Trekking with a Purpose – the Best of Both Worlds

My trip to Romania and Moldova was triggered and centered around a hike in Romania organized by Trekking for Kids to support a local orphanage.  If it were not for this organization, I may have waited much longer to get to Romania and, more than likely, never hiked the beautiful trails along the Carpathian Mountains.  And, if it were not for this organization, I would not have met the wonderful kids I met at the orphanage in Romania.

A hike around the Bucegi Mountains in Romania

The Bucegi Mountains

Trekking for Kids

Trekking for Kids (TFK) was created in 2005 to find a way to support orphanages around the world while combining those efforts with treks for those helping fundraise for those orphanages (see their full story).  Over the years, they have conducted treks (some of them they repeat over the years) and helped orphanages in (trek/orphanage):   Everest Base Camp/Nepal, Camino de Santiago/Morocco, Inca Trail/Peru, Kilimanjaro/Tanzania, and others.  In fact, Kilimanjaro is planned for 2013 along with a couple of  other unnamed destinations but including college- and family- oriented treks!  So go check them out and bookmark; you never know what will call to you!

The Romania Trek

In this Romania trek, TFK organized a well-planned and well-run hike whether for newbie trekkers like me or experienced ones as some of my fellow trekkers.  Their choice of the hike guides (Your Guide Romania) was simply outstanding; they do more than hikes and should you desire to explore Romania and mix with adventures like hiking, paragliding, skiing, etc., they ARE your guys and this group of trekkers seriously endorses them!

More importantly, TFK found and carefully vetted a local orphanage that would not just accept funds and other contributions but one that has a philosophy of truly caring for its children, offering them a healthy home environment, and that thought about the children’s long-term needs:  those once a child turns 18 and, normally, gets shown out of an orphanage.

The Foundation for Abandoned Children (Pentru Copii Abondonati) clearly has a vision not only for the immediate care of the children and young adults, but for preparing them to enter life outside of the home.  And that’s what I found so wonderful about the choice TFK made:  I knew my efforts, my donors’ contributions, and my time would be magnified as this foundation’s philosophy and approach was perfect to take the unexpected support they were receiving via TFK and translating it into bigger possibilities for the children and young adults.

Our First Day with the Children

We arrived at one of the three houses in the town of Ghimbav, near Brasov, all eager to meet the children and wondering what specifically the conditions at the orphanage would be.  As we arrived, a couple of children came out as they were clearly all eagerly awaiting us.

We had just made the 2-3 hr drive from Bucharest on a Saturday morning which means it takes longer than normal due to weekend traffic from the big city to the country.  We had stopped at our hotel, the Kolping Hotel, on the outskirts of Brasov by the mountain with the BRASOV sign, to drop of our luggage before meeting the children.

So, we entered the orphanage and immediately started meeting both children and staff.  Lots of names to remember but TFK had brought name tags which would greatly facilitate remembering everyone’s names.  At some point, I traded names with one of the kids named Anton, and I started a mania – all of a sudden, and for most of the rest of the day, a constant flurry of name tag changing began.  The younger kids loved it and it made for part of the fun.

Clearly my name is not Anton but that was my name at the moment. Here with Alex, one of the older teens.

We were shown around the houses (2 owned by the foundation and 1 rented if I remember correctly).  The facilities were pretty good and that made my heart feel good as I have seen orphanages elsewhere where the conditions, while not the worst, still did not feel adequate for children.  Clearly, the foundation has done a good job of establishing a healthy environment for the children to live in.

The largest home houses kids, boys and girls, of all ages.  The second home houses boys.  The third home right now has mostly work space (e.g., a woodworking workshop) but will be prepared to take the older children/young adults after a new roof is installed and the indoor space renovated.  Some of the funds raised will go to the repair of the roof and some of the older boys have contributed to the prep work and will participate, led by the construction crew, in repairing the roof – a good skill to pick up!

House in Romania

The roof and space to be renovated

Old roof in a house in Romania

The upper space to be renovated

After getting a lay of the land and seeing the garden where they grow produce, we proceeded to break up into groups to do different projects.  Some of us stayed at the boys’ house to sand furniture down so they could be restored.  Others went off to help bottle up jam (to sell, along with crafts made by the kids, in local markets).  Others started doing a tie-dye shirt project which they kids and teens greatly enjoyed (and we the saw the end results when we returned after the hike – really good job!).  At some point, we all moved through some of the activities along with the children.  These activities enabled us to get to know the kids and the kids to get to know us.  It was a great afternoon.

Working hard and having fun with tie-dying!

Tie-dying

And lots of concentration!

Post-Hike Time at the Orphanage

Hike concluded, we went back to the orphanage for two days of activities:  on the first day BBQ/dinner and games at the orphanage; and the second day a morning hike followed by lunch.  The kids sported their newly-made tie-dye shirts and they truly were amazing!

The BBQ/dinner was a lot of fun.  These kids know how to fend for themselves and the food was delicious!  We then did several activities:  making smores, playing football (soccer) & basketball, etc.  I played my very first soccer match ever and apparently I am great at defending and goal-keeping!  Who knew!

Amateur soccer player

Yet-another Spanish-blooded Raul who can play football/soccer

 

The hike and lunch was a fun day too.  Not all the children went up the trail and stayed earlier in the trail.  The rest of us went to the top with a few of us hanging out and the bulk of the group going through a more difficult section of the trail.  I hung out with a couple of adults and a few of the kids who didn’t want to go on.  Afterwards, we treated the kids to a lunch out which was a great way to hang out before our departure for Bucharest, and back home.

Zoli and I killing time as we waited for the rest of the group

In the end, it’s never enough time to spend with the children and teens, especially once you make the connections.  While I do not know what the future brings, I sure hope I can remain in touch with the foundation and hear about the children – and, who knows, perhaps seeing them again some day!  And I also hope I am blessed with another opportunity to go on a trek with TFK.

Group picture

The entire group – thanks to the wonderful staff and the great children!

Comments

  1. Very cool organization Raul. Glad you had the chance to be a part of it, and thanks for sharing with us.
    John recently posted..Ten Facts I Learned About GreeceMy Profile

  2. This is such a great cause, Raul. You really did get the best of both worlds. Thanks for sharing this!
    Kieu recently posted..GQ trippin’ Turns 1 Year Old!My Profile

  3. Traveling is awesome in of itself, but doing it for a purpose is sublime. Great post and pictures.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Chicago River Friendly Float with Leinenkugel’s Brewery photo essayMy Profile

  4. Raul, you’re an amazing ambassador for Trekking for Kids…as with all TFK expeditions, sometimes it’s a fine line to decide who benefits most from the time and work at the orphanages – the children, or the Trekkers! Thank you for this wonderful post, and for becoming one of the “family”! I sincerely hope to see you on a future Trek!

    • Thanks, Cindy! Having seen the well-thought out approach TFK uses and the incredible planning & execution of the trek, it is hard not to be an ambassador for TFK. Keep up the good work! I hope more folks get to experience both trekking and helping orphaned children with you all. And I certainly look forward to another trek in the future!

  5. Thanks for sharing this Raul! What a great cause. Lot’s of fun and memories had by all. :) Didn’t know of TFK before your travels, will have to check them out in more detail.
    Aaron recently posted..Photo of the Week: San Francisco’s Ferry Building.My Profile

    • I hope you do, Aaron = they do great work. They are also going to be active in Twitter, follow them at @TrekkingforKids! Thanks for checking out the post.

  6. Aww, so heartwarming! You done good, Raul :-) It’s nice to see photos of the kids. Have they seen this? I bet they’d get a kick out of seeing themselves on the internet!

    Question, and you may not know the answer: are any of the children ever adopted? Or is that not how it works?
    Francesca recently posted..My annual trip back in timeMy Profile

    • Francesca, thanks for stopping by and for the question. I don’t know that they get adopted. Many of them are relatives of some other kid in the orphanage. Also, most are older kids and I know that older kids are harder to find an adoptive family for. I didn’t get a sense that they were desperate to get adopted – some of the older ones commented how they were so much better off in this orphanage/home than in others they had been in and some relayed the horrible home circumstances they lived under (many are not orphans but abandoned or fled from abusive homes).

  7. I’m so proud of you for doing this, Raul. What an amazing experience you must have had. I’m sure your heart doubled in size thanks to your time in Romania.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Costa Brava,TBEX & an Unexpected Trip to SpainMy Profile

  8. seeing this post makes me SO excited for what i will be doing a week from today. i’m feeling so emotional right now! it is truly going to be life changing. wonderful, wonderful pictures Raul. i love that you are so kind-hearted to go out into the world to do nice things for others less fortunate! :)
    lola recently posted..Cambodia Countdown – week 1My Profile

  9. reading your recaps really makes us want to make volunteer travel a priority in our near future. it looks like such an amazing experience. and great photos, as per usual!
    the lazy travelers recently posted..laws to travel by – #23My Profile

  10. Well done Raul – thanks for sharing your experiences in Romania and inspiring others to get involved in worthy causes
    Fiona recently posted..The Photo Edit: Lake Como, ItalyMy Profile

  11. I love how you can mix adventure with assistance for kids in need…talk about a feel good holiday. Great job Raul.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Sunset Sunday – A View of Sakurajima Volcano in Kagoshima, JapanMy Profile

  12. Raul – what a wonderful trip! I’m so proud of you for getting involved. :) It seems like both you and the children had a wonderful experience.

    How did you all communicate – was there a translator, or do you happen to have Romanian skills, in addition to your goalkeeping ones? ;-)
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo of the Week: A street in Oaxaca City, MexicoMy Profile

  13. Wow! That looks awesome! Very inspiring! I can’t wait to do something similar!
    Elizabeth recently posted..Travel Blog Bucket List – Hawaii Activities StyleMy Profile

  14. My friend Sheri worked with the orphanages in Romania for a couple of years. She still does what she can to help raise money and make sure people are aware of Romanian orphanages, etc. I’m glad you got to go. I’d love to do something like this myself, someday.
    Anni recently posted..The MOST IMPORTANT Homesteader ToolMy Profile

    • Thanks, Anni, for checking out the post and for the comment. There is so much that all of us can do in ways small or big to help orphaned children! It was a privilege to be with these kiddos.

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  1. […] about my trip to Romania?  Check out the hike I did!  Or “static poetry” here.  Or how the trip evolved from the hike to a few more […]

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