My first visit to the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe was in the summer of 2005, when I travelled with a group of volunteers from Outreach Moldova, an Irish charity that works with disabled orphaned children in Moldova.
On arrival at the orphanage, I became aware that it’s not like home. The orphanage is surrounded by walls. The gates are locked and security men are armed. This is because of the poverty in Moldova, which leads to robbery and theft of food and medicines.
The countryside has rich soil where sunflowers, grapes and fruits grow. Women are the main workers in the fields and do the building and the plastering of houses.
Once we stepped off the bus, the children immediately surrounded us. They are used to the Irish now and know that we bring treats of all kinds.
Our language at this stage is very basic but with hand gestures, we get to understand what they want. Our volunteer quarters consist of two dormitories – one 12 bedded, one 10 bedded. We pick a bunk and spent the first evening getting to know each other.
Our orientation is at 9am the next morning. We are given our rosters for the two weeks and we get started. During the two weeks, I was rostered to work with physiotherapists. I taught them some massage techniques and they passed on physio tips.
Between 12.30pm and 2pm, we were assigned to feeding groups. I had to feed a six-year-old girl called Georgette. She was very small and slight with severe mental delay and cerebral palsy. It took two and a half hours to feed her at each meal time. We also changed and dressed her. Georgette had regular massage to strengthen up her little body.
We brought the children out for walks. Most of them are totally paralysed, so we had to use wheelchairs. All children not able to get outdoors by themselves would get some fresh air.
We gave them lots of hugs and held them as they cried. They loved to get their hair brushed, nails painted and get ribbons put on their hair. Before Outreach Moldova arrived, all the children’s heads were shaved to avoid head lice.
They loved to be shown themselves in a mirror and simply adored being photographed. I love volunteering as it makes a huge difference to the girls in orphanage like Sveta, who is in her thirties and who has been in the orphanage since she was a baby. She loves to play and dress up. She has a great laugh and loves all the attention from the volunteers in the summer as the winter is very quiet and long without the volunteers.
I have started to learn Romanian so I can understand what the girls are saying. I will get loads of practice when I go back to volunteer on 18 June for two weeks.
The children get two days out of the orphanage in the year. We go to the funfair and McDonald’s in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.
The volunteers became very fond of the children and found it very hard to say goodbye.
Outreach Moldova has also taken over a baby orphanage there are over 90 beautiful babies in it. We spent one day with the babies.
It is an experience I will not forget and one that has given me an insight into what one can do if you put your heart and mind into something. This year I am doing the Flora Mini Marathon for Outreach Moldova. We are hoping to have 352 people do it – one to represent each child in the orphanage.
Memories of the Hincesti orphanage will always be in my thoughts and to all who have generously sponsored me – thank you.