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December 2010

A Charitable Birthday Present   (published in Romania)

December 22, 2010 by   Comments(0)

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'Happy Birthday!', Ana says on the phone, and this is the little snowball that soon turns into an avalanche. My dear friend Ana, former highschool colleague and the director of The Village/Satul magazine (the Projects Abroad journalism placement in Romania), goes on to say that as a present she has arranged a public exhibition of some of my photos from India, Nepal, Ghana, Jamaica and Thailand. Further more, she says, it will be a charitable event, as we will sell the photos and donate the proceeds to some needy institution. Do I know of one, she asks? I ask around: orphanages will get a lot of attention for Christmas, lots of interest and donations. We need somewhere more obscure, more overlooked. My mom has the solution: the 'Mina 1 Mai' Hospital for Patients with Chronic Mental Illnesses.

The little snowball soon gathers momentum: my sister sends a press release to the media, two tv stations interview me, I send emails to friends. Stefi, another highschool colleague, joins in: he is part of the Association of Christian Students in Brasov, so he will bring a group of carolers. Another friend, Damien, from White Mountain Property, phones to tell me he wants to donate 334 EUR as well. Plus a Christmas tree and trims. We raise 300 RON at the opening of the exhibit. My mom still has 300 RON from a former Projects Abroad volunteer, Dagmar, and another Projects Abroad volunteer, Paul, has just sent 100 GBP for the hospital. It takes a whole afternoon to buy oranges, bananas, cheese, chicken legs, hats, socks, chocolates and waffles for all 145 patients of the hospital; it takes four more hours to make the individual packages for 68 women and 77 men. And then the whole thing happens on Saturday, the 18th of December.

How we fit a Christmas tree, all of the presents and 20 people with two guitars in five cars  eludes me. But we do and we’re off; the only one who knows what to expect is my mom, who’s done this before many times. As soon as we arrive, my mom gets swamped with patients, all trying to talk to her at the same time, some kissing her, some trying to kiss her hands. We’re the only donors they’ve seen for a long time and probably the only ones they’ll see this Christmas. After all, the hospitals for mentally ill patients, especially irrecuperable, get only the dregs of the funds from Healthcare, and the public thinks they’re one anyway, so why care. These people are not even wanted by their families anymore. One woman has 7 children, but none has ever visited her since she arrived at the hospital. She is part of a huge majority. The lucky ones get to go home for a weekend sometimes. Regardless, almost the only thing ALL of them talk about the whole time is their families: their children, their parents, their brothers or sisters. Insanity – it becomes instantly obvious – doesn’t replace memory or the need to love and be loved. The system doesn’t help either: these people receive indemnizations from the state for their illness, but the money doesn’t go to them or the hospital that looks after them; it goes to their next of kin.

As carols ring out from the hall where we set up the tree, I look around and I see happy faces among the patients (attached to clumsily dancing bodies) and teary eyes among our group. And I remember what my mom told me on the way: ’We have to be strong in there, and laugh and be happy. This is what these people need. They have enough tears and misery themselves’. Extremely hard to do when we realize how fortunate we are, and how dismissive of our good fortune. Even harder when we realize how little people need in order to feel a drop of happiness and how inured and ungrateful we’ve become to simple things.

I want to thank everybody who got involved in this spontaneous project: Ana and her husband Adi, Stefi and his carolers, Damien and his future wife Andra, Dagmar and Paul, everybody who donated at the opening of the photo exhibition and not east, my mom, who is and always will be a model of selflessness. But most of all, thank you to the patients of the Mina 1 Mai hospital, who have given us much more than we could ever have given them.


Mircea Samoila

Director Projects Abroad Brasov

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A Charitable Birthday Present
A Charitable Birthday Present

Bye Bye Brasov (written by Helena Buljan, Care Volunteer, Australia, October - November 2010)   (published in Romania)

December 6, 2010 by   Comments(0)


Coming all the way from Australia, I’m a long way from home. But as I write this, I am sitting on a train that is speeding me away from another place that I have called home for the last 4 weeks. I had no idea just how much I would enjoy life here in Brasov and how much I would miss it when I left. Not just because of the wonderful things to see and do around town, but because of all of the people I have met here…..

I can’t explain how my host Elena and I came to understand each other, (with her lack of English, and my limited Romanian), but somehow we did. Long conversations at the kitchen table became a daily occurrence as did my appreciation for home cooked meals. Ah… the soups, stuffed peppers, sarmale and jam pancakes! I’ll miss both Elena and her cooking. It really helped me feel comfortable in a new city and a new country, to have a home base.

Kids are pretty special people. I had the privilege of getting to know lots of great kids while I was a volunteer here - from the babies, to the teenagers, and all the ages in between. Doing arts and crafts, playing games and just being around the young people at the shelter I worked at, was a real pleasure for me. As was holding and feeding and playing with the really little ones at the hospital. Sometimes you don’t need to speak the same language to communicate and bond. I found individual personalities and good hearts in the children I met. I can still hear their voices and their laughter, and I won’t forget their faces.

Being part of the big family that is Projects Abroad was an honour. Meeting the team and the other volunteers meant having an instant network of friends and contacts, and I never felt alone. It also meant having people to go bowling with, go out for coffee and pancakes with, drink palinca with, go to Sibiu/Sighisora/Bran/Rasnov/Tampa Mountain/Orthodox churches/ice skating/dinner with other volunteers and Projects Abroad Supervisors. Plenty of good company!

And to everyone else I met – the staff at my placements, the people on the street I stopped to ask for directions, the guy at the ice rink who tried to teach me how to ice skate, the taxi drivers, the people I visited in the gypsy community, the woman I danced with at the day centre, the kind French lady who gave me a bus ticket when I got lost, the young man who was a “book” I read at the Living Library event and many, many more – thank you all for talking with me. 

Bye Bye Brasov! I will miss you, and your people!

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Bye Bye Brasov (written by Helena Buljan, Care Volunteer, Australia, October - November 2010)
Bye Bye Brasov (written by Helena Buljan, Care Volunteer, Australia, October - November 2010)

Care Updates (written by Daniela Cristea - Teaching and Care Supervisor)   (published in Romania)

December 6, 2010 by   Comments(0)

The Baby Project at the Sacele Hospital is improving considerably every year thanks to the support and ideas of our volunteers. 

This month a big change took place and I’m sure it will make happy not just the babies, but also many volunteers who worked in the hospital and know the place. Due to the great collaboration between Cristina, the new doctor from the hospital and the volunteers, the door of the baby’s room was replaced with one with a window. Due to this detail, the door can now be locked when the volunteers finish their shift and we can leave in the room the radio, toys and diapers so the fun continues even if we’re not there.

The staff from the hospital responded very well to this initiative and the Care takers (the ladies from the kitchen) respect the rule to keep the door closed when they leave the room.

The mothers with children that once insisted on staying in the baby’s room despite the rules prohibiting it are now happy to watch us playing, changing and bathing the babies through the window.

By the way, things evolved from the time we started working with the babies, the children and their mothers in this hospital, and I trust that it won’t be long until we won’t have to lock the door at all. And that’s a very big thing.


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Care Updates (written by Daniela Cristea - Teaching and Care Supervisor)
Care Updates (written by Daniela Cristea - Teaching and Care Supervisor)