Posted: July 10, 2012

In late June, five St. Mark’s students, two SM faculty, and one faculty child travelled to Romania as volunteers with Fundatia Inocenti/Romanian Children’s Relief. Chloe Aubuchon ’13, Susannah Krapf ’13, Becca Elkinson ’13, Lizzie Stepanek ’13, and Emma Baumbach ’14 joined Modern Language teacher Liz McColloch, Computer Science teacher Christopher Roche, and Lily Roche at the Mother and Child Institute of the Pediatric Department of Prof. Dr. Alfred Rusescu Hospital (IOMC) in Bucharest, to work in the Child Life program there, sponsored by Romanian Children’s Relief.

The St. Mark’s volunteers all spent time in the playroom there, with babies who lacked stimulation and affection. Almost all were less than a year old, and many were orphans or children whose parents could not care for them at home for health or financial reasons. “Without volunteers from the program, they would be in their cribs all day,” noted Ms. McColloch. “It was great for us to see all the important work that the RCR/Fundatia Inocenti is doing to promote the wellbeing of Romanian children.”

“Working with the children was the highlight,” agreed Mr. Roche. “It was very hard to leave the babies; in just a short time we made real bonds with them and it was so wonderful to just make them laugh and smile.” The St. Mark’s students were also asked to lead arts and crafts sessions with older children staying at the hospital, as part of Educational Support Center INNOCENTI and its after-school program. “The Romanian Children’s Relief Foundation is trying to promote more art therapy programs in hospitals across the country,” said McColloch.

The Fundatia Inocenti staff also invited the St. Mark’s contingent to go on a field trip with older elementary students from the Foundation’s School 31, as part of a program supporting children who are at risk for leaving school. There are no laws in Romania requiring children to be in school, and many of the children come from families whose parents have no formal education. The St. Mark group accompanied the students from School 31 and its staff on a trip to visit the Comana Monastery in Bucharest, sharing lunch with them in a nearby park area.

Romanian Children's Relief began in the spring of 1990 after the Boston Globe exposed the plight of Romanian orphans and that nation's pediatric AIDS epidemic. Due to the overwhelming public response to that news story, a group of dedicated people in New England got together and formed Romanian Children's Relief in Spring, 1990 as a U.S.-based, charitable, non-profit foundation. The group was also incorporated as a Romanian charitable foundation, FUNDATIA INOCENTI, in 1998. RCR/Fundatia Inocenti sent their first relief shipment to Romania in 1990 and currently supports 20 Romanian professional staff working in hospitals, orphanages, and foster care programs, as long as biological families. Over the years, RCR/Inocenti has provided more than $2 Million in personnel; foster family support services, shipments of medical supplies, educational equipment, training exchanges, University tuition, and countless hours of training and support to professionals in the area of child development.

RCR/Fundatia Inocenti Executive Director Eileen McHenry thanked “the wonderful St. Mark’s students” for “giving up part of your summer vacation to make the (very long) service trip to Romania.” She was also grateful to the St. Markers “for bringing the wonderful supplies for the staff, and for sharing all of your energy and enthusiasm. One of the best benefits of a student trip like this, is the boost it brings to our staff. St. Mark’s and its students make our staff feel like ‘rock stars’. We are all inspired by the St. Markers’ dedication and hard work in the months prior to the trip, as well as the sacrifices made to get to Romania and work with us each day.” McHenry sent a heartfelt “Thank you!” to “Lily, Chloe, Emma, Rebecca, Susannah, Elizabeth and teachers Elizabeth McColloch and Chris Roche for all your help and dedicated work at Fundatia Inocenti!”

In addition to their work with the Romanian children, the St. Markers also had the opportunity to experience the local culture and history, both in Bucharest and outside of the city. In Bucharest they visited the village museum, the People's Palace and did a walking tour of the old city. They also drove to the mountains in Transylvania and saw Bran Castle (rumored to be Dracula's castle). The St. Mark’s group also visited the royal palace in Sinaia and saw the city of Brasov. “Romania is a fascinating country,” said Ms. McColloch, “and we all enjoyed learning its history.” More importantly, however, she said, was their “spending time with the babies and other kids. It was rewarding and fun.” Mr. Roche echoed those sentiments: “It was a great experience.”