Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Abbreviated Balkan Trip

Well, so my original plan for a massive two week long road trip through the Balkans came to nought (discretion being clearly the better part of valor here). I've also learned that it takes a good deal of time (really at least two months, preferably longer) to set up school visits in parts of the world that aren't as readily accessible as Vienna. No worries, though. My timeline in setting up ASAP (the American Student Ambassador Program) is still fine. I did manage to do visit ten classes in Vienna this year, with one or two more still possible. Come next fall, I will continue to do more visits myself and start looking for other young Americans to also head to classrooms to talk about life in the USA and spread some much needed goodwill for our country. Then, by the fall of 2009, with a year and a half of experience under my belt, I'll be ready to start looking for donors.
But while I didn't manage to make it to Kosovo, Bosnia, or any other small countries usually followed by the word "crisis" in international news reports, I did spend three days in Romania last week, volunteering with Project Centipede. I was first motivated to go on this trip when I saw a slide show with pictures from around 1990, which showed how desperately poor many of the children there were as well as the appalling conditions in which they lived. However, having been there myself, eighteen years after, it's readily apparent that things have improved dramatically. Romania may still be the poorest country in the EU, and have plenty of people living in poverty, particularly among the Roma minority, but it's well on its way to becoming a middle-income country.
The part of the country in which we helped out (Transylvania, and yes, we saw plenty of Dracula-associated kitsch) is actually inhabited primarily by ethnic Hungarians, even though it's quite far away from the Hungarian border. Our primary task was to visit schools and orphanages and distribute care packages that Viennese volunteers had put together for the children there. Of course the best part was the chance to get to play with the kids. My friend Nick had sent over some frisbees at my request from the USA, and they were especially a big hit. The only thing I regret is not taking the time to have learned some pleasantries in Hungarian, so that I could have had a chance to talk a little bit with the kids, but I'll keep that in mind for future school visits in countries where the children speak something other than German and English.
P.S. There will be another blog entry later this week to make up for the lack of one from the week prior.

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