First Time Volunteers: Joanna’s Story!Oltenia, Romania, Volunteer experience, Volunteering, Written by a previous volunteer
We recently had a chat with Joanna, one of our volunteers who has just returned from her first trip to Olt this summer. She has graduated from The University of Manchester this July with a Psychology degree, and is soon off to Oxford to complete her masters. Whilst at university, Joanna volunteered as a project leader with a ‘Student Action Volunteering’ project, where she would organise and supervise a weekly activity club for adults with disabilities. She had also volunteered with The Stroke Association and in a local residential care home; all experiences she said helped her to feel prepared for her trip. Here’s what she shared with us…
Q: Why did you apply to volunteer with The LIFE Foundation?
A: I had heard really positive things from a friend who had volunteered with them previously, it sounded like an incredible programme that was doing fantastic work. Whilst I had done lots of volunteering in the UK, I had never been overseas to do so; many charities seem to be run mostly to give volunteers an ‘experience’ with little to no actual impact. The LIFE foundation seemed different and that giving my time would have real benefit, and it seemed really sustainable, which appealed to me.
Q: Was it what you expected when you arrived?
A: At our training day it was stressed how small the flat is, so I was actually pleasantly surprised! It is definitely small, but in the communal room there is a sizable dining table (no eating on laps unless you want to!) and some comfy chairs which overlook a view which gives one of the most picturesque sunsets I’ve ever seen. The kitchen and toilet are basic but completely serviceable, and it was all impeccably clean.
Q: What is a typical day for a LIFE volunteer?
A: It depends, although it always involves leaving at 8.30am!
On three days a week we worked solely with the children in small groups. As there were eight of us on our trip, this meant three groups, each accompanied by a translator. In the morning we’d work with one or two houses, before returning home for lunch, and heading back out to do a further house in the afternoon. A typical day could include helping with physiotherapy, brushing teeth and hair, doing some gentle massage, intensive interaction, sensory play, and general active play! In some houses you may be able to go outside, others you’ll be inside; but no two visits to the same house are the same!
On two days a week we went to the adult institution. When you arrive, the excitement from the adults is evident and you may well be adopted by one or two who particularly want to spend time with you. This could be colouring, painting nails, throwing a Frisbee or even dancing (I was taught some traditional Romanian dancing by one of the adults on my first trip to the institution!) It was also possible to spend time in the sensory room giving massage and using sensory items with some of the adults. At lunch, we went and fed those who needed some assistance, and it was also possible to go and spend time with the less able adults if you wanted to.
Q: How would you describe your experience with the children and adults?
A: I had an incredible time with both the children and the adults. The kindness and love many of the children and adults showed will stay with me forever; there were so many hugs, cuddles and fond memories!
Q: What about Slatina, where you stayed – did you do much in your spare time?
A: Slatina was bigger than I expected; there are quite a few restaurants and a beautiful park right by the flat. I had been worried about how I was going to eat (I’m lactose intolerant and vegetarian!) but I found that most places had something I could eat. The local supermarket also had a huge variety of food, so cooking in the flat was really easy and was a great way to save money. Most evenings we went and played cards and had ice cream at the local bars/cafes, and there’s also an artificial beach and a hotel with a pool; there’s plenty to do! Some of the group also went to Bucharest at the weekend and had a fantastic time!
Q: Do you have a favourite memory from your trip?
A: Although I loved all of it, my favourite memory is of working with a young boy with autism in one of the houses. He usually wanted to watch TV most of the time and didn’t have any interest in toys or games, becoming distressed if the TV was turned off. During my first visit I found a simple stacking game he showed slight interest in, and by the end of the two weeks he was completing the entire set, only watching TV for a minute or two in between goes. It was a huge moment, and there was a massive grin on both of our faces!