It’s been two years since I first started to volunteer for this educational project of Lindenfeld Association: “Grow BIG.” This long term volunteering project for education in Romania includes private lessons and emotional support for children who are in public foster homes. Well, this one is a different kind of adventure that I want to share with you. This kind of experience can change the lives of others. 🙂
Two years ago, I was searching to be a part of a volunteering project that targeted education for children. Until that moment, I participated in several short term initiatives, donations of clothes or food, actions for environmental causes (planting trees or collection of waste from natural areas). I had reached a point where I felt I would like to contribute more to the local community.
So I came across the “Grow BIG” project of Lindenfeld Association. This project is for the Romanian children who are in foster homes of public social service. You see, in Romania, there is a huge difference between private NGOs and public social services.
Children that are “hard to adopt” will often remain in the public service. The problem is not with them, but with the majority of adoptive parents, who want specific characteristics for their future child and also with the public system, that is still poorly organized.
How to be part of volunteering for education in Romania
The recruiting process was complex. It consisted of sending a CV and also responding to an online questionary. It was pretty much like an online interview. The interview was very creative, with questions that challenged my imagination.
There are usually two recruiting periods each year. A volunteering module lasts for six months (from November until April).
After that, you will participate in training with “Grow Big” (Ajungem Mari) coordinators and project managers. It is a critical stage as you are about to enter a whole different world. Your perception will change, and you will have to adapt to different scenery.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you can read more about the recruiting process and the available projects here.
Why is training essential?
It would help if you stepped into the kids’ world open to find out about their needs. Their needs were quite different than what I had expected. Communication abilities are crucial. Through volunteering, you will step out of your “bubble.” You might not realize how you take food, shelter, or education for granted every day. These are the things you have always had access to. And education gave you the freedom of choice in life: choosing your area of expertise, thinking about what your passions are, choosing a career path, and so on. How would your life look like without this freedom of choice? Or not only that but also dealing with abandonment trauma, extreme poverty, illness, or social exclusion? It’s a whole different story.
At the same time, you realize that the children you will work with might be under legal protection. In some cases, their parents or relatives have a legal interdiction to get close to them. It could become a problem if you want to go out and have outdoor activities. You must be vigilant if somebody from such a family context shows up.
The training is vital; you don’t want to miss it, especially if it is your first experience of long term volunteering. After the training, you will sign the contract. Only after signing the documents, you can start the visits and activities.
For confidentiality purposes, the identities of the children will not be revealed.
Projects I participated in
- Share your passion: This project is about helping the children with their homework or approaching some specific subject that you are passionate about. For me, this consisted of weekly visits at the foster home and teaching French. This is how I started and met A. a smart, sensible, and kind 11 years old girl. We became very close over time. I teach French, Math, sometimes Romanian or English. As I am working in sales, negotiation was also included. Actually, A. is very good at it, I may say. 🙂
- Explorer for a day: This means going out with the kids and explore the city, going to events, festivals, parks, and even into the mountains. Together with other volunteers who are going to the same foster home, you can organize such activities.
One of the most beautiful initiatives was setting up the girls’ birthdays. We are celebrating them and made parties with cake, candles, balloons, and presents. In such moments, I realized that probably one of the most important things they need is to be seen and treated like any other child. Of course, that included offering emotional support that helped them build self-confidence and self-esteem. In this manner, they can be more open and communicate about their emotions, fears, anger.
- Financial education: This project was about teaching children about money, savings, and some basic economic principles. Apart from this, it also included some information about different types of jobs. Discussing all these aspects, playing and telling stories made them understand the mechanisms of the “grown-ups” world.
This initiative helps develop personal responsibility and a better understanding of what it is like to be an adult. During this project, I also brought them with me to my office. They were excited to see my workplace, asked a lot of questions about my job, responsibilities, colleagues, earnings, etc. They also discussed with some of my colleagues, being curious about what IT business is all about. This project’s name is now “Dare to dream,” and it also includes vocational counseling.
Why is volunteering for education such a rewarding experience?
I am grateful for my experience with the “Grow Big” project. I remember the first time I came into the apartment, and I had no clue how to start doing this. A. just sat down next to me, took my hand, and said: “Don’t worry, you’ll be able to do this. It’s not difficult, you’ll see.” From that moment on, we shared so many moments. We laughed, we cried, we argued and negotiated about homework (mostly math). We also went into the mountains, to see movies, spectacles and created so many memories. I learned a lot from A. during these years. Sometimes I even saw myself and parts of my childhood through her eyes and the moments we spent together.
L. was 16 years old when I met her. Almost in a blink of an eye, she already celebrated her 18th birthday. Unfortunately, this is the age the children have to leave foster homes. I say “unfortunately” because most of the time, they go without having any idea what adult life is like. In my opinion, they are incredibly vulnerable and exposed because they are still naive and have little to no experience with work or everyday responsibilities.
L. is doing a pastry school. She is the happiest, most sparkly, and joyful teenager one can ever imagine. She’s always laughing out loud and optimistic, playful, and funny. We prepared a surprise party for her this year into the park to celebrate her 18th birthday. I saw her being the most emotional ever. After playing and singing the usual “Happy Birthday” song, she wanted to have a short speech. While saying to us how special this moment is for her, she burst into tears and ran off. Then she came back to us saying that this is the most beautiful anniversary she’d ever had. We all hugged her, and it was such a special moment.
It really touched me. I remembered my 18th birthday anniversary that I, unfortunately, spent in a hospital. I was very sick, and it was a sad moment for me. Seeing L. so happy about this whole event just brought me pure joy. Knowing that I also had a small contribution to her moment of happiness and that she celebrated her transition into adult life was priceless. It meant a lot to me.
How can you support this cause?
If you would like to contribute to a good education of children in Romania, you can DONATE by SMS or online. Every contribution matters. It can be, for example, your time, knowledge, and presence. You can also add donations or sharing this article and promoting the remarkable work the Lindenfeld Association is doing through the Grow BIG project.