I and three other science and engineering students travelled to Săcele, Braşov County, Romania, to volunteer within a local charity called F.A.S.T Romania. We volunteered in association with Engineers without Borders Edinburgh, an organisation, which are involved with international development. We were sent to help improve the standard of living and educate the Roma community, whom are struggling to integrate themselves into the Romanian culture and so are marginalised.
Before the beginning of the trip extensive planning was done. We organised many fundraising events including ceilidhs and bake sales. We created a ‘Project Romania’ Facebook page to raise awareness and set up a JustGiving page for any donations. Additionally, flights, accommodation and a full itinerary of our trip was made. All this proved challenging for me. At times I did feel stressed and found it difficult to time manage. However, I learned many valuable skills such as organisation, communication within a group and the importance of teamwork. As the days grew closer to leave for Romania I did feel worried. In particular with the language barrier and with the public transport. I was also worried about whether or not the Roma community would accept our help and guidance due to their current problems in Romania. However, after researching and enquiring with the charity I gained a better idea of what to expect.
We arrived in Bucharest, the capital, on the 29th of May. After staying in Bucharest and then traveling by train to Braşov, I learned many things. I learned that Christianity is at the forefront of Romanian culture. I also gained an insight into what Romanians think of the Roma community. It seemed that Romanians dislike the Roma blaming them for vandalism, stealing and polluting their land. I was very shocked at discovering this. This made me somewhat apprehensive in working with the Roma in Săcele.
When we finally reached Săcele, we stayed at place called the Ziurel Centre. This is where we met Daniel and Ema (founders of F.A.S.T) and many other volunteers. For the first week, my group was tasked to work in two Roma villages, Tărlungeni and Zizin, where we worked with Roma builders to build sceptic tanks to help manage waste. The project was very physical but deeply rewarding. I met many Roma people while working on the sceptic tanks and realised that the vast majority of Roma people want to be accepted in society. The Roma were very welcoming and friendly. This clearly was a contrast to the opinions that most Romanians have towards the Roma. I also learned that the Roma people have very strong gender roles. This surprised me and suggested that they have quite traditional values. I also learned that the charity does very well in integrating the Roma, this was seen by the fact that the staff consisted primarily of Roma people.
For the second week, my group were tasked to teach Roma children basic principles of science and engineering through a series of experiments in the F.A.S.T school. Through these experiments, I could see that the Roma children were escaping from the troubles at home and having fun. They engaged with us, with the help of a translator, and were mesmerised in particular to the water pump experiment. I felt a sense of satisfaction teaching these young children, hopefully inspiring them to take a career in science in the future. Throughout the lessons, we tried to emphasise the fact that ‘education overcomes poverty’, a principle that F.A.S.T tries to implement. I learned through teaching that many Roma children do not go to school especially the females who conceive children at a very young age. This was sad to hear but I am glad that F.A.S.T tackles these issues by providing free education and urging girls to take leadership roles.
On the 19th of June we left Romania and arrived back in Scotland. The experience I had in Romania developed my existing skills and unearthed new ones. I made relationships with many Roma and Romanian people that will last for a long time. I learned a lot about the Romanian culture and the struggle that the marginalised Roma community face. Nonetheless, I hope that in the future Romanians and Roma people will find harmony between each other.