UMD Student Volunteers in Romania
This past August, UMD psychology student Trevor Wichner traveled to Tutova, Romania with his mother Delta Wichner Nuthak--not for a normal vacation but to volunteer to take care of and nurture babies at a failure to thrive unit at the local hospital.
After years of wanting to do volunteer work, Delta, a nurse, went to Global Volunteers and signed up for a three-week long “volunteer vacation” to help babies with medical conditions in Romania. “There were no training requirements to go, all you had to do was want to love babies,” Delta said.
Global Volunteers is a non-profit organization based out of Saint Paul and works with volunteers for a short period of time, sending them to countries that have asked for help. In Romania, the program sends out volunteers every three weeks to the clinic, which is supported by the volunteers and one nurse during the day, and only one aid at night.
Shortly after Delta signed up for her volunteer trip to Romania, Trevor got a call from his mother asking if he wanted to join her on the trip. “It took me about two seconds to decide, I just couldn’t say no,” Trevor said.
Although the failure to thrive clinic was part of a larger hospital, it looked like houses in Tutova but just converted into a clinic. Trevor said it was less sterile than the hospital. However, the clinic still manages to care for the infants and toddlers without having the extra space of the hospital. The children who are at the clinic are often underweight, have growth issues, or other medical conditions. To help nurture their natural growth, Trevor and Delta played with and fed the babies—basically they gave love to every child in the clinic.
Delta specifically explained that the clinic is not an adoption agency, but rather a place for the children who have medical conditions and have no where else to go. “In Romania, there are no outside adoptions. That means, in order to adopt a child in Romania, you have to be Romanian. You can’t be from another country,” she said. Many of the children in the clinic are orphans, but a small number of the children in the clinic have parents, but they are too poor to afford medical care for their child. For example, many of the children have cleft lip or palate, and the parents cannot afford the surgery. Trevor said that the parents come visit their children often and try to spend a lot of time with them.
Trevor said that relatively recently, Romania moved up to become a second-world country from being a third-world country in the 1990's, and that he couldn't believe how different the culture was there.
“People are selling fruits and veggies on the sides of the roads and some people were using buggies and horses for transportation,” Delta said.
Throughout their three weeks, Delta and Trevor became attached to each child, but they still formed favorites. “Sammy was probably my favorite. He was definitely a hair grabber,” Trevor said.
After the day’s activities with the kids, Delta and Trevor would write in each child’s journal, a book used to help keep track of things the volunteers have done with that specific child.
Although he hadn’t planned on it when he left for the trip, Trevor helped tutor Romanian high school students in English. “I’d never taught English before, but most of the kids were pretty fluent. We would walk around the town and just talk in English. Some of them were so fluent, you wouldn’t be able to tell they didn’t speak English on a regular basis aside from their accents,” he said. Trevor split his time up equally between the clinic and the high school by teaching with English in the mornings and helping with the clinic in the afternoons.
Delta and Trevor both agree that this experience is something they would never trade, and that they hope to have the chance to do something like it again in their lifetime. For more information about Global Volunteers’ programs and how you can get involved, go to www.globalvolunteers.org.
Written by Donna O'Neill