Monday, May 28, 2007

Students connect with Romanians on service trips

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Volunteering in a special needs orphanage in the poor Eastern European nation of Romania last year, University of Iowa senior Lily Sprengelmeyer connected with a little girl named Lilianna.

Lilianna, now 2, was dropped off as a severely malnourished 7 month old. Because that condition continues to affect her development, she is unlikely ever to be adopted, Sprengelmeyer said, adding the toddler will be shuffled through the system until she grows up.

“It is like any daycare, I guess, except these children don’t have parents, so they need attention more than other kids,” said Sprengelmeyer, 22.

Last year, she volunteered through the UI Alumni Association’s Iowa Voyagers Operation Romania service trip. This year, Sprengelmeyer saved up her money and will return on her own dime to the orphanage from June 30 to July 27. She hopes to reconnect with Lilianna, whom she now sponsors, before she is sent to an orphanage for the next age group.

“I applied, but I didn’t think I’d get it,” Sprengelmeyer said of the Iowa Voyagers program. “It ended up being a life changing experience, and I’ve been thinking of it ever since.”

Funded by the Ken Magid Child Advocacy Scholarship, the program aims to bring humanitarian efforts to Romania. Volunteers can either care for babies and toddlers in an orphanage or teach conversational English to middle school children.

This year, Brett Roberts, a May UI graduate, and Amanda DeHoedt, who just finished her freshman year, are traveling to Barlad, Romania, to help teach English to kids in a low-income middle school from June 9 to 23.

Roberts, 22, said he always wanted to study abroad and the scholarship made the trip affordable. He said he is looking forward to making a difference in what he said was the poorest city in Romania.

“I know that I am going to be surprised to see how they live and the way they live their lives everyday,” said Roberts, a UI political science and journalism major.

Roberts said the hotel he will stay it is supposed to be the nicest in town, but by American standards, he is told it is fairly modest.

“It makes you step back and critically analyze the way we live,” he said. “It is hard to predict how I am going to react emotionally to that situation.”

Diane Baker directs the Iowa Voyagers. She said the program is a good experience for students and it definitely affects students.

“One of the biggest benefits is for students to learn what life is like in another country, especially a country that is just coming out of serious economic and social difficulties,” Baker said. “We really wanted something that was working directly with people and particularly children … and this fulfills a duty of civic engagement in an area of high need.”

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