Romania Community Project 2017
13 July 2017
Returns: 28 July 2017
Staff member in charge
Mr Simon Burbury
Miss Lorena McGookin
On 15 July, 14 pupils travelled to Romania to run an ‘Arts’ based Summer School for underprivileged children and young adults, many of whom have an assortment of physical and mental disabilities. As well as run the Summer School for two weeks, our pupils are staying at Little John’s House, a home for 6 youngsters who have a variety of difficult medical conditions. During their stay they will also help around their home with various refurbishments and DIY tasks that may be needed.
Little John’s House is situated in the village of Cisnadioara which is approximately 6 miles from the city of Sibiu in the Transylvania region of Romania. The village is typically Romanian and contains a mixture of old and new cultures and although lacking on many basic amenities, it is a very close knit community.
The Summer School started fifteen years ago with a handful of volunteers looking after the needs of 15 children for a few weeks. Over the years the Summer School has grown, attracting in excess of 200 local disabled children in 2016 and over 80 international volunteers. During each week of the Summer School we receive around thirty to forty children from the age of 1 to 22 years old with various disabilities, either from private homes, the local hospital or other institutions.
This project is challenging, both physically and mentally, but, as many previous volunteers can testify, extremely rewarding. We will endeavour to keep you up-to-date with all our experiences via this Blog.
If you would like more information about Little John’s House visit: www.littlejohnshouse.co.uk
Little John's Family Ceilidh
Yesterday saw a number of families dance away the night away as part of a Ceilidh to raise money for Little John's House. The Form V pupils involved in this year's Romania Community Project organised an evening of games, dancing and friendly chatter for the friends and families of all those taking part in this year's project. A great evening which managed to raise in excess of £1600. We are all now looking forward to going out to Romania in July to see how this money will help the residents of Little John's House.
Prep and Travel
The day before we left for Romania we had a day of preparation at Dollar Academy which involved exploring our Arts and Crafts resources, creating a couple of 'musical' sketches, preparing a few songs, learning a Romanian nursery rhyme, and of course going over the itinerary and the general safety, cultural and behavioural expectations and guidelines. And then...
After 3 hours in Glasgow Airport, 8 hours in Munich Airport (which went much quicker than anticipated thanks to a few games and a good book!) and two reasonably short flights we all arrived safely in Sibiu in the very early hours of Sunday morning.
We were very pleased to receive such a warm welcome from Beth (one of the Little John's House trustees) and quickly headed, in minibuses, to Little John's House. After a quick tour and briefing of the necessary facilities to get us through the night it was straight to the loft space, where our beds awaited - our home for the next two weeks.
First Day at Little John's - by Ryan Hartley
After a 'lie in' (by Romanian standards) and a hearty breakfast we were introduced to, and played with, the enthusiastic young adults who live here at Little John's House, all with their various quirks and personalities. We were then talked through the various tasks we would have to help out with around the house, with the toilet cleaning duty sounding pretty disgusting (let's hope the food is well cooked). After popping out for an ice-cream (and also some calmness) we headed back to the house to unpack our resources, plan our activities for tomorrow's Summer School and rehearse our performance of 'In The Jungle'; which after endlessly practising and perfecting choreography unrivalled by Take That's 'Pray', we were to be critically awarded a 3 out of 10 - wow! Our first day has been full of laughter, enjoyment and loads of smiles - and our time at Little John's has barely even started yet.
First Day of Summer School - by Kirsty Dunsire
The first day of the summer school was, thankfully, a success. With activities ranging from face painting and a water zone to glass painting and hat making, as well as plenty of music, dancing and basketball all on the go, it is safe to say that everyone enjoyed it. The kids joined in with heaps of enthusiasm during circle time. A young boy with whom we had spent several hours previously trying everything, to no avail, to make smile, began dancing and laughing to our circle time music, making everyone laugh with him. It felt so good to have found something that made him happy.
The afternoon's visit to Astra Park gave us a view of Romania as it was in the past, with period homes, water mills and windmills to explore amongst beautiful scenery. It also gave us a much appreciated break from being entertainers at the Summer School. After only two days in Little John's house, we are all exhausted, but excited for the next two weeks.
Ukulele Magic by Hannah Fearn and Cameron Walker
After having multiple struggles yesterday trying to get a young boy with Down syndrome to join in the fun with everyone else and prevent him from constantly grabbing people's necks, we had a breakthrough with him as we discovered his love for music. It started off with myself on the guitar playing random chords and Hannah adding lyrics about octopuses and by some miracle he took a shine to it. By the end of the day we had managed to compose an incredibly catchy song with the ukulele. It wasn't long before the young boy knew every single word, his favourite part was definitely the chorus - "blub blub blub blub". It felt really good to involve him in the fun through music and to see him fill with such happiness at our first song (album release coming soon) and on the plus he now doesn't grab people's necks as much and is one of the most outgoing members of our summer school.
After the children departed from the summer school, and after we had completed the daily, arduous task of clearing the garden and cleaning the toilets, we embarked upon a trip to the centre of Sibiu. It was an interesting afternoon as we were set a list of challenges, such as; having to ask for directions in Romanian, acting out a scene from Dracula and taking a panoramic picture from the top of the Council Tower - which forced us to explore the city in a different and fun way. The winners of this 'scavenger hunt' were promised tokens for hot showers at the salt lakes - so everything was to play for! This was followed by a lovely meal in the Piata Mica and a dance in the fountains of Sibiu's main square. Another great day.
Another Day of Summer School and the Salt Lakes - by Jen Alexander
No day is ever the same at Little John's House, keeping us all on our toes as we embrace the laughter, excitement and mischief throughout the day. In particular, today was a special day, as it was the last time we got to see one particular young adult who comes to visit Little John's House to take part in the Summer School. This hit the group hard as we had grown to love his bubbly personality and loving nature, showing how much of a connection you build on this trip as you learn all about their different backgrounds and lifestyles.
Despite this, today was also special as after we completed the tedious job of removing what seemed like an endless supply of Hama beads from the carpet we finally all washed properly for the first time since setting off from Scotland on Saturday (Drastic times indeed...). This involved lying in salt lakes, rubbing yourself in mud and later drying yourself in the Romanian heat looking like idiots (they claim to say it's good for you!). It's fair to say we are already bonding as a group as we venture through this Romanian adventure together and we all look forward for what is to come, and here's hoping, for some more showers.
The Water Fight - by Cameron Walker and Alasdair McNelis
The fourth day of summer school was another success, and marked our first official public performance of 'In the Jungle' at circle time. There was excitement in the air throughout the day as a couple of the residents of Little John's House had gathered that there would be a water fight later in the afternoon. We filled up the water tank from the well and let the water fight commence, and with the baking sun shining in the garden a little cold water sprayed on you was rather pleasant. All six residents were overjoyed at the sight of the water fight and made sure they got themselves completely involved. Laur, in particular, managed to produce a whole armery of water pistols and super soakers for everyone to make use of. By the end of it the water tank had been completely drained and everyone was left drenched in water but with huge smiles beaming across their faces. We will miss Little John's this weekend but we are all looking forward to heading to Brasov tomorrow to enjoy some hot showers and an air-conditioned bedroom.
End of Week One - by Iona Peterson
The beginning of the week was nerve wracking, not knowing who would turn up, how many would turn up, if we'd have enough supplies, how we'd handle different situations and most importantly, how they would react to us. But on Monday morning the first bus showed up and all our worries were brushed under the carpet as we were met with a bunch of smiling faces (or maybe a few mischievous smirks, as we'd soon find out) and from then on we didn't have a spare moment to worry.
We met a number of exceptional and interesting characters during our first week at summer school. Firstly, one boy who spent the week rampaging up and down the house, often giving us his best impression of a lions roar as well as impressing us with his fantastic dance moves. Despite the chaos that followed him, his cheeky antics and chasing Ali round the garden with a golf club, him and his beloved hula skirt never failed to make us smile. Secondly, an exceptional little girl, who despite struggling to walk or move around, never let it dampen her spirit and loved to join in and dance at circle time. Next, a trio of siblings, each with very different but lovable personalities, and who brought a huge atmosphere to the group. The youngest sibling, who had Down syndrome, could always be seen laughing with her big sister on the trampoline or playing cops and robbers. It was just lovely to see them so happy. Finally, the musical prodigy, the biggest success of the week, who initially wouldn't participate in anything and sat alone constantly saying no, much to our despair, however, he ended the week by giving us his own rendition of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and hugging everyone, for a long, long period of time, not wanting to leave.
And these are only a few of the incredible characters we met throughout the week and became close to. The goodbyes on Friday were difficult for everyone after having spent so much time with such lovely children, most who have grown up in difficult circumstances, unimaginable in our own situation. They humbled and inspired us, as well as making us smile and laugh, and I and everyone else cannot wait to see what the kids next week have in store for us.
Weekend in Brasov - by Erin Stevens
A weekend break away from the hustle and bustle of Little John's House was met with excitement (mostly for some hot showers and flushing toilets) but also a sense of sadness to have to leave the summer school children for the weekend. It began with a quiet journey to Brasov, with the majority of the group sleeping after an exhausting, but of course fun, week of summer school. On arrival at the Kolping hotel we all settled into our rooms, very happily to say the least, speedily making our way to our first hot shower of the week and then made our way out for dinner. After a hungry half hour in the main square, Mr Simon (as Laur likes to call Mr Burbury) and Miss McGookin had found us (supposedly) a very nice restaurant. This restaurant wasn't quite what it seemed to be as after a 50 minute wait, the glasses for our drinks arrived - but no drink for another 25 minutes! As you can imagine, the food didn't come any faster, and I can only say that when it finally arrived the quality left us all missing the Little John's cooks to say the least. Mrs Burbury took great initiative however and we received a lovely desert of doughnuts! The next day, we took a trip to see some of the sights of Brasov. First stop was a cable car ride to the famous Brasov sign with some gorgeous views from the top and a fun and alternative parkour route down the hill! After a quick shopping trip and lunch in Brasov, we made our way to the swimming pool. The boys gave us a wonderful demonstration of how not to enter the water from the various high diving boards, but were quickly shown up by Kirsty who gave us, without hessitation, a perfect dive off the highest board in the pool. We were all astounded. Later that night we were treated to a lovely dinner in an atmospheric Italian restaurant in the centre of Brasov. On leaving the restaurant we were all a bit nostalgic for Little John's as we heard the orchestra on stage in the main square blaring out a rendition of YMCA which we had all become very acquainted to during circle time that week! Sunday came and we were set to head off to a bear sanctuary and Bran castle. Despite a slight bus breakage, we finally made it to the bear sanctuary in time for our tour. A guide brought us round, looking at all the different bears, a particular favourite of mine being the bear cubs. However, it has to be said we weren't the mother's favourite as she repeatedly growled at us, giving one woman such a fright she fell over! Our final visit of the weekend was to Bran castle, the aleged home of Dracula, where we wandered around the eerie staircases and secret passages, learning a lot about the myth of Dracula and the story of Vlad the Impaler. After such a busy morning we were all looking forward to having a sleep on the long bus journey back to Little John's and were particularly excited to see the children once we were back!
New Week, New Faces - by Ian Brett and Lachlan Kelly
On arriving back to the summer school after our weekend away, we were eagerly greeted by the 6 residents of Little John's, and quickly fell back into the daily routine we knew. A new week brought new faces to the doorstep, but just like last time it took no time at all to break the ice and settle down. Upon finishing our fourth summer school of the week, we were fortunate enough to travel to one of the orphanages where some of the kids and adults we had come to know through summer school were living. The experience was unexplainable and eye opening, for as much as we had been told about how their lives differed from the summer school to their home, we could never really understand until we had seen it for ourselves. There were numerous houses for groups of orphans and children with severe disabilities, and for the first time we were given permission to have a look inside them. The kids ranged through all ages and disabilities, yet they were all so happy, which was so relieving to see. It must be so tough to work there, but the reward of the smiles on their faces is so warming, and we all have the upmost respect for the workers. However, the most memorable part of the visit was meeting a young girl in her room, who had hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is what Little John suffered from, and seeing the condition in person really moved us. After seeing their rooms, we met the adults and kids, and played for a while, which felt so much more real after the tour. It was such an unforgettable experience and we are so glad we went.
With Thursday coming to an end, we look to our final day of summer school tomorrow, where water fights and pass the parcel await...
Singing for our Supper - by Rory Power
As the second week of the summer school came to an end we said goodbye to some now familiar faces and friends. As they left through the gates wth party bags in hand our attentions turned to the evening's concert to the residents and staff. With headlining acts including Erin and Iona on vocals, Hannah on Ukulele and of course the last ever performance of our 2017 summer anthem - 'In the Jungle', it was destined for the big stage. After a successful performance including some spontaneous highland dancing from Vlad and the surprise addition of some backing vocals from Julia we prepared ourselves for the long awaited Romanian style barbecue.
As it turns turns out Nicu (one of the house drivers and handy-man exraordinaire) also turned out to be a grilling master chef. With mountains of chicken wings, pork ribs and sausages awaiting we eagerly tucked in surprising everyone, including ourselves, by how much we could eat. As our last evening in the house came to an end we couldn't help but feel what an incredible experience this trip had turned out to be.
Goodbye Little John's - by Olivia Young
There are no words to describe the amazing experience we have had at Little John's House. Each day has brought new memories, laughter and smiles as we bonded with the children and it has been incredible seeing the children getting used to us and coming out of their shells (and in some cases thankfully calming down!). No day was quite the same and we all have some very funny stories to tell about the characters we met, and very sore ribs from Costica sneaking up and tickling us.
Mags has done an incredible job with Little John's House and the summer school, and hearing stories about the change in Vlad and some of the other residents was extremely heartwarming. After visiting an orphanage on Thursday it made us all appreciate how lucky we are to have the treatment options and funding at home in the UK. It made us value every moment of fun we gave the children, as well as every giggle and smile we got from them as it made us fully realise the importance of Little John's House and the summer school.
We all have taken away so much from our stay and will never forget the laughter and smiles of the children in the Summer School and at Little John's. When it came to saying a tearful goodbye this morning none of us were quite ready to say ciao!
Our Last Day - by Suzie Green
Today was a sad day for our group as we had to say goodbye to Little John's, Mags and it's residents. It was emotional and surreal to think we were leaving behind this amazing place and these incredible people. Between Costica's heart-warming hugs, Laur's Winter invites, Vlad's secret hand-holds, Julia's singing, Andrada's dancing and Ana's chatter we certainly didn't want to leave. Sadly all good things come to an end and we needed to continue our journey to Top Gear's Transfaragasan Highway to enjoy the most amazing and idyllic scenery you can imagine from 'simply the best road in the world' (Jeremy Clarkson).
This trip has showed me the true meaning of resilience - seeing and hearing the stories of amazing people, who through hardship are still genuine, lovely, good natured characters - and always manage to have a smile on their faces.
'Incredible People and an incredible place' - Rory Power
'It's fair to say Little John's House will always have a place in my heart after a trully unforgettable two weeks. Throughout this experience it has made us all appreciate what we have back at home and how special the small things people all over the world. So many memories to treasure' - Jen Alexander
'Little John's House is full of laughter, love and spirit and I feel blessed to have been part of that for the last two weeks' - Ryan Hartley
'An experience I will never forget - thank you Little John's' - Olivia Crombie
'Seeing children with much less than ourselves but not letting that affect how happy they are was a great eye-openner and inspiration to take back to Scotland' - Cameron Walker