Romania Community Project 2018
13 July 2018
Returns: 27 July 2018
Staff member in charge
Miss Lorena McGookin
Mrs Kayleigh Caine
On 14 July 2018, 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 stay at Little John’s House, a home for 6 youngsters who have a variety of difficult medical conditions. During their stay they 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 2017 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
Welcome to Romania
We arrived at Glasgow airport at 7:30am, tired but very excited to begin our journey to Romania and Little Johns House. We left Scotland at 10am, one hour and forty minutes later we reached our first destination of Munich. With an 8 hour layover in the Munich airport looming we decided to go into the centre of Munich for a few hours to enjoy the city, but it was better than we could have hoped for as the lovely German city was in the middle of its Gay Pride Day. With singers, dancers and flags everywhere it really lifted the group’s mood. After 5 hours of eating sightseeing and shopping we decided to go back to the airport and wait for our flight, however we were caught in the middle of a thunder storm which ultimately meant our flight was delayed for another hour and a half. By the time our 11:30pm flight from Munich to Sibiu rolled around everyone was shattered and ready for a long lie when we got to the house. And after a short minibus journey from the airport we were there and greeted by Beth, a senior member of the staff here at Little Johns, who warmly greeted us, then instructed us to get some well needed rest before the start on Sunday morning.
After a group breakfast on the grass we met a few of the permanent residents at the house who were great and put us at ease straight away with some bouncing on the trampoline and playing with some crocodile clappers we brought with us. We then sat down to talk to Beth and the teacher’s about the house and what our daily routine would be like here, including the dreaded toilet cleaning rota. For the remainder of the morning we planned a song for Monday’s circle time and decided on the activities we would do for the rest of the week. This lead to the creation of a dance routine which is destined to fail but we feel that the kids might enjoy that all the more. For the afternoon it was more chilled, with a small walk into the town and up to a rustic monastery where we explored and took pictures. Now Sunday evening, and after an amazing dinner we are preparing for the first day of summer school tomorrow with the theme being animals, so an early night needed.
First Day of Summer School
We woke up bright and early at 7am (earlier for some) on Monday morning ready to begin the first day of summer school in the beautiful town of Cisnădioara. We all ate a large breakfast of cereal, toast and tea or coffee before starting the setup process. We painted faces and organised craft kits while talking about all the new children we would get to meet and greet and all the new ripe experiences we would get to undergo. The first bus of kids arrived and immediately any remaining tension or worry about the kids was immediately put to rest, they were all smiles and simply exuded happiness. The kids also didn’t take much time to get stuck in, they were all over the craft stations (especially nail painting and face painting) and were having a blast. Then the second bus arrived and much to our relief, they had the same reaction as the first. All of the children were enjoying themselves, whether they be on the swing set, making a bracelet or dancing their heart out. Then came circle time and our much choreographed (not really) version of “Riptide” by Vance Joy was given its first proper public performance. With a couple more hits such as “YMCA” and “Un Elefant” (a very famous nursery rhyme in Romania) the children were dancing along and loving it! After a little bit more time doing arts and crafts we had to say goodbye to the children for the day and eat some lunch we were starving!) before heading out to a National Park in the area for some sightseeing and serenity. The Astra park was beautiful and gave us some much-needed relaxation time before a dance off in the evening featuring Vlad (one of the residents at Little John’s house) and several of the members of our group. We ended the evening with a heart wrenching story from Mags (the founder of Little John’s) of how and why the house was formed and the very sad stories of where each of the residents came from. Emotional and thoroughly exhausted, full of anticipation and excitement for summer school again tomorrow.
Sibiu Treasure Hunt
Our day started with our now normal early morning routine however we were in for a very busy day compared to Monday as children arrived from two of the local orphanages and a local children’s hospital. The highlight of the morning included the warm welcome we received when the mini busses arrived, a lot of the kids that had been here yesterday ran up and hugged us with huge smiles ready to start activities with great enthusiasm. Our group worked together to tackle new challenges as some of the children required more one on one attention, however we handled it well and the kids all seemed to have a great day. We danced to music, painted faces and nails and played on the trampolines in the sunshine until circle time. Then we did our well-rehearsed and self-choreographed dance to ‘Riptide’ and danced with the kids, topping things off with a rendition of the classic YMCA. The summer school ended at around 1:00 pm and after clearing up, we tucked into a hearty Romanian style lunch and then got ready for our Sibiu scavenger hunt; the winner would win the best hotel room when we go to Brasov at the weekend. After admiring the beautiful architecture of the city we began ‘Flossing’ in front of the national museum and singing ‘Will your anchor hold’ in front of one of the cities towers. These were just some of the fun things we did for the hunt including sampling the tasty Chimney Cake, a local delicacy. Our Romanian language skills were truly put to the test when we were required to ask for directions and spark up conversations with locals. Afterwards we had a delicious dinner at a restaurant in the square before heading back to the house for the night. With full stomachs and warm hearts we headed off to bed with anticipation of another exciting day at Little Johns.
Salt Lakes Trip
Today’s summer school threw many a new challenge our way with many more new faces to meet. We woke up to the sound of heavy rain, which was something we weren’t expecting here in Romania after days of beautiful sunshine. Our morning routine continued as normal, getting caught in the rain as we ate breakfast, which certainly woke us all up. In the morning we welcomed the children coming off the busses in groups, none of which seemed to have their spirits damped by the rain. It is was a happy sight to see that they were all very excited and many ran over with open arms. Today was the busiest day so far as we had the largest group of children coming from two orphanages and the hospital. Logistically we had our work cut out for us as we had to do most of the activities inside in limited space, whilst the rain continued to pour. It was also a bit more testing as we needed to entertain the children in a different environment, as we weren’t able to run around in the huge garden. Instead we did more craft based activities and a lot of bracelet making, face painting, colouring and playing musical instruments. Eventually throughout the morning we moved outside but soon enough the rain struck again and we had to move everything back inside after a lively circle time. Towards the afternoon the rain finally stopped and we were able to play basketball with some of the residents and it’s safe to say their skills were far better than ours. After the children left, we headed off to our relaxing afternoon in the salt lakes. The highlight was probably swimming in the mud baths, where we coated ourselves in ‘healing mud’ and watched Emily dance yet again, which is becoming a theme of the trip. Even though it was hard deciphering who was who, it was a nice relaxing bonding experience for the whole team. Clean of the sticky black mud we arrived back to Little Johns relaxed and thoroughly scrubbed. We arrived just in time for another delicious home-made dinner of pork stew and polenta. After eating all we could, it was a well-earned chilled evening which prepared us for the fun that lay ahead the next day.
To Bowl Or Not To Bowl
This morning was quite tough in regards to getting out of bed and the teachers certainly had a hard task to get us up. Due to the downpour of rain, we had to enjoy breakfast inside. As the weather was quite dreich, it meant a lot of the activities had to be set up inside and therefore we also had a smaller group of children. In a sense this was good for as it was a bit quieter than usual and we got to spend more one on one time with the people that came. The children clearly were not too bothered by the rain as they all seemed to enjoy the various activities thatwe had set out for them. As we only had one bus full children we were even able to join in more than usual and managed to successfully make many a friendship bracelet and perfect our painting. The children left a little earlier than usual, however it was lucky for us as we had quite a lot to tidy up as stickers and Hama beads seemed to be a favourite of the kids today.
We planned a trip to go bowling in Sibiu in the afternoon, however the first bowling alley we went to was under reconstruction so we had to take a short walk to another in the town (with an ice cream stop on the way). When we arrived at the second bowling place we were informed that it did do bowling…only they stopped 5 years ago. So we decided to take the time we had left in Sibiu to split into pairs and buy gifts for every resident of Little John’s and the staff who work there. After we got back to Little Johns we had a lovely dinner and began packing for our weekend trip to Brasov. We finished another great day with a dance party (more of a rave). The music was provided by one of the residents, Laur, who loves music and the best dance moves provided from another resident, Vlad, who loves every chance to dance. We went to bed tired out from all the raving but excited for the final day of Summer School for the week.
Brasov Water Park And Tampa Cable Car
We were given a short, but welcome, lie in on Saturday morning, before having breakfast at 9:00am. With multiple options for breakfast, it is safe to say, we all left well fed. We then went to a waterpark in Brasov for a morning of exploring the indoor and outdoor pools. There were a couple of flumes which allowed for multiple screams and very large splashes at the bottom. After exploring the steam rooms and cold water bucket drop, we took part in a water Zumba class, which caused some hilarity among the group. A dip in the jacuzzi was a nice way to round off swimming before snacking on a few different flavoured donuts.
For lunch, we took taxis into the square in Brasov and visited some of the market stalls and shops. We then all met up again to take the cable car to the Brasov sign at the top of the mountain. Although the ride up only took a couple of minutes, walking back down the track took longer than anticipated. After a few slips down the mountain track, and a bit of a sing -song, we made it back to the square where we took taxis back to the Belvedere Hotel to get ready for dinner. Dinner was at Pizza De Nonna which was recommended to us as the best pizzeria in Brasov. The dinner itself was incredible, in both portion sizes and taste. Having a nice meal out together as a big group allowed us to continue to get to know each other and have a nice relaxed evening without too much planning for the next day. After leaving the restaurant, we returned to the square we visited in the afternoon, to get some ice creams before entertaining the square as we sang by the fountain. Upon returning to the hotel we all promptly went to sleep after a long, but enjoyable, day.
Off To Brasov
After a day of rain, the sun shone on Romania and Little Johns House again and as a result we were met by 3 buses of kids for the summer school - two orphanages and one from the hospital. As it was the last day of the week we were all very emotional at the thought of this being the last time we would see some of kids that we had all become quite attached too over the course of the week and wanted to make the most of the last day with some of the children. Despite the exhaustion and emotion existent among us we still had a very successful day at summer school and the thought of travelling to Brasov in the afternoon kept our spirts up. As the buses left there were lots of tears and hugs however we didn’t have time to be upset as we had a quick lunch out in the sun then got on the minibuses to travel to Braşov - one bus roasting us alive with hot air conditioning and the other bus absolutely freezing! However, we made it and arrived at the hotel which had absolutely amazing views across the city of Brasov and the mountains surrounding it. Then some of us went for a quick swim in the hotel pool before all showering in proper showers (not a bucket) and enjoying a really tasty Chinese in the room in the evening. Overall, it was a very successful and busy day and at the end of it we all had the best nights sleep we’ve had since arriving in Romania in the comfy hotel beds.
Bears and Dracula
We woke up nice early at 7:30am on Sunday morning feeling well rested and clean after our second night in Braşov. We ate breakfast in the hotel and packed our cases ready to leave for the busy day ahead before heading back to Little John’s in the evening. First on our list was a visit to the bear sanctuary where we saw many bears swimming and cubs playing, aswell as wolves (or half wolves). We also managed to build up a bit of a sweat walking round as the day started off very hot with lovely sunny weather, causing some of us to worry as we were still nursing dodgy sunburns from the day before. We then hopped back in the minibus and took a trip to Bran to visit Dracula’s castle, however when we got there we were right in the midst of a thunderstorm and so many of us took shelter in the nearby restaurants while waiting for the storm to pass. We did eventually make it up to the castle and heard all the crazy stories made up about Count Dracula before shopping in the markets below the castle. Once again it was back to the minibus where we began our long journey back to Little John’s, tired but also excited to be heading back to start another week of fun and hard work. On reaching Little Johns we were welcomed back enthusiastically by the residents who seemed very happy to see us, we then took time to unpack and reorganise for the coming week with our upcoming theme of Space. A lovely group dinner perfectly rounded off the evening with another delicious meal cooked by the ladies of Little John’s and then we all went off to try and get an early night for the busy Monday ahead.
Today’s summer school was new and challenging with a new group of children we had yet to get to know. We gained residents from both an orphanage nearby and families at homes near Little John’s, allowing us to understand how families coped with children and young adults with varying needs. It was also the start of a new week getting to know more children whom we were guaranteed to fall in love with. Circle time was different this week as we replaced our usual ‘Riptide’ number with ‘Counting stars’ by One Republic. The new children needed no invitation to instantly join in our dancing and learn some of our signature moves. After summer school ended and lunch was over, the volunteers all had a nap before getting ready for our trip to the high ropes course. That is, before the thunder storm started outside and we were informed that the high ropes course would have to be postponed for later in the week. Instead the 14 volunteers quickly got to work decorating a sign to congratulate a couple who generously donated to Little John’s House instead of wedding favours. While one of the groups got the sign started, the other group began to make videos recounting their favourite memories at Little Johns. This was, of course, both hilarious and emotional. Especially when the group were interrupted by Vlad (one of the Little John’s residents) and his mischievous attempts to listen to music by plugging in his phone to a nearby speaker. The other group simultaneously started writing their favourite memories of Little John’s on small cards, which will soon be displayed at both Little John’s and Dollar Academy. After dinner was served and eaten, it was time for our usual clean up. However tonight, there was a twist; the volunteers along with Miss McGookin, Mrs Caine, Mags and of course the residents broke out into an impromptu dance party in the kitchen while home-made jam was being made. The party was not to be stopped and later moved into the playroom where the entire soundtrack of ‘The Greatest Showman’ and almost every ABBA song in existence was performed to our upmost ability. We all gathered in our rooms slightly earlier tonight, not to catch up on any much sought after sleep, but in fact to recall as a group the fun that had been had that day. On our bunk beds we reminisced on our favourite moments we had previously written about. This set us up with great excitement for the memories we will undoubtedly make later in the week.
Hear The Thunder
We woke up to the sound of pounding rain and knew that the children from the hospital wouldn’t come to summer school today as it would be hard to accommodate everyone for inside activities. It was our second day with the new group of slightly older children, however they were all so excited to see us again and couldn’t wait to get started on the space themed arts and crafts. We had tried out best to make a good first impression on the Monday and the group was so happy that the children remembered our names and picked a few favourites already. Every day the children and young adults attending the summer school are surprising us with their wide smiles and contagious laughs. It has been a real eye opener seeing how the kids can be so happy with small gestures. Even just holding their hand or pulling silly faces showed us how a simple action could make their day. It’s been a big learning curve for us all, but along the way we’ve even found a new obsession for making bracelets. Mrs Caine had her skills put to the test as she taught us all how to make colourful friendship bands, which of course Emily has taken to the next level by attempting to make a rainbow hairband. We’ll let you know how that turns out in tomorrow’s episode. Soon after circle time began with our new song of ‘Counting Stars’ (to go with our space theme of course), it slowly emerged into a dance off between the kids and the Dollar Academy pupils. Without being biased, it’s fair to say we all know who won that one…. the kids! After summer school we had a few hours to chill, of which many of us decided it would be a good idea to catch up on sleep since the early mornings are taking us by surprise, some more than others. After a refreshing nap we got up and ready for a treat up in the trees, it was the High Ropes for us. This wasn’t just any Go Ape copy, but a real Romanian style challenge. After we completed the first course in fits of laughter (mostly directed at our teachers) we were fully ready and prepped for the next level, the forbidden ‘Black Run ‘course. The boys went up first, struggling to keep it together to maintain their manly toughness. On the other hand the girls were determined to complete the course after being told ‘it’s too hard’. Well we weren’t going to take no for an answer. Kirsty impressed us all with her monkey like ability as she flew around the course, making it look easy. The last zip line had us all screaming from start to finish as it was so fast and high that it flashed before our eyes. We soon discovered why there were so many yellow crash mats on each landing perch. After that Miss McGookin and Sian were left thinking the indoor swimming pool with spa might have been more up their street. After some light refreshment to restore our energy levels we gathered together onto the buses to head back to Little Johns for a very well deserved dinner where we had delicious chicken, it went down a treat! Finishing the evening off with a water fight seemed like a good idea at the time…forgetting it was freezing and definitely not the best for 11 girls all wanting their hair washed- we decided it was time to get the pyjamas on. The popcorn was popped and the hot chocolate was a perfect temperature. It made the perfect accompaniment for watching the thunder storm before heading off to bed for an early night.
Singing In the Rain
After the thunderstorm from the night before, we decided to have most of our craft stations inside to avoid any unwanted rain. Summer school was in high spirits this week (despite the weather!) with our new group of kids, and we got a great surprise when a group of kids from the emergency unit of the orphanage (who we thought weren’t coming back) showed up out of the blue! They all ran up to us with warm smiles on their faces and it just made our day to see some familiar faces added into the mix. Circle time came around quickly, and all the kids were very excited to join in with our dancing. The morning went so quickly, filled with many an activity showing us time really does fly when you are having fun. Summer school quickly came to an end, and the goodbyes were very emotional. After lunch was over, we were told that we would not be going to the orphanage today, as there had been an emergency and there was a slight change of plans. However, this gave us a great opportunity as we got to go enjoy an ice cream with the residents of the house. This was a nice break, and it allowed a few of us to stock up on lots of snacks that we don’t get at home. When we got back, we set off on our tasks of finishing the wedding banner, the picture board for the wall of the play room and tidying the very busy resource cupboards. We were then told that there was a spring water shortage, which is used in the kitchen to cook all those delicious meals we have been enjoying. The boys kindly put themselves forward to go up the mountain with Nico, our bus driver and part time DJ, to replenish the stocks from a local spring. Just after the boys left, Mags’ family arrived, and we quickly got to know them so it was like our own funny and dysfunctional Romanian family got a little bit bigger. Whilst the boys were away, some volunteers from one of the local orphanages came to speak to us and help us out with our tasks. All the girls were lovely, and it was amazing to hear their stories of what they do in the orphanage, and what it’s really like to help there. Many of them had studied at university to become speech and language therapists, so they were very insightful about how to interact with the children. After we tidied away all our arts and crafts supplies, we set up for dinner for 26 people. Dinner was amazing with a traditional Romanian meal, which included a fried egg and seeded chicken topped off with broccoli sauce. Once dinner had been tidied away, a couple of us decided to run out into the rain and dance to Laur’s music, as we are partial to an impromptu sing along and dance about. We quickly got soaked, and soon lots more people joined us in the thunderstorm. A mudslide was formed in the garden which caused mayhem with our teachers, but made a lot of funny memories that will stay with us forever. We had to go for a water run after this to top up the basin in the garden as despite the rain we used up a fair amount cleaning our clothes. After the tidy up we quickly came inside to dry off and warm up and decided to have a cosy early night.
The good byes started today and it was bittersweet. Our group of children, who had been with us from the first day, arrived as usual to a warm reception. We were lucky enough to spend the day in the sun, which was a surprise as throughout the week we had become accustomed to rather rainy Scottish like weather. The morning we spent doing our usual activities with the children, which now felt as if we were playing with our siblings as we had become so close to them all. We spent circle time singing and dancing in the sun and even the children had who used to be shy decided to join in and dance with us to everyone’s delight, although they did completely outshine us. When leaving time came we all realised it was the last time we were going to see this group of children who had made such an impact on our trip and whom we had bonded with so closely. Unlike us, the children did not cry. They smiled and laughed at us, as they were not sad to see us leaving but more they were happy that we had met. There was a positive feeling after they left as we knew we had all made a huge impact on each other and the children left us with happy memories. We headed back into Sibiu for some swimming as the weather was glorious. We arrived at the outdoor pool and were all rather excited at the idea of getting water through our hair, as we were still pretty muddy from the water fight we had enjoyed the evening before. We all had a ball on the slides and diving boards until the heavens opened. We were attacked by a sudden monsoon like downpour, it was probably some of the heaviest rain we had experienced so found ourselves standing in bikinis and shorts under a tree, like the true Scots we are. We decided it wouldn’t make much difference as we were wet enough and headed for cold showers in the rain. As we were heading out for a nice dinner we all needed to change into relatively nice clothing which was alien to us after two weeks of shorts and t-shirts, funnily enough doing this dripping wet made this a difficult task. All the effort was worth it as dinner was lovely as we headed back to our favourite restaurant, we spent the evening discussing the trip and fond memories with the children. The highlight of my day was our stroll around Sibiu with an ice cream after dinner, as the sun was setting and we got to enjoy our final evening out together.
Time to Say Goodbye
After a slow to rise breakfast the team ensured we were well fed with toast, fresh fruit and cereal. It was then our usual pow wow to discuss the plans for the day. It felt odd to be discussing our final plans for tidy up and packing, but an exciting day lay ahead. We knew we would have a smaller crowd of visitors arriving today so we got moving, putting out the hamma beads and face paints for one last time. Whilst the water tub was replenished, we worked in small teams tidying, sorting and finishing the Dollar Academy testimony on the playroom wall. We had selected a picture for everyone and asked for a quote of their favourite memory. Every time I read it, it was hard not to smile or get that little bit emotional. Once the last few jobs were mopped up, people floated in and out of the house, all busy with an activity as was now our usual rhythm. Little did the pupils know we had a small surprise up our sleeves as organised by Mags. Arriving a little later today would be a ‘very special delivery’ that required our pupils to guard the gate diligently and to help Nico unload. The smaller children from the emergency unit would be visiting us one last time and Mrs Caine and I struggled to keep quiet as we waited with baited breath for our pupils’ reaction. When they arrived the noise echoed off every wall as screams and shouts of sheer happiness mingled with bear hugs and kisses. Nico even managed to receive some too. Circle time had an even bigger boost of energy today and was made that more special with the extra visitors. They helped us make the wedding congratulations banner even more memorable, as everyone crowed in whilst Vlad was so excited and keep repeating ‘happy, happy’ as the photo was taken. After trying to co-ordinate and squeeze in as many as possible, the final version was decided upon and the happy couple were emailed our best wishes.
It was now to clean, tidy, sort and pack before a well earnt ice cream and last minute dash to the local shop to stock up on the tasty snacks that we will all miss. Once back myself and Mrs Caine decided to start the customary Friday water fight on our own terms and quietly filled up two buckets of water balloons ready to launch at our pupils. They say revenge comes in many forms. Once our pupils started to realise what was happening it was every man and woman for themselves as the buckets were grabbed and the super soakers loaded. My daily and frequent teasing of “Apa” (which means water in Romanian) from resident and wind up merchant Costica had not gone unnoticed. Apa was to be delivered by the bucket load and particularly in his direction. Laughter and hilarity soon rained down and once we had drained the water unit dry it was back to the well for a top up to allow us to clean up for tonight’s performance and barbeque.
It was time for one last feast and what a feast it was. The table groaned under the weight of all the delicious food and we all tucked in as one big family for the last time. The house ladies had even made it out to join us and the meal was polished off with some very tasty apple strudel. After dinner it was time for the final performance of the week, which seen one last rendition of ‘Riptide’, ‘Counting Stars’ and a few ABBA favourites as the residents soon found themselves pulled to the feet for a dance. When the applause finally stopped we managed to convince Olivia to perform one final solo, which she did with great grace and poise. We rounded off the evening by giving the residents their presents which had been carefully chosen by the group. The smiles on their faces as they realised what they had been given was fantastic to see. Costica looked particularly smart in his new bowtie and watch combo. Whilst the last of the music played through Laur’s new portable speaker the henna was finished and pupils started to drift up to bed ready for our very early 3.15am departure. Mrs Caine and I sat down for one last cup of tea with Mags before we too would take ourselves to bed and check our charges had indeed packed everything. Just as the cup was raised to my lips, Mrs Caine in true Love Island style, let out an almighty cry beside me ‘I’VE GOT A TEXT’. Nothing as juicy as the TV show it seems, it turns our flight to Munich was delayed by five hours, meaning further connections were not possible. Not the text you really look forward to receiving any day, never mind with fourteen others in tow. Lufthansa placed us on hold for what felt like forever but we found a solution which involved leaving at 1am for another city Cluj, which was a mere three hour drive away and it was already midnight...how would our grumpy sleep deprived teenagers respond to this? The saga continues...