Clara Wee, Singapore
Afterschool Club Volunteer
IVHQ Romania Program
I recently returned from an incredible 4-week volunteering experience in Miercurea Ciuc (Csikszereda), a city in the Harghita county of Romania, with a predominantly Hungarian population. The Szekely community as a whole was amazingly hospitable, its people friendly and accepting. As an Asian (they don’t get many Asians in this part of the country), I always stood out but this was also a great opportunity to share about myself and my country with the people (locals, volunteers, children and carers at my placement) I met.
(Note to future volunteers – bring along maps and photos from home. This is a great way to break the ice with locals and fellow volunteers. You will have many opportunities to whip out those materials).
The good folks at Care2Travel (local NGO team for the IVHQ Program) are a great team. They are passionate about their work in the community they operate in and have put in a lot of effort to provide a comprehensive orientation program, resources (like teaching guides, materials, props, etc.) and support to volunteers to maximize their effectiveness in their placements. The team is also very happy to provide suggestions on how you can spend your weekends/free time and a great source of help for anything you might need while in-country.
I was placed in two Afterschool clubs in the nearby villages of Szentegyhaza and Kapolnas (about 60-75minutes outside Miercurea Ciuc). The children, aged between 6 to 15, who attend the clubs are from disadvantaged backgrounds; many of them from Roma families. My role included teaching basic English, helping the children with their English homework, preparing fun games and activities to engage the children, and providing general support to the carer of the club. You don’t have to be able to speak Hungarian before you start your volunteer stint but it is good to pick up some basic words and phrases while you are here.
The first couple of sessions with the children were challenging – some children need more time than others to warm up to a stranger. The language barrier didn't help either. Many of the children, especially the younger ones, know little or no English and a few were reluctant to use it even though they could. However, it is extremely rewarding once the children feel comfortable enough with you to want you to play with them (expect to play lots of foci or just kicking a ball around), demand you sit next to them at meal/snack time, or come to you wanting extra time to practice/learn English or simply responding to you when you interact with them. The children would also try to teach me Hungarian while I tried teaching them English. This mutual learning process works well and is a source of much laughter and fun.
It has been an interesting and memorable experience to learn about the history and culture of this beautiful country. Romania has lots of fascinating cities, sights and activities to offer visitors. As it is not as popular a tourist destination (yet) as other Central/Eastern European countries, it is relatively cheap to travel in Romania.
I would also recommend volunteering to everyone, regardless of age or background. If you want to be more than just a tourist, if you want to immerse yourself in the culture of a country and give a little something back to the country you are visiting – volunteer! Go with an open heart and open mind, be willing to learn and adapt to your environment. You won’t regret the experience.