When I arrived in Romania in July 2007 I was not expecting the temperatures to rival that of my stay in Tanzania from February to June 2005. However, the soaring heat wave followed by torrential downpours was not dissimilar to the warm months and rainy season that I experienced in Tanzania.
On arrival in Tanzania the stark differences to home are more striking than those in Romania. Romania is, after all, now a member of the EU whilst Tanzania remains one of the poorest countries in the developing world. However, in both countries you will experience significant cultural differences, which will affect you throughout your placement in a variety of ways. Some of the more difficult aspects to deal with are the more archaic forms of discipline that you may witness in Tanzania within the school system. In Romania the attitudes of the carers towards the children and of society as a whole towards disabled children can be distressing. However, the cultural aspects that you can become involved in and share with the local people, such as ritual parties and feasts, food and music, far outweigh and enhance your time in both your host countries.
Your accommodation in Romania is great and located in the beautiful town of Brasov. It is well kept and not so different from home.
In contrast Tanzania could not be further removed. There are few creature comforts but this is undoubtedly part of the experience and provides many moments of hilarity.
During your placement in Tanzania you will be faced with a classroom of 100 children to which you need to effectively teach English. In Romania you work in family homes of around 10 children. You will play, change nappies and help with feeding. Both placements allow you to use and develop invaluable life skills. It is vital that you embrace your placement with energy and enthusiasm from the start if you are to have a rewarding experience. From the very start in Tanzania we ran a club every day after school. Art, sports, and a choir can all be easily implemented and thoroughly enjoyed by the children and many of the adults. In Romania ask what you can do to help as soon as you arrive and use your initiative at all times. Any previous experience with disabled children will be invaluable. Just your presence will significantly improve the quality of these children’s lives.
I have been challenged and moved by both of the placements that I have undertaken. I was supported by Oyster worldwide in the UK during my preparations and have been lucky enough to share my experiences with the friendly and helpful country representatives and other motivated and kind volunteers. I could not choose between the two placements, as both have been highly worthwhile and successful. Why not try both?!
Written by Bex Stokes