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September 2012

Projects Abroad: Romania- Nonprofit Volunteer (written by Jessica Herzfeld, Business volunteer)   (published in Romania)

September 21, 2012 by   Comments(1)



Hello everyone!

My name is Jessica Herzfeld and I am about to complete my one month volunteer program in Romania. I am from the U.S. and back home I work in the Detroit Metropolitan area as a Research Associate and Evaluator at a local nonprofit. I had just finished my Masters and wanted to get away for a while and take a bit of a break, so I began to look into volunteer opportunities. I found Projects Abroad online and saw that it was great organization and that the experiences offered through this organization was a good fit for me. I decided to pick a program working with nonprofits. I wanted to use my skills and education to assist any organization that could use my support.

Before I left for Romania I had some thoughts about how it would be. I had done research before I left on the Projects Abroad site as well as looking up information on Romania and Brasov individually. I knew that Romania would be different from the US but I tried not to have any expectations or preconceived thoughts in my head about the work I would be doing or the country I would be visiting. I did not want to be shocked or disappointed in any way so I decided to not expect much and go with the flow. I wanted to be surprised by Romania, I wanted to take it all in, and I wanted to fall in love with all the differences and little nuances that I would find all around me. I did not want to compare too much of my experience with back home. So I just told myself to get ready and enjoy!

Once I arrived in Brasov I was taken to the home I would be living in for the month. I was greeted by my host mom, her daughter, and four other volunteer roommates. I was warmly received by everyone and made to feel quite at home right away. The next day I was met by a Project Abroad staff member and shown around Brasov. We talked about my placements, who I would be working with, and how I was going to get there. I was to be working with three different nonprofits and spending about a week and a half at each one. I was to be assisting the organizations with community outreach, grant opportunities and other fundraising opportunities, and organizational planning. I arrived in Brasov on a Friday so I had a few days to settle in before I began my placements on Monday.

My first and second placement was at two organizations that offered a day program for adults and children who are mentally and physically impaired. Both were located in different cities outside of Brasov, and while the organizational goals were similar each agency was different and varied in their capacities. In the first organization I mostly assisted with helping locate new funding sources, community outreach ideas, and gave information on evaluation of programs.

The second placement was a little different and exceptional in the fact that it had a facility that could be rented by volunteers (for a discounted price) or travelers and included a huge kitchen, three bathrooms, about five bedrooms, and a nice living room with a separate dining area. This was one way for the organization the raise funds for the organization. I thought this was a great and unique situation. This agency also had a van for transportation of clients which was very helpful. The woman running this nonprofit was very warm and open to ideas. The client’s parents were also very involved in the centers activities as well. Parental involvement was something that was not found at the other organization. I spent two days working with the clients as well as preparing for the end of week meeting with the woman running the agency going over funding sources and outreach ideas.

The last placement I had was at an organization which assisted low income children and women with an educational focus. This program provided assistance for clients in the way of after school tutoring programs, food programs, medical/medicine assistance, school supplies and school clothes assistance, and overall family care. This is a great program however it is in danger of closing in three months due to funding issues. I began this placement with a focus on funding but then realized that a more concise focus was needed in terms of organizational goals and abilities. Only one person runs the organization and all of its programs and administrative processes. This is a lot of responsibility for one person. There are only so many hours in a day. So we went over grants and information about funding as well as the selling of products to benefit the organization, and community outreach ideas. We then went over and began discussion of a strategic plan. I am continuing to work with two of the organization once I am back home. I hope to help to keep the doors open to these important community programs which are so needed.

Some observations I have noticed while in Romania in terms of the nonprofit world are these: The idea of philanthropy or practice of philanthropy is not a well-developed concept or practice in Romania. Many Romanians do not see the advantage or point of helping poor people, Roma peoples, physically or mentally impaired or ill peoples. The idea of volunteerism is not widely important here. There are barely any monetary resources for nonprofits serving these disadvantaged populations, whether it is from government grants, foundations, corporate sponsorship, or personal donations. There is a distrust of nonprofits because some people in the beginning who received funding were dishonest and took money or supplies for their personal use. I have found that corruption is a very common theme here in Romania. I have found that many great caring people have taken over poorly run organizations and have turned them around but face a major funding and staffing issues. I have also found that the understanding of how to effectively run, monitor, and evaluate programs in a nonprofit is slightly off in some ways here in Romania. Continued employee educational training is not really practiced in Romania. There are not yet strong university and nonprofit collaborations.  

On the flip side, a more positive view of what I found in Romania concerning the nonprofit world is this: More people running nonprofits are taking action to educate and involve community members in the nonprofits within the community. Funds from the EU and the US are available for nonprofits, however at the moment it is still scarce. There is a move to educate students in the schools about the advantage of volunteering. There is a push for community outreach on behalf of the nonprofits. All of the nonprofits that I worked with are trying to get the clients that they serve out in the community so that the public can see that they have a place in society and that they can accomplish things to the betterment of the community. There is momentum developing toward fostering philanthropy in Romania. More and more people are beginning to see the need and advantage to assisting these disadvantaged populations of people with in the society. The government allows for 2% of individuals taxes to go to a nonprofit of the tax payers choice.

As I talked with some Romanians I found that the stamp of communism still has a presence here. The fact that during communist times disabled or mentally ill peoples were shoved away in homes and never really heard from or seen again is a way to understand the current perceptions surrounding the care for these people today. Romania is a very beautiful and complex place. It is the meeting place of old and new, of a communistic past, a democratic present and open future, of strong traditions and modern ways. Many of the people here are very warm and friendly. I found that when I needed help with directions or had a question to ask, strangers were very helpful, even though I don’t speak Romanian. Even if there was a language barrier people still tried to help me. We even had a bus driver who realized we were lost and went and talked to another bus driver to drop us off at the spot that we needed to be at and to tell us when to get off. How nice was that? The food here is great and all of the little pastry shops are to die for.  

As I am coming on my last days here in Romania I am feeling a bit conflicted. I am excited to see everyone back home and can’t wait to tell them about my time here; however I really don’t want to leave yet. I feel that I am just getting used to life here. I am now very comfortable with the busses and trains and still want to see more of the country. I have truly enjoyed my time here. I have met many new friends and great people here in Romania. All in all, I will be sad to leave and I hope to return again.                       

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Projects Abroad: Romania- Nonprofit Volunteer (written by Jessica Herzfeld, Business volunteer)
Projects Abroad: Romania- Nonprofit Volunteer (written by Jessica Herzfeld, Business volunteer)

And so the hard work starts....   (published in Romania)

September 6, 2012 by   Comments(1)


4 days ago I got off of my flight in Bucharest after a 2 week holiday in Turkey sun kissed, relaxed, sad about leaving new-found friends, but excited about what this next chapter of my journey was going to bring. I didn't allow myself to have any expectations - of course I had heard of and read a number of things about the difficulties faced here - but I honestly didn't want it to play into my anxiety. I would come with an open mind and allow myself to go along with the ride.. And with the ride just beginning I feel as though it is going to be inspiring, challenging, overwhelming and all consuming. Why would I want it any other way?!

I will be working at 3 different locations during my time: Raphael Day Centre which caters for children and adults with physical and intellectual impairments; Domino Children's Centre which houses ~20 children (mostly boys) who have been arrested for begging/stealing/living on the streets; and SCUT Day Program which is a day program for adults with schizophrenia.

I have had meetings with the first 2 centres and I must say they have been overwhelming. When they hear that they have a "professional" or a "therapist" here to help them I see their look of excitement and hope. They have said to me "Do whatever you think could help us! Anything you like!" Any of my fellow OT's out there will know how difficult such a proposition is. We always want to do and be involved with EVERYTHING, this is our problem!! You immediately look at the big issues, think of a plan, then realise you only have 6 working days to fix it with very few resources - thats when you go looking for that ellusive magic wand – why isn’t it ever there when you need it?! Thus I am reminding myself on an hourly basis: KEEP IT SIMPLE.

One of the truly lovely things I have seen so far is how much the staff in these centres care. They continue to persevere with few resources, little acknowledgement and next to no government support. They are on their own and the wins are few and far between. Yet they continue to get up and go to work everyday. I think that the things I will learn from these people will be even more valuable than the work I will do for them.

Anyhow, I must get back to it, current project - toy making!!

I will try to blog once a week but we will see how that goes...

La revedere :)

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And so the hard work starts....
And so the hard work starts....