Building a School in Kumari, Nepal

Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Prior to my trek in the Himalayas along the route to Everest Base Camp, I spent 3 days in the village of Kumari, Nepal thanks to Trekking for Kids‘ work to support this village.  The village, as many places in Nepal, was severely impacted by the April 2015 earthquake that struck the country.

The recently-built medical clinic was quite damaged and the school that served about 400 children was pretty much destroyed.

Nepal, earthquake, damage, Kumari, medical clinic, Nuwakot

Most damaged part of the clinic

Trekking for Kids had planned a trip to Nepal (it has been going there for years to bring hope to orphaned kids via its treks) and chose to direct the funds raised by us trekkers towards the re-construction of the school.  The school certainly will provide a better environment for the kids to receive education but it will also encourage parents to send the kids to school which helps reduce the risk that human trafficking poses for these children.

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy

Makeshifts structures -and outdoor spaces- serve as temporary classrooms

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy

Teacher holding class outdoor

Our stay in Kumari

We left Kathmandu on our way to Kumari, a village development center in the Nuwakot district.  Though it seems to be about 30 miles from Kathmandu, as the eagle flies, it took us about 3.5 hours.  The first 1.5 hrs were on a paved road that we left after a quick stop at a roadside kiosk.  From then on, we took a dirt and bumpy road that in the rainy season is impassable, driving past terraced hills and lots of green.  Occasionally we would pass small rural homes and saw a little bit of life in the countryside.

In Kumari, we stayed in the medical clinic compound, a very large space that was fenced and gated.  The medical clinic laid near the far end and had been badly damaged by the April 2015 quake.  Though damaged, a couple of spaces were still in use for examinations and to house the pharmacy.  Behind the clinic, there was a small structure housing the women’s and the men’s restrooms (2 stalls each) plus one basic shower.  Along the sides of the compound were tents used by our group and others supporting the construction work and our visit.  I imagine the tents were donated post-quake to help with temporary housing for locals but I think I heard tents were not very successful in Nepal as they were too foreign for regular folks.  Not sure if our tents were indeed originally intended for that temporary shelter but they look pretty clean and unused.  I will have to say that they were a little larger than the small two-people tents I have used before so I was glad for the extra “comfort.”

Sukman, medical clinic, polyclinic, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Sukman Memorial Polyclinic, our tents to the right

Staying in the compound was far better than I had been expected.  The grounds are well kept, the indoor restroom was a pleasant surprise, and though I only used it one of the 3 days, it was nice to take a shower after a day’s hard work.  The compound also had a kitchen and outdoor (covered) seating area so all our meals were there.  I tended to wake up very early and enjoyed a cup of tea while soaking in the quiet and sunrise.  It was a little cold at night but not frigid.  We were a 5-minute walk to the work site (the school grounds) so all-in-all, I was pleased with the setup they had prepared to host us, not having too much time traveling to- and from- the work site so we could maximize time at the site.

A grand Kumari welcome!

When our small caravan was approaching the medical compound, we noticed a lot of people were there waiting for us.  The more we walked, the more it seemed the entire district had come to welcome us.  We left our stuff in the cars (someone would take care of that) and after an initial greeting which included music, we were taken up a dirt road towards the school grounds which were located above the medical compound.

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, voluntourism, trekking

Walking from the clinic to the school grounds

As we made the final turn up the dirt road that passes the school grounds, we noticed schoolchildren were lined up waiting for us – loaded with long necklaces made from orange marigolds (like Hawaiian leis).  As we walked along the kids, teachers, and others, these “leis” were placed on our necks.  They must have spent long days making these (the flowers were all fresh)!!  Some of us ended with a heavy yoke of these leis around our necks but it was a very joyful welcome – much appreciated!

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, marigold, schoolchildren

Schoolchildren awaiting us with the marigold necklaces!

Marigold, necklace, lei, trekkers, Trekking for Kids, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Some of us sporting the massive and heavy leis

After we got to the covered space that had been set up for the welcome ceremony, we took our seats and then all the children and other locals stood behind us.  At the end of the ceremony, 3 hours later or so, I was very impressed the locals stayed the entire time, in the sun.  There were some local figures present but maybe the draw was the two emcees (MCs) who I take had come from Kathmandu and were well-known.  The ceremony entailed many speeches in Nepali or in English as well as some dances/songs by the local kids.  I soaked it all in though, at that point, none of us had eaten anything since breakfast and I, for one, was hungry and trying hard not to pull something out of my day pack when so many in the crowd were probably as hungry as I was.Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourismMukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

Mukari, Nuwakot, Nepal, trekking for kids, photo, school children, Samsung Galaxy, travel, voluntourism

School administrators, civic organizers, the MCs and the trekkers

Sweat equity

Trekkers like me commit to fundraise $1,000 towards the projects chosen for the specific trek.  The projects funded are normally anchored on capital improvements or new infrastructure.  In this Nepal trek, the school was the main project our funds would support.  I am proud to say that my group of trekkers and I raised over $33,000, much higher than the minimum we each committed to raise (thanks to any of you who donated!).  This allowed us to also fund the construction of new indoor restroom facilities at the school, something the children had never had before:  one restroom with several stalls for the girls, and the same for the boys.  When I go in these treks, I often leave pondering the things I have taken for granted all my life… and I am humbled at the blessings in my life.

Shree Bikash, school, Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, construction

Plans for the new school

One of the three days was focused on us pitching in in the construction efforts.  Trekking for Kids’ approach is to ensure local labor performs the projects and local materials are used.  But trekkers get to get down and dirty lending a hand.  In these projects, trekkers got to help both with preparing the foundation for two of the new school buildings as well as with pouring the new roof for the restroom building.

Kumari, Shree Bikash, school, Nuwakot, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, service, Samsung Galaxy, construction

Foundation trenches completed, next step was to lay rocks at the bottom

I worked in the crew that helped dig the trenches for the school buildings’ foundations and then “harvested” rocks from the debris field from the former school building from the side of the hill and tossed them (via human chain) up to fill the bottom layer of the trenches.  While we were happy to help, it was clear the locals who worked on the project and the local teen youth group that was volunteering to help were much more effective and fast than we were…  It was certainly an honor to be able to humble ourselves for such a good cause.

Other trekkers helped prep the restroom roof before the concrete was poured by framing the area and cutting and setting up the rebar.  At the point the concrete was being mixed and poured, the locals took over.  It was interesting to watch their methods!

Rebar, Nepal, Kumari, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, volunteer, travel

Cutting rebar

construction, Kumari, Nepal, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids

Roof being readied for the concrete pouring

Kumari, Nepal, Trekking for Kids, construction, Shree Bikash school, Nuwakot, voluntourism

Roof being poured with the sewage tank visible in the lower part of the photo

Finally, our trekkers helped finish the digging of the “sewage tank” that had already been started with the use of mechanical equipment.  Hard work indeed!

And just having fun

Working on the projects is something trekkers enjoy doing but trekkers always enjoy the opportunity to be with the kids.  The kids made us smile with the great welcome they gave us so I certainly enjoyed giving back in this way to them.  We got to be with the kids during school hours and afterwards, including one afternoon dedicated to fun and games that went late.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed the mini-carnival games, the arts and crafts, and a good early dinner!

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism

One of our trekkers, a former teacher, spends time in the classroom

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

The kids played games in the afternoon

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, school, voluntourism, Trekking for Kids, Samsung Galaxy

Kids enjoying an early dinner

Nepal, Kumari, Nuwakot, Shree Bikash, school, Trekking for Kids, voluntourism, Samsung Galaxy

At the end of the day, kids line up for parting gifts!

As for me

The treks themselves, of course, helped keep me challenged and appreciating my own life’s blessings.  But, in the end, I would not be doing these treks if it were not for the opportunity to make a difference, however small, in the lives of children around the world.  It is faces like these that keep me prioritizing my travel budget and vacation time for doing these treks (at the expense of doing more with my own friends and family), that keep me “pestering” friends and family for donations to fund the projects, and that keep me accepting conditions during my treks that are less than what I’d prefer during my vacations.  Take a look, can you blame me?Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Check out Trekking for Kids and pass the word about this great organization to others via word of mouth and social media!

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A beautiful Nepali sunset over our camp

Trekking for Kids and the Bayti Centre in Essaouira

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

In the summer of 2014, I decided to do another trek with Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I have trekked in Romania in 2012 and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2013.  When I learned TFK was going to go to the Camino de Santiago, something I’ve wanted to do since I learned about it, I knew I just had to go as it was the perfect combination of a trek and of service to improve the lives of children, something I am very passionate about.  The group of trekkers paid their own way and then raised funds for projects to be done at the center selected by TFK.

Trekking for Kids, TFK, trekking, Morocco, Essaouira

The group of Trekking for Kids trekkers before the first day of work – I was in GREAT company!

The service work was going to take place at a center for street and at-risk children in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast of Morocco – a town that surprised me and of which I am writing separately.  TFK decided to work with the Bayti Centre to improve the facilities where they work with the children to protect them against violence, to provide psychosocial rehabilitation, to reintegrate families, and other related activities.

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK being welcomed by Bayti Centre staff

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

A group shot with tons of kids is hard to pull off…

TFK selected a number of improvement projects like helping the exterior of the building be repaired and painted.  Another project was a kitchen renovation that facilitated the two kitchen staff to be able to work side by side in the small kitchen with two sinks, a new fridge, and a new stove as well as more shelving to better use the space.  New equipment for instruction (like a flat screen TV) and other items for the children were donated as well.  In summary, a series of projects that would enhance the facilities to create a better environment for Bayti to deliver its services and attend to the children of the streets of Essaouira.

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

The facade of the Bayti Centre after repairs but before painting

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

Finishing touches being applied on the repairs prior to the painting

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Painting the exterior – street level

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Building a wall garden requires woodworking skills!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

One dirty (and happy) trekker after a day of work at the Centre!

Along with the works, we also got to take the children on outings and threw a party where we all got to enjoy food, games, and music much to the delight of the children.

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Getting ready for one of the outings

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

Face painting in progress!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

A fellow trekker doing the artwork!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Another great face paint job and a happy kid!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

The end product of face painting!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

One of the outings was to go to a park in the city for fun and games

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

The girl on the right sure knew the right technique for jump rope!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

Precious little girl!

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Olympus

He was having fun at the park – and I was glad to be a part of it

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

Fun and games at the pool park in one of the outings

kid, Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Canon EOS Rebel

More fun and games at the pool

A final word is to thank the amazing staff and volunteers who are the ones who truly made the world a better place for these children.  Je vous remercie, mes amis!

Bayti Centre, Essaouira, Morocco, travel, volunteerism, Samsung Galaxy

TFK trekkers with the staff and volunteers of the Bayti Centre

I look forward to another TFK trek in 2015!

Of Kids, Water, a Fence, and Chicks – the Kili Centre Orphanage

Kili Centre orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania

Going to Tanzania was not just about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro though that consumed most of my energy pre-trip (and, heck DURING the trip!).  I had done a hike in the Transylvanian Alps in Romania last summer with Trekking for Kids (TFK)  and I was so impressed, not only with the excellent logistics planning for the hike, but also with the great care with which the orphanage had been selected and the projects chosen.  So going to Kilimanjaro was also about having another opportunity to help improve the lives of orphaned children via TFK.  Tanzania is far and doing this trek was a not-trivial use of my time and money (though TFK is much cheaper than many outfits who organize Kili hikes).  But I understood that my efforts would really make a difference on these kids’ lives and that my hike would be safe and well-planned.

I have written a few posts about the planning of my trip and the hike itself (see links at the end of this post).  So I wanted to focus this post on the orphanage we worked with in Moshi:  the Kili Centre.

Kili Centre orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania

Kili Centre welcomes its visitors!

The Kili Centre orphanage

I posted in LinkedIn that I was going to hike Kili and work with this orphanage as part of the fundraising all trekkers commit to do (raise a minimum of $1,000).  One of my connections replied that she had been there and that the Centre’s leader, Michael, was doing a great job with the orphanage and the kids.  Though I know TFK does a thorough job vetting orphanages, it was still good to hear this.  After finally meeting and spending time with Michael in Moshi, I have to agree with the assessment my connection had made.  He had a great vision for the orphanage and the projects he had proposed were very well thought through in terms of sustainability, impact to the children and the future of the orphanage, and ability to demonstrate to the donors their money had been well spent.

The projects funded at the Kili Centre

The future site of the Kili Centre

The Kili Centre rents its current location but it is not adequate anymore for the needs of the orphanage or meeting its future plans to accept more children.  Some of the changes that would make it more adequate may not be acceptable to the landlord so the Kili Centre needed to find, not only a new location, but a place where it can be owner of its domain, so to speak.

New Kili Centre location in Moshi, Tanzania

New Kili Centre location with Kilimanjaro covered by clouds (showing the new fence)

What’s in a fence?

So Michael was able to raise funds to buy a new lot (with a GREAT view of Kilimanjaro!!  though maybe this is not hard in the area given its proximity to the mountain and the height of the mountain).  But this lot sat empty and ran the risk of being taken over by others.  In many places in Africa, having title to land is not enough.  If people squat on it, or neighboring folks start farming it, at some point one runs the risk of losing it.  In addition, I heard there are rules that a purchased lot has to have something built on it in a certain amount of or, otherwise, the government can take it back.  So here came an opportunity for the first and main project funded by the trekkers’ fundraising and their generous donors:  building a perimeter fence around the lot.

New fence on the Kili Centre's future home

TFK Executive Director Cindy Steuart and trekker Dave Hughart at the fence on our first visit

Guardhouse at the site of the new Kili Centre

Progress while we were there! The finished guardhouse (shown without a roof in the prior pic)

H20 – Water – A basic necessity we take for granted

Though not an immediate impact to the kids’ lives, it will clearly help the children eventually have a new place that will better serve their needs.  For example the current location of the orphanage does not have running water.  So water must be trucked in (at great expense due to the cost of the vehicle and gas).  In the new location, not only did the project build the perimeter fence (and the gate/guardhouse) but it also connected the lot to the town’s water system!!

I was very excited to see the running water during my visit of the new site.  Water is fundamental to progress in less developed locations as it is essential for good health.  Without good health, the education of the children suffers.  So having running water in their new location will be a real improvement in the quality of life at the Kili Centre.

Running water at the Kili Centre

One of the faucets installed connected to the water system – water, the stuff of life!

Clearly, just having a fence and running water will not be enough to give the Kili Centre its new home.  However, the evidence that other donors saw the Kili Centre’s plan as solid will help it in fundraising to have the wherewithal to build the different structures that will be needed.

Chicks (not for free, contrary to what Dire Straits may say)

One of the Centre’s activities that provide both a food source and income is its chicken coop.  However, the Centre had been forced to sell its chickens in order to pay for the schooling of the children.  The chickens had been towards the end of their productive years so the decision to sell them for meat was a good one however, it set the chicken coop back.  So, some of the budget TFK had for projects went to buy chicks to “replenish” the chicken coop and assure some income and food for the Centre.

Trekkers and kids given the thirsty chicks some water upon their arrival at the Kili Centre

Trekkers and kids given the thirsty chicks some water upon their arrival at the KC

The kids well-being

Another item on the project list was repairing the furniture in the kids’ rooms and getting them new mattresses with new mattress covers (to make them last longer) along with new blankets.  Their rooms looked great!

Refinished bunk beds and cabinets at the Kili Centre

Refinished bunk beds and cabinets

Focus on education

As alluded to, the Centre is focused on the children getting a good education.  (I wonder if the children of the Centre are more “lucky” than the children outside the orphanage given the attention paid to their studies by the Centre’s staff.)  The Centre had a computer lab with learning software but the PCs were ancient and they no longer were going to be good for supporting new/additional software.  TFK’s funds supported the wholesale replacement of the computer lab!

Computer lab being set up at the Kili Centre

Computers being set up!

The focus on education does not stop at school and academics.  The Centre had identified developing a sewing “program” to teach a potential income-earning skill to the girls at the orphanage.  Once kids leave an orphanage, it is important to have given them education and skills to make it in life in terms of livelihood.  So the Centre had proposed TFK fund a sewing room:  from setting up the power outlets to the scissors and materials, and everything in between.  With the funds provided, used sewing machines were acquired, brought up to par and installed in the new sewing room!

New sewing room at the Kili Centre in Moshi, Tanzania

New sewing room

While these are not all the projects, I hope you can see why I was so pleased that my efforts to fundraise and my “investment” of my own time and money were well worth it.  But enough about the projects and on to the great kids of the Kili Centre!!!

The children

The first time we got to the Kili Centre, the children were right there waiting for us.  They surrounded our bus as we arrived for the first of 4 days we would spend with them (2 before and 2 after climbing Kilimanjaro).

Welcoming the visitors at the Kili Centre

Cheerful welcome!

That day, they had prepared a dance show for us.  You could tell they loved dancing and putting on a show and, in us, they had an audience wanting to see all they had prepared.  The kids who danced were definitely high energy and not shy!

Children dancing at the Kili Centre

Part of the welcome show put on for us!

Kili Centre kids show us traditional Masai dance at the Kili Centre in Moshi, Tanzania

Kids doing traditional Masai dance

Our time at the Centre was mostly spent with the kids.  We had brought gifts for them (they are kids after all!) and it was a lot of fun giving each of them a backpack full of goodies and also distributing items like soccer balls, frisbees, and volleyballs.  Of course, we then got to use many of those things in an afternoon of just “being.”  I worked along with two kids and another trekker on a challenging jigsaw puzzle that, to this day, I hate not having had time to finishing!

Kids of the Kili Centre in Moshi,. Tanzania

One night, we ate at the orphanage during a party where again the children danced and neighbors of the orphanage were invited to come.  I was so proud watching the kids’ manners.  They lined up by section to go get the food, took everything back when they were done, etc.  Just like I noticed in Romania, the children of this orphanage were very well taught by their staff.  The staff was very much engaged with the kids and I do not recall any instance of the staff just bossing the kids around.  All the engagement I noticed was warm and, at times, playful.  It made me feel good this was the right orphanage to have invested myself in.

Trekking for Kids trekkers, Kili Centre staff and kids in Moshi, Tanzania

TFK photo of the entire group: Kili Centre kids and staff along with the trekkers!

One of the hardest moments in these trips is saying goodbye.  You have developed, usually, a connection with some of the kids and you hate to leave.  Unfortunately, the fourth day of being with the orphanage, I was bedridden with a nasty cold/infection that hit me once we came down from Kilimanjaro.  I had forced myself on the third day to come along with the group but on the fourth day, I just slept all day.  So I missed saying my goodbyes and I am saddened by that.  However, I know the children now have a better home and are set up for an even better one in the future thanks to having been part of this trek.

To Michael and the staff at the Kili Centre:  thank you for the great job you do with the kids and the Centre.

To TFK:  thanks for another great opportunity to push myself (up a mountain) and to make a clear difference in childrens’ lives.

To my donors and supporters:  thank you for your financial generosity and moral support to make this happen for the kids!

To the Kili Centre kids:  keep studying hard, be good and stay cool!

Kili Centre children in Moshi, Tanzania

Kids showing off their new backpacks and sunglasses!


–  Preparing for the hike is more than training and gear

–  The Machame Route:  our way up

–  7 things you will not see me without as I climb Kili

–  Day 1 of the hike (starting the climb!)

–  Day 2 of the hike (getting to Shira Camp)

–  Day 3 of the hike (the Lava Tower and hail)

–  Day 4 of the hike (Barranco Wall)

–  Day 5 of the hike (getting to summit base camp, Barafu)

–  Day 6 of the hike (the ascent to the summit – Uhuru Peak)

–  Interview with fellow Kili climber and Ultimate Global Explorer


Trekking with a Purpose – the Best of Both Worlds

A hike around the Bucegi Mountains in Romania

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!


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!

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