Suitcase trailing behind me, I scanned the masses at Heathrow. Feeling lost I realised I didn’t know who I was looking for. My anxieties intensified. What if I couldn’t find them? What would the other volunteers be like? Would I fit in? Would I struggle because I couldn’t speak Romanian? Did I definitely pack toothpaste?
With these whirling thoughts, I spotted a group and guessed they might be who I was after. I approached timidly asking if they were volunteers heading to Romania. To my relief I had guessed correctly, they welcomed me with such warmth that my fears vanished – I instantly felt part of this team.
We were heading to Romania to volunteer with a charity that supports patients and families affected by terminal or life limiting illness. Specifically, we’d be helping at a summer camp for children who have or have had a relative cared for by the hospice. I’ve always found volunteering rewarding and since I am interested in palliative care as a career, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
While there I realised how little I understood about Romanian life. I was unaware that a large proportion of the population lived in poverty and the healthcare system offers almost no hospice care, therefore this charity provides the vast majority of end of life care in Romania.
During my time at the camp I realised how important they were for the children. Not only were the children able to have a fun holiday but they were able to escape their everyday life and simply feel like children. I was touched by how they bonded with and supported each other, it was clear they benefited from spending time with children with similar experiences.
The trip really put my life into perspective – reminding me how unbelievably lucky I’ve been. It was pure chance I was born into a healthy family in Britain – an affluent country with so much support. Going on home visits with a nurse from the Hospice illustrated how crucial their jobs are. However, it was a sobering reminder of the poverty some endure and the limitations of their health service. Despite the charity’s best efforts, it currently only reaches a fraction of those who need its help.
This experience reminded me of when one of my family was terminally ill. It was a distressing time but she received first class palliative care. Before this trip I had never considered how much harder this upsetting time would be without proper palliative care. It’s easy to cast aside palliation to focus on prevention and treatment but I believe everyone has the right to a dignified death with the best pain relief and emotional support possible – it saddens me to think many are denied this. I thank the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for helping to fund this experience which awakened me to how privileged I am, giving me a fresh drive to use the advantages I’ve had in life to continue to support this charity.