Tucked away in Eastern Europe, Romania is an off-the-beaten-path destination more and more people are considering for their holiday plans. With a diverse and wild landscape, medieval history part of UNESCO heritage, delicious homegrown food, welcoming people and a countryside lifestyle free of modern civilization, travelers will be pleasantly surprised when visiting this yet-to-be-discovered destination.
Volunteering abroad in Romania with a local non-profit can be a great way to discover the beauty of this country and the warmth of its people while giving something back – so here is a short guide on what you need to know about volunteering in Romania.
With a communist history and a complicated transition towards a working democracy and competitive economy, many issues in Romanian society have been neglected by the government and local authorities.
However, since the late 2000s, there has been an unprecedented level of volunteer initiatives and involvement. As generations born in the late years of the communist regime matured, so did their appetite for volunteer work and involvement in solving the many social and welfare problems in Romania. Their relentless enthusiasm, ‘can do’ attitude and optimism is contagious and many foreign nationals have decided to volunteer abroad in Romania.
Practical things to consider when volunteering in Romania
The fascinating thing about volunteering in a developing country such as Romania is that there is no shortage of sectors, problems or missions in need of support from those looking for volunteer opportunities. Apart from the non-profits mentioned here or international organizations such as Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity, there are many ways in which travelers can offer their time and skills to make a real impact in the lives and communities of Romanian people.
Most non-profits in Romania operate locally and some may not have experience with receiving and integrating foreign nationals as volunteers in their projects. But that doesn’t mean they will refuse help since most of them are doing honest and responsible volunteer work, eager to accept any help to support their mission. If you’ve never been to Romania before and are unsure about visa, climate, and other practicalities, you can find more info in this article with travel tips for Romania.
As Romania is a member of the European Union, EU nationals can obtain certificates that will acknowledge their time spent volunteering in Romania. There are 2 types of non-profit legal entities in Romania: non-governmental organizations (ONG) which are most common and form the bulk of the non-profit scene and foundations or charities (fundație) which have more financial resources and are generally better organized.
Finally, if you are concerned about the language barrier – don’t be. Most of the young generation (25-35 y.o.) is fluent in English and French or German. Children are eager to learn new languages and the elderly will always smile and warm your heart, even if only using signs.
The most vulnerable sectors of Romanian society
Members of non-profit organizations doing volunteer work in Romania are worthy of praise and admiration. Sometimes they perform miracles with very little support and resources despite the many political and administrative challenges they are facing, or battling conservative mentalities.
Among the many sectors of Romanian life that need support from private organizations, childcare is at the forefront. Children from underprivileged communities lacking access to education and decent living conditions or those diagnosed with severe medical conditions often lack the support and resources to cope with their living situation and special needs.
Old people are another vulnerable category particularly since there are few decent elderly homes and the country has seen a massive exodus of young people looking for better lives outside of Romania. Some NGOs employ ‘caretakers’ for old people who have no one to help even with basic food and medicine shopping or choirs around the house. Others send volunteers to keep them company through reading, talking or even taking a walk with them.
Non-profits protecting women against domestic violence are also particularly active since in recent years there has been an institutional battle to create the infrastructure and legal system to protect those abused by a partner. Finally, animal rights activists and environmental volunteers have their work cut out for them as Romania is known as Europe’s last wilderness reserve. Deforestation, continuous development and lack of eco-friendly practices are threatening natural habitats and increasingly becoming a major concern in Romania.
Current volunteer opportunities in Romania
GivingWay wants to connect people who want to help the many worthy causes in over 115 countries around the world including those countries that are less known for international travel – and even much less known for volunteering – such as Romania.
One of the most popular Romanian non-profits on GivingWay’s platform is the Community Support Foundation. This organization has created a network of volunteers and other non-government actors in the North-Eastern part of the country that tackles the needs of a variety of people, as its name suggests. They provide institutional help for the elderly, educational or social programs for the young or medical aid for those with special conditions. It is an overall effort to help people and make their daily lives better.
Another great non-profit GivingWay is working within Romania is Red Panda, an animal welfare organization based in Bucharest. They deal with the sterilization of animals, owner education and animal rescue in Romania’s largest urban jungle. They support animal adoptions, save and rehabilitate small and large animals and are constantly trying to get more people involved.
AJUTAM, INTEGRAM, DEZVOLTAM SI EVOLUAM is a non-profit with a mission to help people from different ethnic groups and underprivileged backgrounds better integrate into society and prevent them from turning to delinquency. This organization wants to create and give opportunities to people who would not normally have any.
People with experience in environmental law and protection and those who know how to deal with corporate practices and multinational companies are also in need. Many local communities are at risk of losing their cultural identity and living means due to lack of job opportunities and inefficient administration. These communities are therefore tempted to accept any conditions – including surrendering their land or relocating, from large companies promising a better future. This was the famous case of Rosia Montana where a Canadian resources company wanted to exploit the gold reserves of Romania’s mountains using cyanides despite destroying the environment in the process.
Medical missions are another great example because of the underdeveloped medical system and infrastructure in Romania. Doctors and people with connections in the medical and pharmaceutical industry can be very valuable. In some small towns, crowdfunded donation campaigns with the help of volunteer organizations are the only way for some people to have a surgery or treatment they could never afford.
In a country with an average monthly salary of 510 Euros (630 USD) there is no shortage of causes in need of support, either financially or through direct involvement. Romanians are friendly and warm people for whom family and community is important. That is why volunteering in Romania can be a great way to discover the hospitality and beauty of this country while helping those in need.
Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend, a locally-run initiative promoting handpicked tours in Romania with independent guides showcasing the authentic beauty of Romania through local & responsible travel. Plan your trip with help from a Romanian Friend and follow us on Facebook to get inspired on what to visit!