My name is Samantha, I am an Occupational Therapist and Trustee for the charity, Share. I want to raise awareness and celebrate the great work that the charity Share, does.
Since 2012, each summer I have volunteered in a Romania children’s centre; known as the Bianca Project.
Every summer, for the past ten years, newly qualified Occupational Therapists have participated in the Bianca Project and volunteered with children with multiple and complex disabilities in a centre in Romania each. Many of the children are not mobile and have additional learning needs. Unfortunately, due to their complex needs, most of the children here are not able to be looked after by their families, and thus, live in a state-run children’s centre. The children receive only limited therapy input; however, we know and have seen how beneficial this is and what they can achieve with patience and support. When the children turn 18, they move to an adult centre with many other residents. It is imperative that the children develop life skills and independence ahead of this big change. The Bianca Project volunteers aim to teach the children new skills and provide an opportunity for learning. These newly qualified therapists are provided with support and mentorship from experienced returning therapists.
On the very first day at the centre, I was 20 and had not yet found my confidence. As I stepped into the first house in the compound, I was met by 8 boys; most of them wheelchair users with multiple sensory impairments. I will always remember the moment one boy held me by the wrist and stared me in the eyes with the biggest grin imaginable. At that moment I hadn’t realised what the project would mean to me, or to the children who benefit from it.
Since 2012, I have returned each summer to work with the children. A typical day begins with a volunteer team meeting, deciding which of the children we will work with today and what our aims are. We then spend the day working with the children, building relationships with the carers and ensuring each child’s day is filled with laughter and smiles.
The volunteers aim to bring toys and supplies which we utilise in our daily therapy. From play-doh, space blankets, jigsaws and face paints; each child’s needs are considered, and activities adapted to the children.
For one child, our focus was to encourage him to eat independently. As Occupational Therapists, we encourage skill development via play. We played a variety of games to help him practice different grips and develop his fine motor skills with the end goal of manipulating a spoon. With this child, we knew he loved colouring and exploratory games in which he would search for objects within a box of beads. Using this connection, over the next 6 weeks we supported his hands and prompting the use of a spoon. By the time he left the centre, he could eat his meals using a spoon and had more independence at mealtimes.
Many of the children have difficulty with verbal communication. In recent years we have begun introducing communication symbols or Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This is very new to the centre and we are currently demonstrating what symbol communication can do for the children, by us using them ourselves known as modelling. One young boy, in particular, has enjoyed learning to communicate with symbols and on a summer trip to the park, put his finger to his lip to indicate ‘shhh’, pointed to the symbol for ‘funny’ and then jumped on one of the volunteers who was pretending to sleep!
We strive to give all the children the opportunity to experience new things, such as going to the park, for a swim at the pool or sensory activities. For some of the older children we try and provide the opportunity to develop life skills within the community. The children have often never handled money, ordered their own food or accessed public transport.
In October 2019 we were fortunate to partner with another charity, Love Light Romania. Together we have renovated a house for three young adults from the children’s centre to live in. This is lovingly known Jim’s House, in memory of a cherished supporter of the charity who sadly passed away in 2017. We had known and worked with these three young people for the past ten years and had grown fond of them. I believe that they have been able to make this move because of the time we have spent with them. It has meant that as they turned 18, the three of them have not been forced to move to an adult centre. Their new home offers them an independent lifestyle in sheltered accommodation with full-time care staff. The young adults have learnt many life skills, including helping with shopping, cleaning and the daily care of the house. Recent updates from the care team have shown the young adults make a great traditional Romanian apple pie. For these three, Jim’s House and the work that Share and Love Light Romania do is life-changing. One of the young adults, Bianca told us ‘I like that I get to cook, clean, sew, draw and have a family life. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.’
We are extremely saddened that we have not been able to visit the centre this year. However, we are continuing our fundraising efforts to ensure that the Bianca Project can continue and the three young adults can live at Jim’s House forever. Some of our volunteers climbed Mount Snowden at sunset on a weekend this month to raise vital funds for their care. We are so proud of our volunteers.