Language is no barrier when Helen Brandt volunteers with Romanian children who have been abandoned at a hospital there.
“They respond to your love and your body language. The children are very open and affectionate and love the attention. We feed them, bathe them and play with them,” said Brandt, a grandmother of four, who has visited Romania to volunteer twice, for two months in 2007 and one month in 2009. She is going again with her friend Ann Simonski for a month in September.
Most of the children are under two years old and have been left at the hospital because they are sick or their parents, mostly Gypsies, do not have the means to care for them. After two they are sent to live in foster or group homes. There are few Romanian orphanages now and no out-of-country adoptions allowed.
Brandt heard about the volunteer program from a friend. The program, Foundation In Brate (it means “in arms,” as in holding a child), was started by American Dwight de Long, who was concerned about the children in Romanian orphanages and now lives in the country. The foundation receives financial and volunteer support from other European countries and the U.S.
The foundation also works to help families keep their children with pre-school programs in villages and support with food and clothing. When there is extra money, the children are taken to the dentist and there is help to repair homes in the village. There is little government help as the Gypsy people face longstanding stigma and prejudice.
“It’s very fulfilling to be able to do this. It’s wonderful. It’s a beautiful country with many medieval buildings and villages,” said Brandt, who was able to see some of the rest of the mountainous country, which she describes as similar to the Okanagan, on train trips. She stayed in Oradea, a city of about 100,000 people.
“Once you go, you want to go back because of a passion to help the children.”
Brandt and Betty Chenoweth, who has also volunteered in Romania, will speak about their experiences Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. at Trinity United Church. The talk includes a photo display, music by Carl Ross and Diana Ward, and a presentation about Romania by Cameron Fraser Monroe. There will be refreshments and donations towards the foundation’s work with the children are greatly appreciated.