By Glenda McCarthy
Romania is a far cry from Newfoundland when it comes to geography. But in Aril, 10 Architectural Engineering students from CNA’s Ridge Road campus made the trek to Ploesti, Romania to take part in a Habitat for Humanity Global Village build.
In recent years, Romania has faced several bad floods, leaving thousands of people in temporary shelters. Similarly, the country has experienced harsh winters with heavy snowfalls that isolated many villages from the main roads and stable food supplies.
And while it was only five days of work for the Architectural students, to the families of the homes they worked on, it was a priceless gift for which they’ll forever be grateful.
Samantha Taylor of Conception Bay South, attended the trip to Romania because she felt it was a great learning opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to do volunteer work and travel somewhere for volunteer work so why not to a country like Romania that needs it? Romania itself is a beautiful country. I didn’t know a whole lot about it before I went over there. The people were all really amazing even though we didn’t speak any Romanian at all and not a whole lot of people spoke English, but we were still able to communicate,” she says.
Samantha is a seasoned traveller, but Romania was like nothing she’d ever experienced.
“I have travelled a good bit, but I have never experienced anything like this in my life. It felt so good to volunteer and help these families out. To know you’re working hard and people appreciate what you’re doing is really cool. More people need to experience it. I can’t fully explain it. I came back and I have a completely different outlook on everything I do in my life.”
She says people helped them out where ever they went.
“We went over a bit early and got to see more of the country. But when we went to Ploesti, which is a smaller city in Romania, we could see they haven’t rebuilt as much from WWII and don’t have as much money in Ploesti. We got to see that we’re there to help families who live in this place to build it back up and that’s really cool.”
The build consisted of five days of hands-on work for a four-plex building. In addition to the students there were two construction workers, as well as the families who will be living at the location, all working on the build. A new group of volunteers come in each week to help with construction.
“There was only one of the members of the families who spoke really good English. He was 19. He was really appreciative of what we were doing and thanked us for coming from Canada. We weren’t expecting to have as much interaction with the families as we did. Even though we couldn’t communicate for the most part, we had built a friendship with these people.”
Samantha says there were some days where it was really hard work. “But at the end of the day, even though your whole body hurt, it was amazing that you had put in that much hard work to help these families.”
She says it was an amazing trip – one she won’t soon forget. That’s especially true for the friendships she made.
“There were 10 of us. Four of those were in my class and one instructor – I didn’t know them really well before. But after this experience it’s like we’re a small family. What stands out is also the people over there that we made such good friends with even though we only knew them for just five days, we didn’t have anything in common and we didn’t speak the same language, that’s amazing.”
Second year student Sara Kennedy from Corner Brook agrees with Samantha wholeheartedly.
“The people were great and really nice, but they didn’t speak much English. It’s amazing how we developed a relationship when we couldn’t really speak to each other that much. When we left they were giving us hugs and kisses on the cheek and we felt right at home.”
The group travelled to the country early and were able to experience true Romanian culture.
“It was different yet the same in some ways. It was more relaxed there and people walked everywhere because it’s quite flat. It was more active and the parks were amazing. It’s suited to outdoor living whereas (Newfoundland) it’s not much like that. Here you drive most places. Over there a lot of people walk and take the subway. I found the whole lifestyle was really nice,” she recalls.
Sara says most of the construction was completed when they arrived on the project so they were working on plastering and painting, and contributed to the finish work.
“It was amazing. It was one of the best life experiences that you could even have. It’s great too because now on our resume we can say we have experience in that type of construction. We aren’t just using wood down there, but clay blocks so it’s completely different than anything you would build here.”
For Sarah, digging the trench was a really fun day.
“It was a lot of labour, but it was nice to get dirty. It was really fun. I guess dealing with the people too. We didn’t expect them to appreciate it like that. You go for five days and you don’t really know them and then you leave. You don’t really communicate – or that’s what I pictured in my mind. So to have that experience with them and to be crying because you had to leave, and you’ll probably never see them again – it was just really nice to be friends with them. We have inside jokes with them even though we don’t speak the same language. It’s a really weird thing, but it’s nice how people can actually be friends even when you can’t speak a word of Romanian to them.
“And especially for our classmates because we weren’t really that close. Going down there made us a lot closer. People in my class who I didn’t think I would be close to, I am now. Being outside of the classroom setting was really nice. There are a lot of things that stand out from this trip for me.”
She’s hoping they’ll get to go again next year.
“I’m hooked! I’m thinking about how I get a job doing this,” she says with a chuckle.
Craig Greene, Architectural Engineering instructor and CNA’s Romania 2016 Team Lead, has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since 2008 and took part in Global Village trip in Thailand in 2012.
He says the students worked their tails off and he was so proud of them.
“The thing to me and the thing when you’re on the front line with students, it’s to see them engaged in something. We all stand up and lecture and try to do our best, but let’s face it, sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes it’s not. So to do something to see students engaged in, that they want to do and see the glow in their eyes, they look forward to it and after a day they are rightfully proud of themselves and feel like they have accomplished something good,” Craig says.
“That’s the kind of thing that I take out of this exercise. They might say it changes their life and I don’t know about that, but it adds something to them and they see a family who needs a place, they get to see a house that is the size of most people’s basements and the family is thrilled to have it, so they start to understand that kind of issue – simplicity and gratefulness.”
He says the great thing about Global Village is you work with the family, and you’re off the grid.
“They go to a foreign country and we have someone who takes us around so language is not a barrier. While there they try different foods, see a different culture and different sights. You don’t go where tourists go, you don’t eat where tourists eat. We go where the Romanians go. You meet people, and see a country more like the country it is, than the tourist version.”
It’s an awesome experience and they’ll never forget it.
“You help people that need help. You go because you decide this is something you want to do, you help someone and then you leave. There is no follow up. You don’t send each other Christmas cards. It’s something you do and then you don’t do it anymore. You just enjoy the experience and move on. And that’s what the family does too because next week a group from Germany or Poland is in there helping and that’s the cool thing about it. They’re going to move into a house that 300 people from 12 different countries worked on, which is a nice thought.”
In Romania, more than two million children (51 per cent) are living in poverty, 8.5 million people (41.2 per cent of the Romanian population) have no bath or shower or access to running water. According to the national statistics, 35 per cent of the housing stock in Romania is in a state of complete neglect and needs repair. Much of the country’s housing stock is low quality and deteriorating because of a lack of maintenance, and while more than 10,000 blocks of flats were constructed 40-50 years ago, they also now need serious renovation to their infrastructure, heating systems and roofs.
I know firsthand that these AET students and their instructor Craig Greene not only did great work while in Romania, they put a great deal of time and effort into raising the money needed to make it happen. Well done!
Their volunteer efforts are indeed something for CNA to be proud of. They continue the great tradition of what is now 13 years of community engagement by the Architectural Engineering Technology program. Stay tuned for the many more exciting community projects in the planning!