible and humbling experience getting to know these incredible individuals and seeing how they responded to gaining clothes, having access to food and to playing games.
Seeing the joy on a 12 year olds face as I taught him how to write his name, is something that will stay with me forever.
My experience of Romania was certainly unique.
Don’t get me wrong, I got to experience the town’s and cities, including the infamous Transylvania and Sibiu, and they were beautiful. But that is not what I want to share with you. Volunteering, in the middle of nowhere with these lovely souls, was worth so much more than a pretty picture.
To anyone looking to travel, or volunteer abroad, Romania is a great place to look into. At present, there is a massive poverty gap that is being ignored (I’ve never seen a media post about it, have you?), so it is important to show your support and help out if you can. If their government is not going to do something about it, we have to.
Just think how you could use your time wisely…