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November 2012

Why Romania Doesn’t Deserve its Stereotype (written by Allison Jeffares, journalism volunteer)   (published in Romania)

November 22, 2012 by   Comments(2)

I have never ascribed to cultural stereotypes, not fitting stereotypes of Australians myself. I have zero interest in watching sports and this apparently makes me un-Australian. I was told this, not by Australians, who you might say are somewhat qualified to make such a statement, but by foreigners. This was of course all in good fun, but other stereotypes might not be so easy to brush off.


When I was telling people about my upcoming trip to Romania, all most people thought of was gypsies, thieves and Dracula. To people in the UK, they thought of all the Romanians coming to the UK and other European countries since they joined the EU.


Having had the opportunity to work with children and teenagers in Romania on journalism projects I can see how wrong this impression is. The students I have worked with have been so intelligent and hard working and have dreams for the future. They are not interested in becoming layabouts, or in a life in crime. They are saddened at the thought of how Western Europe sees them and feel like they might not be welcome. The temptation for young people to leave Romania seems strong though, as I have been told here that even if you hold a respectable job such as a teacher, your monthly salary might be just 1000 lei (220 Euros).


I have seen very few beggars here, no more than I would see in the UK, and I have not felt unsafe or had anything stolen from me. Around the time of the Olympics in the UK there was some media coverage about gangs of Romanians pickpocketing unsuspecting visitors. The same has been said in Spain, especially Barcelona. Although this has not been good for Romania’s reputation throughout Europe, these countries can only blame themselves. The penalty for pickpocketing in Romania is three years in prison, whereas the penalty in Spain is just a fine. Of course then it is more attractive to be a pickpocket in Spain than it is in Romania, so naturally they want to leave the country. From all appearances, this seems to make Romania a safer country.


From my travels I have learnt that no one culture has any more or less good or bad people than any other culture. Every country produces its share of thieves and criminals, as does Romania. You just might see Romanian thieves more often in cities such as Barcelona because they are attracted by its lax laws.


If young Romanians want to move elsewhere in Europe to seek out better job opportunities, they do not deserve to be prejudiced against with the unfair stereotype created by the pickpockets. I have seen that they are hard-working and honest and they deserve a fair chance.

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Why Romania Doesn’t Deserve its Stereotype (written by Allison Jeffares, journalism volunteer)
Why Romania Doesn’t Deserve its Stereotype (written by Allison Jeffares, journalism volunteer)

All About Donations (written by Daniela Cristea, care supervisor for Romania)   (published in Romania)

November 16, 2012 by   Comments(0)

This are 3 short stories behind important donations for: Bradet, Prejmer Day Care Centre and Lizuca made by 3 of our former volunteers: Bente Heuch, Arie van Oostveen and Claire Foster. 


Arie van Oostveen was a Teaching volunteer 3 years ago and since then he is in contact with the coordinator of the day care centre in Prejmer to find the best way to help them. This year, due to the high number of children and lack of staff, Arie decided to donate money to hire one more educator in the Centre for a whole year. Claudia and Carmen are extremely happy to share with the new member of staff, starting 10 of september, the daily work with 56 children.


Bente Heuch joined our Business project a year ago, and before she left all the placements working with her had "homework" to do until her next visit. This year Bente returned to Romania twice to check on the progress of the NGO's and to help them choose the best solutions for their development plans. Miss Heuch directed her efforts in many directions, doing her best to help wherever she could. For Bradet, a foster home with more than 100 children and one of the places on her agenda last year, she decided to buy a tractor. This will not only help the center put fresh vegetables on the children's table, but also teach the children important life lessons from cultivating the field and seeing plants grow. 

The tractor was donated at the beginning of this month and is being used since then at preparing the land for agriculture.


Claire Foster did her Care project in Lizuca and Patrocle, two foster homes in Tarlungeni, the summer of this year. She offered her 24 Romanian children all her affection and attention. She is a tireless source of enthusiasm and energy and she prepared for the children every day attractive and creative games to build with them unforgettable moments in their childhood. After arriving back home she decided together with her parents to make a donation that will make life in the houses more comfortable and beautiful. With their help, each of the 24 children will have their own space in a new wardrobe in their bedroom, they have a new cd player to replace the old broken one, high capacity washing machine and other cleaning products and machines to make cleaning easier and more efficient, kitchen supplies that reduce the time spent there to create more time for and with the children, arts and crafts supplies, a special gift for each child, school supplies...


Thank you all for your dedication and implication in your work and for your help offered to improve so many lives in so many ways.


Yours, Dani

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All About Donations (written by Daniela Cristea, care supervisor for Romania)
All About Donations (written by Daniela Cristea, care supervisor for Romania)

The Struggle to the Top of Piatra Mare (written by Allison Jeffares)   (published in Romania)

November 9, 2012 by   Comments(0)



I absolutely hate hills, stairs and any form of moving in a vertical direction without the aid of modern technology. It’s not surprising that I have never before in my life climbed a mountain. What you may find surprising is that when presented with the opportunity to climb a 1800m one in the Transylvanian Alps I jumped at the chance.


Somewhere around the half-way point of hiking Piatra Mare I started to question why I had thought this was a good idea. I came to the conclusion that I refuse to let my lack of fitness and my hatred of exercise stop me from enjoying any sort of travel experience. This is the reason why I have suffered through countless climbs of church towers, loathing every minute of it until I reach the top and can revel in the view. It’s the view I’m going for, not the climb. An Austrian friend once said to me that while the view from the Untersberg (the one of Sound of Music fame near Salzburg) was nice, she preferred the view from a smaller mountain that she had climbed herself because she had earned the view. “No,” I thought to myself. “I don’t need to earn a view. I appreciate it just as much coming up by cable car”.


But the appeal of Piatra Mare is not just the view from the top. All the way up (and down) the scenery was gorgeous. Starting out from the base at an elevation of 600m we passed some extremely adorable stray puppies living under a haystack and half a dozen houses before entering the forest. We followed a creek along, gently heading uphill through the bronze coloured trees.


I had clearly underestimated how hard the hike was going to be, bringing a handbag with me instead of a backpack and wearing shoes with no grip. Before we even started I was told to empty my things into the backpack of a much wiser person than myself. You’d think this would have given me a clue into the difficulty of the hike, but no.


The path started to become a steeper and I was puffing and my calf muscles were starting to burn. I knew this wouldn’t be considered strenuous for someone of average fitness and so I figured it had to get harder than this, but little did I know how much harder.


Acting as our guides for the day were Danny and Dani, and at this point Danny said it was not hard, that when we got to the canyon it would get hard.


To get up the canyon we had to climb ladders that looked like they belonged in a garbage dump. There were rungs missing, bolts fallen off and they wobbled off the rock where I assume they should have been secured. The most terrifying one in the series was about 10- 15m high and was positioned right next to a waterfall. Unable to appreciate the beauty of the situation I was more worried about how the water was making the already dangerous ladder slippery. I took it one rung at a time trying not to panic at the thought that my inappropriate choice of footwear might spell my untimely demise.


After what seemed like forever I reached the top and I thought the hard part was over. Danny announced that the dangerous part was over and now it is “just climbing”.

A sign pointing up the mountain said “Very difficult”, but now there was no turning back. I didn’t want to face the ladder of death again and once we reached the top we would be able to take a different route down.


There was no clearly defined path anymore and it was more like scrambling up rocks and over tree roots than what I would call hiking. It took a lot of perseverance and a lot of help (being half-dragged up some impossibly steep parts) but I got there in the end.


The trees parted and I could see just how far we had climbed. It was a breath-taking view over the mountains and of the town of Brasov. I realised my Austrian friend had been right. It was so much more satisfying to have earned the view by hiking up. I was amazed that I had been able to get myself up this high. I saw a plane flying much lower than where we were standing on the top of the mountain and I felt like all the effort had been worth it. Who knows, maybe I will even hike another mountain one day.

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The Struggle to the Top of Piatra Mare (written by Allison Jeffares)
The Struggle to the Top of Piatra Mare (written by Allison Jeffares)

Every City has its Story: My first impressions of Brasov (written by Allison Jeffares)   (published in Romania)

November 6, 2012 by   Comments(3)





From the moment I landed in Romania I began to find contradictions at every corner. The country seemed to sit on the fence between the old and the new.

On the way to Brasov, where I will be staying for the next month on a volunteer journalism project, we sped down the road alongside souped-up cars. I was thinking that because we were still near Bucharest that everything was modernised, but looking out the left window I unexpectedly saw a horse and cart trying to merge onto the highway. “It’s a Romanian car!” said Daniel, the representative from Projects Abroad who picked me up from the airport.

I hail from Australia, a relatively new country, so in comparison Romania has a very rich heritage to hold onto. From the initial impressions I’ve gleaned, traditions continue to play a part in everyday life here, particularly for the older generation, but western culture is encroaching on its space. Continuing towards Brasov, I observed many stall holders lining the roads selling fruit, vegetables and flowers, but when I arrived in the city I was surrounded by people toting bags from H&M and listening to iPods.

 Coming from Australia, a very multi-cultural society and where about 22 per cent of us claim to have no religion, I was also surprised at the expressions of Christianity I saw on the streets of Brasov. I learnt that 99% of Romanians are Christian and this certainly seemed evident when I witnessed people making the sign of the cross whenever they passed a church.

One reason why religion seemed to be all around me was that I arrived at a significant time of the year for Catholics: All Saints Day (November 1st). All over the city flowers and tree branches were being carried to the cemetery to lie at the graves of loved ones. Although Australia itself has a sizable Catholic population this is never something I have witnessed there, indicating to me that traditions are more important to Romanians.

The Americanised cousin of All Saints Day, Halloween, was scorned by many Brasov residents, but has started to gain favour amongst the younger generation. Hordes of twenty- somethings gathered in garish costumes at the pub I visited that night, and children carrying trick or treat buckets were out during the day. Some businesses also cashed in on the holiday, adorning their shop fronts with jack-o’-lanterns and spider webs.

Another contrast I discovered in Brasov was the variety of buildings. I have not seen much in the way of new buildings, but there is a mix of old, medieval buildings and communist era buildings. The medieval buildings near the historic centre are beautifully coloured with striking pointed turrets. Some are good-as-new, having been recently restored, and others are crumbling charmingly, with flaking paint. As you move away from the old town the buildings you encounter become bleaker looking grey block housing. These are not pleasing to the eye, but my host in Romania, Marcela, who I am staying with in her communist era flat offered a different perspective. She said Ceausescu’s time was good for the people because there was a lot of building construction happening, but nowadays it is difficult for people to afford a house.

New developments can often be beneficial for a society but it is also encouraging to see traditions being observed in Romania. Western influences are obviously tempting the community but as yet it seems Romania’s traditions are still present and so there remains the hope of upholding them for future generations.

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Every City has its Story: My first impressions of Brasov (written by Allison Jeffares)
Every City has its Story: My first impressions of Brasov (written by Allison Jeffares)

Halloween in Brasov written by Victoria Waldhausen, current drama volunteer   (published in Romania)

November 2, 2012 by   Comments(0)

Since my parents are German, I guess I can't technically say that American blood runs through my veins. However, I was born and grew up in the United States, which I hope entitles me to some Americanisms. 

One of these Americanisms is Halloween. Because isn't every little girls' dream to dress up like a princess? Okay, okay, in my case it was an octopus, a costume that reappeared three times in my Halloween career, but who's counting?
There are two things, as a Halloween veteran, that I've learned over the years. The first is that I will never be too old to don a costume and find a party to attend. The other is that you can find Halloween spirit anywhere—there will always be someone else who's looking for a reason to celebrate in a costume! 
So this year, despite the fact that I didn't have my eight-armed octopus at my disposal, I didn't let that get in the way of a small celebration.
In a country that is known for its vampires, Romania did not disappoint in Halloween spirit. In the high school where I teach, one of my students made me a carved pumpkin, which added a little Halloween spook to an impromptu apple-crumble baking party at the Projects Abroad office later that afternoon. Another student game me a necklace with Halloween charms and two pins: a pumpkin and a cat. I, in turn, rewarded them with a plastic pumpkin filled with candy for every scary play they acted out. I think it was a win-win. (And the fact that I got two presents made me feel like I have successfully accomplished something in my first five weeks in Brasov!) 
As for the evening, all of the volunteers got dressed up and found a Halloween party to attend in the center of Brasov. There's nothing like ten dancing Black Swan ballerinas and some very unique looking monsters to qualify this Halloween as a success. And now that this scary holiday has once again come and gone, and I am proud to say that despite what I've heard about vampires haunting the Transylvanian countryside, I remain a sun-loving, blood-loathing human, unscathed and ready for a new adventure. 
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Halloween in Brasov written by Victoria Waldhausen, current drama volunteer
Halloween in Brasov written by Victoria Waldhausen, current drama volunteer