Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Student helps children in Romania

Monday, Feb 19, 2007

By Hillary Wundrow
Beloit Daily News staff writer

One Beloit woman was so touched by the children of Romania, she has visited them five times.

Melany Williams, the daughter of Stephen and Joyce Williams, enjoys traveling to Romania to share her faith and warm scarves with the impoverished children.

A Beloit College sophomore studying education and international relations, Williams first traveled to Romania at age 17 for a short-term mission trip. She was supposed to go to South Korea, but the trip was canceled because of the SARS outbreak.

“It was kind of a fluke,” Williams said. “I got there (to Romania) and fell in love with the country that I had hardly heard of before.”

During the first trip she traveled with Word of Life, an international Christian organization. Once in Romania, she spent her time in orphanages, doing evangelism on the streets and joining in drama and choir performances.

“It was something that took me out of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed it,” Williams said.

Although it took a while to warm up Romanians, the people were hospitable. When she got to know them better, they opened their hearts and took her in.

“They aren't as open as Americans on the first meeting, but once you have a connection, they are very warm and loving people and very committed to family, friends and relationships,” Williams said.

What really struck her was the many children in orphanages and on the streets.

Because of Nicolae Ceausescu's Communist policies to encourage increasing the population, Williams said, many parents had extra children. Eventually those children landed in orphanages when their parents couldn't support them.

The National Authority for Child Protection and Adoption in Romania estimates that there are 100,000 children living in orphanages.

In addition to the abandoned orphans, Williams discovered the poor and often unsupervised Gypsy children.

Stigmatized in Romania, the Gypsy parents worked to survive by selling scrap metal and fruits, vegetables and flowers on the streets. Williams noticed that many of the children spent most of their time outdoors and she wondered how they fared in the winter.

When Williams returned to Beloit, she couldn't stop thinking about the Romanian people. She wanted to bring their poor children hats, scarves and mittens. She began crocheting some items herself and then scoured the sales racks for more.

She started fund-raisers to help her return. When not working part-time at the Turtle Creek Bookstore, she conducted bake sales and car washes. She found her faith gave her the motivation to earn money for trips.

“As a Christian, I've experienced the love of God in my life and I like to share it with other people and share how they can have personal relationship with God,” Williams said.

For her fifth trip on Dec. 26 to Jan. 11, Williams sold jewelry created by a Romanian-American friend.

It was her first trip traveling alone, using the connections she had made on previous trips and her growing ability to speak Romanian.

One of her first tasks was working at a home for boys, working to transition them into foster families or re-integrate them into their own families. Because she was there over New Year's Eve, she got to spend time with six boys left alone over the holidays.

“They had been kind of down that they didn't have anywhere to go. It was nice to be able to stay there with them and play games,” Williams said.

Williams then hooked up with a Romanian family who worked with Gypsy children and brought the many hats and scarves she had crocheted to them. She decided to save most of the hats for the Gypsy children because they had less support than the ones in orphanages.

Because the Gypsy children were so starved for love, and often unattended, Williams was able to spend quality time with them and give them a little of the attention they so desperately craved.

Although Williams was able to make a short-term impact with the children, she always wanted to help more. Perhaps that is why she has kept returning. This summer she is planning her longest trip yet, a six-week trip.

After graduation, she would like to become a teacher in Romania or perhaps even work in an orphanage over there. Although it's very difficult to adopt children from Romania, Williams hopes to one day, if the opportunity arises.

Williams admits her plans about her life have changed from a few years ago. She used to want to be a lawyer or airline pilot. Now she plans to spend her life in Romania working for others.

“I guess I care more about people now and it helps my outlook not to be as self-centered and to think of other's needs as well,” Williams said. “The important things in life are a relationship with God and family and friends. It just opens your eyes to what's really important.”

For more information on Williams' trips contact her at (608)365-6965 or e-mail her at melany.grace@gmail.com.

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