Romania is the only ILP location where you're not teaching English — what does volunteering here really look like?
Even though ILP has unique programs all over the world, several things make working in Romania extra special. In this humanitarian program, volunteers are working in our orphanage program instead of teaching English. It's a sweet and humbling experience, where volunteers spend their time with children who have mild to severe disabilities.
You can read all the facts about the program on the link above. But here? We're sharing the real scoop on what a typical day is like, all from actual volunteers.
We've chatted with a couple of ILP Romania alumni who were more than happy to share their Romania experience to give you a glimpse of what this program is all about. Of course, everyone's experience is going to be different (even people in the same group who go on the same vacations as you are going to have a different ILP semester) but hopefully this can give you a deeper look into the day-to-day of this service-filled experience.
We're mostly hearing from Emma, but also have a few quotes from Kayla, too. Both volunteered in 2022:
Getting To Romania + The First Week Or Two
Here's what Emma had to share: "The journey to get to Iasi from the US is a long one including a 13-hour flight and a 6-hour bus ride. We met up with our whole group during our layover in Amsterdam and that's where we got the schedule for the first week as well as our roommate assignments. Our Head Teacher (more about what an HT is here) made our [living] assignments before we got there with the help of a questionnaire we filled out.
"The first week in Iasi was spent touring the orphanage apartments as well as exploring Iasi and figuring out the basics we needed to survive — like setting up cell phones, learning where the grocery store is, how to withdraw money from the ATMs, and things like that. Our Local Coordinator showed us everything and we couldn't have survived without her!"
"At the end of the first week, we got our orphanage assignments and found out which kids we would be spending our time with. We listed our preferences and then our Head Teacher made the official assignments — you fall in love with the kids no matter where you are."
As A Little Background
ILP volunteers are living in a series of apartments all close to each other. Then, you'll be assigned a volunteer apartment, where you'll be working with a group of children with varying needs and abilities. These volunteering apartments are spread out in surrounding suburbs and are a commute from where you will be living.
What A Typical Day Is Like
According to Emma, "it took a few weeks to get into the groove of volunteering but once we did, a typical day looks like this: Volunteering starts at 9:00 AM every day…For example, I worked in one apartment and we would leave around 8:15 to catch the bus at 8:20-8:25 and get to our volunteering apartment by 9:00 AM. Then, we play with the kids until 12:00 PM!
"At noon, we ride the bus back home and eat lunch. Lunch and dinner are provided by a local business and we meet them outside our apartment to pick it up every day. The men who drop it off are so nice and speak Romanian to you like you know what they're saying :) On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we have another volunteer shift from 4:00 -6:00 PM. So around 3:30 PM, we would leave again to go play with our kids!
"On Tuesday and Thursday or even after our evening shift we would often walk to the Palace Mall for gelato, dinner, or see if anything was going on at the palace - something was usually happening."
More About The Kids + How You're Helping
Emma volunteered with kids who were all "physically and/or mentally disabled — there is a wide range of severity. For those who are bedridden or immobile, we love to sing songs to them, give them massages, hold them, etc. The kids who are mobile also love to be held and entertained in any way. Bubbles and balloons were a huge hit with my kids. They also love dance parties, coloring, playing with toy animals, building blocks, etc.
"The best days are when we get to go outside! For most of the kids, the only time they go outside is when we take them out and they all love it. The apartments have parks nearby where they love to swing, go down the slides and run or be pushed around in the strollers."
Here's a little more about Emma's experience: "The kids are the best part of Romania and the reason I got out of bed every day. I was working in one of the apartments and my kids were learning how to adapt to a normal foster or adopted living situation. They still faced a range of disability and severity but they were more functioning than some of the other kids in the orphanage. Our job was basically to give them the only entertainment and fun they would get all day. There are workers that take such good care of the kids but they are so busy that there's not a lot of time to play with them or give them fun experiences. So that's where we come in. My goal every day was to just get my kids to smile and laugh and when they did, it was the best thing in the world. One experience that I will never forget was when one day I was playing Disney music on my phone and one of my girls came and sat on my lap. I was singing along to her and dancing a little and she just looked right in my eyes, smiled so big, and hugged my neck so tight. It was the sweetest thing. The kids can get a little bit rowdy which always keeps things interesting but it's the most rewarding when they will sit with you and focus. One of my girls was so smart and loved doing little wooden puzzles. It was always hard for her to focus but one time she sat with me for almost an hour and completed puzzle after puzzle and was so proud of herself. Every win for them is a win for us. One of my cute boys loved to dump all his Legos out and get pushed around in the box and just laugh so hard. None of the kids speak very well and they all only understand Romania but somehow we understand each other and it all works out. These kids changed my life!"
Hear from Kayla, too: "I saw the same kids every day which I think was the best because I got to know their routine and what they loved to do! I was assigned to a room that had a lot of babies and is known as the baby room but there were a few older kids, too! That being said, I mainly held them and helped them play with toys. There were two kids in my room who can walk with assistance, so I walked a lot with them. For the older kids who were bedridden, I did a lot of massages and just found ways to make them smile. There were a lot of dance parties and so many tickles.
"My goal was to make them smile or laugh each day. I also had a goal of spending some time with each kid every day. I wanted to feel loved every single day I was there to be with them! With how many kids the paid workers have to take care of, we are there to really just play and love on them as much as possible. Our job is so important because children need connection, touch, and play to grow and learn!"
What About Free Time?
Emma and her group "frequented the many bakeries and pretzel shops that dot the entire city. We explored as much of Iasi as we could - there are tons of cathedrals, museums, and markets throughout the whole city! Once it gets dark and late there's not much to do so we would all pile in one apartment and watch movies which was really fun and helped us bond as a group. During our free time, we would also plan our weekend trips and our long vacation at the end of the semester — those take a lot of work and planning! Almost every weekend we would travel around Romania and see the quaint cities which were one of the best parts of the semester, besides the kids :)."
Psst: These are some of the darling weekend trips Emma and her group visited while in Romania!
A Little More Advice
Emma's final thoughts: "There's a lot of fun quirks about Romania, like not flushing toilet paper down the toilet — and sometimes it can be difficult to get around because of the language. However, if you jump in with an open mind, you can see all the wonderful things it has to offer. The people are so kind and amazing and the kids will change your life. It's a beautiful country and it will always have a part of me!"
Here's what Kayla had to share: "There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss those sweet babies. I would keep in mind that the majority of the children are in a wheelchair and non-verbal. I miss volunteering there and I am already making plans to go back to Romania and see them again.
"Giving my time, attention, and love to those babies has been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience. I am so grateful that I got to be a part of their lives even if it was only for a small moment."
We have such a soft spot for our program here
Can you see why? Spending your time encouraging smiles, stretching tired muscles, and helping children with basic needs and skills is hard, but oh so rewarding. It's such a special experience we think could be just perfect for you.