In the Summer of 2019, four newly qualified Speech and Language Therapists and one Occupational Therapist volunteered to go to work in a centre for Children with Complex Needs in Sibiu, Romania.
Many of the children in the Centre had been abandoned at birth during the time when abandonment in Romania was commonplace or when either their parents or foster carers could no longer care for them at home. In recent years more babies survive a difficult or premature birth and many of these babies end up in the centre as Romania still does not have the level of support needed to keep children at home.
Newly qualified therapists have been volunteering to go to Romania with SHARE since 2010 and when they return home, they write a reflection about their time there.
Here are extracts from two of them.
Hamida – Occupational Therapist:
As soon as we met the children, they were incredibly open to us and seemed happy to see us, even though we had never met. I felt that this was a credit to the hard work Share has been doing over the years as the children greeted us with excitement – expecting good things. There were several children who were able to successfully grab my attention straight away and show me what they wanted. Not being able to speak Romanian was not an issue here. For the children who were independent in their movements, the challenge was explaining that as much as I would love to spend all day jumping on the trampoline, scootering, hammering, or climbing through windows, there is only one of me and I need to spend equal amounts of time with different children! The more I made this a point, the more the children were accepting of the matter and were ‘okay’ sharing me
Interacting with the children really teaches a lesson in gratefulness. No matter the child’s disability, it was obvious to see how they valued the attention that was given to them. Be that holding their hand, pushing them on the swing, sitting with them or taking them to the park, they were always so happy and cheerful – and this was contagious. I could not stop grinning either. This lack of being serious and being childlike was very refreshing as it allowed for a lot of creativity. Because of this, I was able to use a lot of energy to do what the children wanted. I was able to give them the opportunity to learn skills in the short time we had with them.
The importance of physical contact on the development of a child was also highlighted to me. I was not aware of just how important physical contact is until I met the children and did a little reading around the topic myself. This helped me to understand that even for grown adults, physical touch is something which is important for mental wellbeing. I think along the lines of a hug a day by someone you love, removes stresses. For a lot of the children, the only physical contact they receive is when they are being fed or clothed. For the most part, they are left in rockers, wheelchairs or on bean bags. Children who should be moving and crawling are not being encouraged to do this. So, whatever opportunity was available I made it my purpose to allow those children to explore beyond their wheelchair etc.
I had a ‘banger’ of a summer with the children, experiencing so much and gaining very many skills.
Sakina – Speech and Language Therapist:
This year I was given the most incredible opportunity to venture out to Romania for four weeks and work in Speranţa; a centre for children with disabilities. As a newly qualifying Speech and Language Therapist, I travelled and worked with other SLTs and Occupational Therapists. During the four weeks, we worked on several different skills with the children. For example, initiation, copying and turn-taking through play therapy, always making sure to accompany this with lots of love, cuddles, and tickles! We were also very lucky as we were given permission to take the less disabled children out of the centre almost every day and so we took full advantage of this; taking them on outings to the carnival, the park, restaurants, the salt lakes and the swimming pool.
As volunteers, we all stayed in a hostel in central Sibiu, which was close enough to walk to Speranţa and made it very convenient to get food and groceries locally. Whilst I was aware that as new volunteers, we would be sharing a room together, to my surprise; our supervisors were also sharing the room with us. This in fact made it a lot easier for us to settle, build trust and good relationships with them, and understand the environment we were working in better.
As part of our experience, we also got the opportunity to visit Little John’s House; a home for several disabled children and young adults. Little John’s House runs a summer camp for the children from Speranţa and other local children. During my first visit, I had a WHALE of a time because not only did I get to embrace my inner child by raiding the dress-up closet and transforming into a ‘fairy princess bat-witch’, but I also waded down a stream in my shoes, which became completely soaked!
Personally, working in Speranţa brought about so much happiness, joy and contentment; in fact, I would go as far as calling it therapeutic because seeing the children almost every day, building bonds with them, getting to know their lovely personalities, watching them develop daily, and giving and receiving love was so rewarding. I do recall, however, that in the beginning I was worried that I may not be doing my job right as I did not think I was conducting any therapy. After a conversation with my supervisors, however, I realised that it really was about play therapy and that without even realising it, the work I had done so far had made some impact on the children.
I loved to see that one of the supervisors had brought out a communication book for one of the children, who was SO motivated to communicate and used his book brilliantly.
We were lucky with the supervisors we had this year and I think this made a massive impact on our experience. The fact that we had two supervisors at the beginning (Sammi and Sarah) for the first 2 weeks, meant that we became familiar with our surroundings and settled in quickly. I loved that between us and all our supervisors, there was never a concept of hierarchy or ‘us and them.’ They were there for guidance when we were working with the children, but at the same time, they were there as friends. They were all kind, thoughtful and always approachable for whenever we had any issue, and they made the effort to get to know us as individuals.
Overall, I think that my experience in Romania taught me to be more self-sufficient and made more of an adult out of me. I also realised how much I love the children that I met, each with their own characters and traits, their lovely smiles, and beautiful personalities. I always knew children had a powerful impact on an individual, but until I met the children in Speranta, I never understood how much.